Library Issues

Gorman: the Musical!

David Lee King has just unleashed upon the world a song of such touching complexity, I expect major labels to be contacting him any day.

I’m no Antidigitalist

Brilliant, and funny. However, David, where is the Garageband file so that we can all remix it??

Digital Culture

Gorman, again


Karen Schneider twittered the latest Michael Gorman insanity, written on (no surprise here) the Britannica Blog. Long time readers of this blog might remember that I’ve publicly disagreed with Gorman on a number of things, and this latest rant isn’t any different.

In Web 2.0: The Sleep of Reason, Gorman rambles over the landscape of authority, truth, and web 2.0 like a lost puppy, not quite sure where he’s supposed to be going, but sure he has a destination. And that destination is TRUTH. I believe that he has no idea what he is talking about re: Web 2.0, and that his article clearly illustrates the significance of his misunderstanding.

Let’s begin with some examinations of his quotes, shall we? The opening paragraph is a doozy:

The life of the mind in the age of Web 2.0 suffers, in many ways, from an increase in credulity and an associated flight from expertise. Bloggers are called “citizen journalists”; alternatives to Western medicine are increasingly popular, though we can thank our stars there is no discernable “citizen surgeon” movement; millions of Americans are believers in Biblical inerrancy—the belief that every word in the Bible is both true and the literal word of God, something that, among other things, pits faith against carbon dating; and, scientific truths on such matters as medical research, accepted by all mainstream scientists, are rejected by substantial numbers of citizens and many in politics.

I suppose we’d be better off, Michael, if journalists were required to get a governmental approval pass before they could write? The US has a long history of “citizen journalism”…if Thomas Paine were alive today, he’d have a blog.

And to equate the social movement inherent in Web 2.0 with creationism and alternative medicine is not only a category mistake of the largest sort, it is also just insane. It isn’t that there is a “flight from expertise”, Mike…it’s that we are re-defining “expert”. You sound like the Catholic loyalists railing against the Protestant movement…only the priests are allowed to talk to God! Bibles will only be printed in Latin!

The fact that information changes forms or source has no effect on its Truth. Truth judgments arise because the information itself is reflective of the world at large, testable and reproducible in the case of claims about the world (scientific claims) and verifiable in the case of claims about information itself. The goddamn source of the information has absolutely no bearing on the truth of it. None. Zero. Nada. Ziltch.

Ah, but Mike has a bit about that:

Print does not necessarily bestow authenticity, and an increasing number of digital resources do not, by themselves, reflect an increase in expertise. The task before us is to extend into the digital world the virtues of authenticity, expertise, and scholarly apparatus that have evolved over the 500 years of print, virtues often absent in the manuscript age that preceded print.

The reason that the “scholarly apparatus” evolved isn’t because of some desire to desperately produce only the best knowledge…it evolved because of economic pressures. In print, not everything can exist. Print costs money, and in the world of the academic the things we put our financial faith in, mostly, are things that pass the “scholarly test” of peer review. We have to have some limiting process because there is only so much money, NOT because the process itself is holy.

In the digital world, money is often the least of the concerns of information production. That simply means that we have to critically examine each piece of information as it lies with the web of knowledge, and draw coherence lines between the pieces. But we don’t want to get bogged down in the old way of doing things just because it worked in print. Digital is different, and demands different processes and analysis.

The structures of scholarship and learning are based on respect for individuality and the authentic expression of individual personalities. The person who creates knowledge or literature matters as much as the knowledge or the literature itself. The manner in which that individual expresses knowledge matters too.

Ummm…no? After holding up the Scientific Method so often in his article, you’d think he’d understand it a bit more. The point of the scientific method is to eliminate the person and make it about the knowledge, writ pure. The person does not matter, can not matter when it comes to the expression of the knowledge…keep in mind, we aren’t talking about the native intelligence necessary to invent or have insight. We’re talking about the information itself.

This is a rambling, nearly incoherent piece of writing when you try to connect logical lines between his arguments. He moves from comparing Web 2.0 to Creationism, to how his research on Goya done via print is the best way to do it, to comparisons between Web 2.0 and Maoism, to finally accusations of antihumanism.

I can’t decide if the whole article is best described as a Straw Man, Questionable Cause, or if it’s just one enormous fallacy of Appeal to Authority (yes, Virginia, that is a faulty method of thinking).

And let’s not ignore the final indignity: this is an essay decrying Web 2.0 posted on a blog, with multiple RSS feeds, and a Share This section for adding it to, Furl, Reddit, and Digg.

