Library Issues Personal

Gorman opens mouth, foot already inserted.

Here’s another in the long string of things that I find to disagree with Michael Gorman about. At the Online Information Conference in London, he came up with a few more priceless gems of wisdom (from Information World Review):

Controversy has broken out over the Google digitisation project with Michael Gorman, outspoken head of the American Library Association , slammed it as a waste of money. Speaking at the Online Information Conference in London, Gorman also attacked librarians for being “too interested in technology”.

“…too interested in technology.” Perhaps he hasn’t noticed, but….that’s the way that our patrons are interacting with the information they need these days. I suppose we could go back to card catalogs, but I’m guessing we’ll get some pushback from our users.

His comments have met with opposition from librarians. “The Google project has been enthusiastically embraced and I think that is a mistake. I am not speaking on behalf of the ALA. That has no position on the Google digitisation project. I, on the other hand, do,” said Gorman.

Christ on a cracker…Gorman, the reason you’re invited to speak at things like the Online Information Conference is because you’re the ALA president. It certainly isn’t because you are forward-thinking and innovative.

“So we digitise – I would prefer to say atomise. Very little-used books are reduced to a bunch of paragraphs, searchable by free text searching, the very worst kind of searching.”

I’m sorry…I can barely parse that last sentence. The very worst kind of searching? Being able to search the full text of a work…the “very worst” kind of searching? *boggle* I’ll give him that full-text searching with no ranking or other evaluatory device behind it might be bad…but that’s certainly not what anyone will be doing. Google certainly isn’t going to digitize thousands of works and then return full-text searches with random results based on the fact that the word “otter” is on page 5. It’s going to make very complicated ranking decisions, weight them, and return results with other factors taken into account. What are those factors? Could be lots of things, including bibliographic metadata or the last thing you clicked on…but it will be a damn sight better than current OPAC results. If you haven’t had a chance yet, Mr. Gorman, I recommend you take a look at the Univ. of California’s BSTF Final Report for a good summary of how our current OPAC/Bib. Services need to be altered.

“Google Book Search is not an effective way of finding books – it is better to go to a library catalogue or Amazon ,” he said

*sigh* Either of those might be decent choices if you know what you are looking for. With a title in hand, a syphilitic monkey could find a book on Amazon. The issue comes when you don’t have a title or author…just a topic or question. How good is your library OPAC at locating books based on topics, when the searcher isn’t knowledgable? I’m betting that Google Book Search will outperform many OPAC searches when doing an unsophisticated search. I wish my OPAC were as easy to use as Amazon.

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.

2 replies on “Gorman opens mouth, foot already inserted.”

Thanks for posting this- especially the Univ. of California’s BSTF Final Report link.
I spend a great part of my day cataloging and trying to figure out why our users are so
unhappy with our library online catalog. This report sums up the problem well. I agree with
your assessment of these ridiculous statements by Gorman.

Thanks for posting this- especially the Univ. of California's BSTF Final Report link. I spend a great part of my day cataloging and trying to figure out why our users are so unhappy with our library online catalog. This report sums up the problem well. I agree with your assessment of these ridiculous statements by Gorman.

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