Library Issues

Gorman and ALA ruminations

After returning from vacation, I found a ton of commentary in the librarian blogosphere about the latest Gorman issue. A short list of the comments I read/found:

For those that missed this latest uproar, here’s the question and answer from the Chronicle interview:

Q. Some of your colleagues argue that libraries should become more user-friendly, and that they should change with the times.

A. Libraries are user-friendly, and we have changed. I’ve been in libraries for 40 years, and they’ve changed unutterably. Go to any campus, and the library is likely to be the most technologically advanced unit on campus. … That does not mean that everything can be dumbed down to some kind of hip-hop or bells-and-whistles kind of stuff. It just can’t be. If you want to know about the dynasties of China, you’re going to have to read a book. In fact, you’re going to have to read several books.

Emphasis mine.

This most recent public relations nightmare for the ALA has led to a number of blogging librians to decide to not renew their memberships to ALA. I briefly considered that…then decided that it would give me much, much more pleasure to stay in the ALA, and attempt to move into a position where I can actually make some kind of difference. Gorman’s comment is a best a poor choice of words, and at worst openly racist. To equate “hip-hop” to a dumbed down form of anything shows only his incredible ignorance of the culture and art forms associated with that label. Even if it is not a racist comment (an argument I might be willing to entertain, given that the hip-hop culture has crossed nearly every racial boundary) it is still an insulting one (much in the vein of his earlier blogger comment).

And this isn’t even to critique his issues with Google Print. He keeps talking about the atomization of books, and how scholarly research is about reading books as a whole, and absorbing knowledge in large pieces. If he thinks this is how Google Print is supposed to be used (that is, as a scholarly source) he’s simply not paying attention. No one wants to be able to read whole scholarly texts on Google…they want to use Google Print to identify areas of possible interest in research. If I can full-text search a wider and wider variety of texts, I can more accurately identify books that I want to read in order to gather the knowledge I want. OR, I’m looking for a fact, in which case full-text will allow me to go directly to it. Either way….all of his critiques of Google Print can be equally applied to full text searches/electronic access of scholarly journals, as far as I can tell. Can you imagine someone actually claiming:

The second big objection to me is that they say they’re digitizing articles, but they’re really not, they’re atomizing them. In other words, they’re reducing articles to a collection of paragraphs and sentences which, taken out of context, have virtually no meaning. They may contain some data, but it’s of very marginal utility. I mean, my view is that a scholarly article is an exposition. It begins at the beginning and ends at the end. It cumulatively adds to your knowledge of a topic and presents an argument.

I’m sure we’ll see more insanity from Gorman as we move through the year. I might need to add a “Gorman” category. 🙂

By griffey

Jason Griffey is the Director of Strategic Initiatives at NISO, where he works to identify new areas of the information ecosystem where standards expertise is useful and needed. Prior to joining NISO in 2019, Jason ran his own technology consulting company for libraries, has been both an Affiliate at metaLAB and a Fellow and Affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, and was an academic librarian in roles ranging from reference and instruction to Head of IT at the University of TN at Chattanooga.

Jason has written extensively on technology and libraries, including multiple books and a series of full-periodical issues on technology topics, most recently AI & Machine Learning in Libraries and Library Spaces and Smart Buildings: Technology, Metrics, and Iterative Design from 2018. His newest book, co-authored with Jeffery Pomerantz, will be published by MIT Press in 2024.

He has spoken internationally on topics such as artificial intelligence & machine learning, the future of technology and libraries, decentralization and the Blockchain, privacy, copyright, and intellectual property. A full list of his publications and presentations can be found on his CV.
He is one of eight winners of the Knight Foundation News Challenge for Libraries for the Measure the Future project (, an open hardware project designed to provide actionable use metrics for library spaces. He is also the creator and director of The LibraryBox Project (, an open source portable digital file distribution system.

Jason can be stalked obsessively online, and spends his free time with his daughter Eliza, reading, obsessing over gadgets, and preparing for the inevitable zombie uprising.

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