Irony, much?

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.

Library Issues

Where I agree with Michael Gorman

No, the world is not ending, I simply was convinced by kgs’s recent post. I expected to find the article she quoted from and rant again about Gorman’s lack of technological understanding.

Instead, I’m going to agree with him.

On one, very small point. And probably not in the manner he’d like.

In an article in the San Fransisco Chronicle, Gorman is quoted as follows:

“If you look at the Encyclopedia Britannica, you can be fairly sure that somebody writing an article is an acknowledged expert in that field, and you can take his or her words as being at least a scholarly point of view,” said Michael Gorman, president of the American Library Association and dean of library services at Cal State Fresno. “The problem with an online encyclopedia created by anybody is that you have no idea whether you are reading an established person in the field or somebody with an ax to grind. For all I know, Wikipedia may contain articles of great scholarly value. The question is, how do you choose between those and the other kind?”

Gorman thinks the answer for academia lies in encouraging students to think critically. “Anyone involved in higher education will tell you one of the biggest problems is uncritical acceptance (by students) of anything that’s online,” he said.

It’s that last line that I agree with, but I’d like to make an addendum. I’d prefer to say “Anyone involved….will tell you that one of the biggest problems is uncritical acceptance.”


What I want to know is: why should we be teaching our students to blindly accept anything? When we’ve had example after example after example of print sources being spurious, why should we not be teaching students to verify their research no matter what the source. That’s certainly what I’m teaching…verification is evaluation as it relates to information. Blind trust of any source is a problem.

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. 🙂

Library Issues

File under “Gormanesque”

From LISNews originally, another person at the top of a librarian food chain who just doesn’t get it. To wit:

Lately, I’ve been wandering around Blogland, and I’m struck by the narcissism and banality of so many personal blogs, of which, if the statistics are to believed, there are millions. Here, private lives tumble into public view, with no respect for seemliness or established social norms. Here, as the philosopher Roger Scruton said of Reality TV, ‘[a]ll fig leaves, whether of language, thought or behavior, have now been removed.’ What desperate craving for attention is indicated by this kind of mundane, online journaling? Surely, one writes a diary for one’s personal satisfaction; journaling is, after all, a deeply private act.

No, Blaise…you might write a diary for your personal satisfaction. Journaling, for you is a deeply private act. Plus: “…no respect for seemliness..”? What sort of bizarro 1950’s world is this supposed to be? We create our own established social norms here on the ‘net. Virtual communities derive their own set of performance standards and codes, and it doesn’t matter how “public” or “private” the delineation of those communities may be. Bloggers who choose to reveal their personal lives online do not all do so out of some form of deep narcissism, nor from any exhibitionistic tendencies…except, of course, those that do. They do so for their own reasons.

One wonders for whom these hapless souls blog. Why do they chose to they expose their unremarkable opinions, sententious drivel and unedifying private lives to the potential gaze of total strangers? What prompts this particular kind of digital exhibitionism? The present generation of bloggers seems to imagine that such crassly egotistical behavior is socially acceptable and that time-honored editorial and filtering functions have no place in cyberspace. Undoubtedly, these are the same individuals who believe that the free-for-all, communitarian approach of Wikipedia is the way forward. Librarians, of course, know better.

Wow…”sententious drivel”? And your comment about the Wikipedia is unbecoming of someone who once published a paper entitled Bowling alone together: Academic writing as distributed cognition. The Wikipedia is the ultimate form of distributed cognition. And this is one librarian who most assuredly knows nothing of the sort. Your “time-honored editorial and filtering functions” are going the way of the dodo thanks to the distribution of publication power, personal publication and archiving, folksonomic tagging/syndication/massive metadata collaboration, and other technological innovations. Those functions can be (and I would argue, will be) filled in other ways very, very soon.

Admittedly, some blogs are highly professional, reliable and informative, but most are not.

The same is true of, oh….every form of communication known to mankind.

Legal Issues Library Issues

Even more Gormangate followup

And the Gormangate news continues. LISNews put up a summary of the blog coverage, and Library Journal published a reaction piece on the coverage of the story by bloggers, which Karen Schnieder proceeded to take apart with near surgical precision. I don’t really have much to add to her pitch perfect analysis, with the exception of this quote from LJ:

Gorman, whose views do not represent the official positions of either ALA or California State University Fresno (where he directs the library), has received more than 100 messages—more than half of them sent pseudonymously.

Karen does a great job analyzing the first part of this, but I’m a bit interested in the last bit. Why take the time to point out that some of the messages were sent anonymously? The only reason to do so that I can imagine is an attempt to lessen their impact. If the people can’t even put their name on a letter, why should we take them seriously, right? I can’t see any other reason for LJ to point this out, and that’s what bothers me most.

In this country (the US, for those keeping track) we have a longstanding tradition, upheld by the highest court in the land, of anonymous criticism. The courts have long held that for speech to be truly free, one aspect of that is the freedom to be anonymous in your speech. In the central case for this right, McIntyre v. Ohio Election Commission, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote:

Under our Constitution, anonymous pamphleteering is not a pernicious, fraudulent practice, but an honorable tradition of advocacy and of dissent. Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority.

In an even earlier case, Talley v California, Justice Hugo Black, noted:

Even the Federalist Papers, written in favor of the adoption of our Constitution, were published under fictitious names. It is plain that anonymity has sometimes been assumed for the most constructive purposes.

In addition to the various poor journalistic practices pointed out by Karen, to be dismissive of anonymous criticism is to be ignorant of the history of speech in this country. I would expect better of Library Journal.

EDIT: The Shifted Librarian has a humorous look at possible new topics for Gorman to examine.

Digital Culture Library Issues

More Fun with Michael Gorman

Well, we’ve already seen what Gorman (the President-Elect of the American Library Association) thinks of blogs and the blog people. Now we get his comments on Google and the Google Digitization Project in the latest issue of American Libraries.


To the quotes!

Since scholarly books are, with few exceptions, intended to be read cumulatively and not consulted for snippets of information, making those that are out of copyright available by means of a notoriously fallible search engine seems to be, at best, a misallocation of resources.

At best a misallocation of resource? It appears that Gorman believes that people are interested in the Google Dig project in order to find primary materials for research. While that might be ONE reason for something like the GDP, it certainly doesn’t strike me as the way it will popularly be used. I see the GDP being used as a quick and easy way to find quotes, to locate books when all you have is a quote (how many times have reference librarians had to spend hours figuring out where famous quote from scholar X came from?), to do intertextual comparisons that are simply not possible with print resources (I see massive digitization projects like GDP as potentially the biggest innovation in linguistic/pattern related text study ever), and yes, sometimes, to serve as a quick and easy method for those that are not near a library that has access to these works to read them.

And I really want to know what his justification for the “notoriously fallible” line is. That’s just incredibly sloppy writing, to make a judgement like that and not back it up. Then again, it appears that’s what Gorman is really good at, given his last couple of publications.

Any user of Google knows that it is pathetic as an information-retrieval system — utterly lacking in both recall and precision, the essential criteria for efficiency in such systems.

Utterly lacking? Utterly lacking?

At this point I just want to know what planet Gorman has been on for the last 5-7 years.

Google is by far the best search engine on the Internet, indexing and making searchable over, at the time of this posting, 8,058,044,651 web pages. That’s EIGHT BILLION pages. Mr. Gorman…I would love to see your suggestions for a better way to index 8 Billion pieces of disparate information.

Statements like that only show how out of touch Gorman is with the reality of information seekers.

Also, no amount of “research on search engines” is going to overcome the fundamental fact that free-text searching is inherently inferior to controlled-vocabulary systems….Google is supposed to have complex algorithms but still produces piles of rubbish for almost all searches.

And speaking of out of touch with information seekers…Mr. Gorman, there is a reason that our patrons want our OPACs to be “google easy” to use. It’s because Google, as far as the only audience that matters (the patron) gets them the information they need without the need for them to become experts in a controlled vocabulary. Would it be great if everyone memorized LoC subject headings and used them to search for what they need? Possibly. But that will never happen, and in the meantime while we’re waiting on that, full-text searches are the way people find information.

I can only guess again that Gorman actually means something like “Google produces piles of rubbish for specific kinds of searches that I can’t bother to deliniate right now” because it is a demonstrable fact that Google does provide good results. Want to know what demonstrates that? The fact that everyone uses it. The fact that it’s a freaking verb at this point in time. Heck, I can produce excellent results for Google searches, and I don’t try very hard. I have not yet had Google let me down when I need a factual answer to some question (and contrary to Mr. Gorman’s unspoken assumptions, that is what most people are after…random facts).

I can’t describe how disappointed I am in the President-Elect of the ALA. He’s not only come across as petulant and out of touch in his writings, but has repeatedly denegrated technologies that are useful and, in Google’s case, necessary for information seeking at this point in history. For someone who is supposed to be leading the ALA, it appears that his leadership might be in directions that most newer librarians aren’t very happy with. We already have to swim against the current of the established order of things in Library Land. Gorman is simply adding fuel to the fire of the next generation of librarians to come along and revolutionize our understanding of information seeking and gathering.

EDIT: A bit of conversation going on re: this topic over at

Digital Culture Library Issues

Michael Gorman vs Blogosphere

Well, the ALA President_Elect has certainly stuck his foot in an orifice with his recent comments on blogs and bloggers in Library Journal. He’s getting feedback from all over the ‘net, including Instapundit and Slashdot, arguable the two most read blogs in the world. LISNews has covered it, of course, and it’s all the rage on the various library listservs that I’m subscribed to. Other places of note: Jessamyn, Karen Schneider, and FrazzledDad. EDIT: More great stuff from Jessamyn. FURTHER EDIT: Here’s Metafilter’s take on it, with comments from all over.

Gorman’s response is that it was supposed to be satirical. Here are just a couple of noteworthy quotes from his “satirical” writing:

Until recently, I had not spent much time thinking about blogs or Blog People…I had heard of the activities of the latter and of the absurd idea of giving them press credentials (though, since the credentials were issued for political conventions, they were just absurd icing on absurd cakes). I was not truly aware of them until shortly after I published an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times (“Google and God’s Mind,” December 17, 2004).

Yeah…press credentials. Absurd idea. Bloggers have had no real impact on news stories this year or anything. Much less bloggers covering political conventions. And don’t get me started about his comments on Google from the article that is mentioned above. He’s as profoundly mistaken about that as he is about blogging. I hope that he’s aware that Google and OCLC are working together, and that Google can point people to libraries in order to find the book they need.

It turns out that the Blog People (or their subclass who are interested in computers and the glorification of information) have a fanatical belief in the transforming power of digitization and a consequent horror of, and contempt for, heretics who do not share that belief.

I’ll admit that his use of “Blog People” instead of the correct term, “blogger” might be support for his claim of satire. It just comes across sounding condescending. And I’ll be proud to count myself in the numbers of those that “have a fanatical belief in the transforming power of digitization and a consequent horror of, and contempt for, heretics who do not share that belief.” Many, many people have shown that digitization changes everything about access to information. It democratizes information, it allows for nearly costless access to information that previously would be impossible to use, it allows for transformative uses that no one ever considered before…I’m again just befuddled at his lack of understanding of the power of this stuff. It comes across like the people who, upon the invention of the telephone, couldn’t begin to understand why people would ever use one (originally it was thought that telephones would be used for educational and entertainment..piping in lessons or music to the home).

Given the quality of the writing in the blogs I have seen, I doubt that many of the Blog People are in the habit of sustained reading of complex texts. It is entirely possible that their intellectual needs are met by an accumulation of random facts and paragraphs. In that case, their rejection of my view is quite understandable.

Clearly Mr. Gorman is not particularly familiar with Sturgeon’s Law, because if he was he would know that given the quality of writing of ANYTHING, 90% of it is terrible. As well, Jessamyn points out that this seems to imply that we’re all running to random places and soaking it all in as the One Truth. Yes, lots of blogs are terrible. But if you actually use some information literacy skills and seperate the wheat from the chafe, you end up with the ability to stay current on much, much more than was ever before possible. RSS and aggregators are intrinsically changing the way that information is presented, filtered, and absorbed. Failure to realize this fact will leave someone like Mr. Gorman happily fiddling while Rome burns around him.

Finally, my favorite comment from the Slashdot conversation on this debacle:

A blog is a species of interactive electronic diary by means of which the unpublishable, untrammeled by editors or the rules of grammar, can communicate their thoughts via the web.

If the President of the ALA has such a low opinion of bloggers, perhaps his organization should stop giving so many major awards to them.

I think what he actually meant to say was something along the lines of:

“A blog is a species of interactive electronic diary by means of which the unpublishable — except for ALA literary award winners such as Orson Scott Card [] or Neil Gaiman [] or Sherwood Smith [] or David Brin [] or Jane Yolen [] or Dianne Duane [] or, oh, bugger, you know, all those other ALA award-winning authors who also blog, not that I want to imply that ALA award-winning librarians who blog, like Kathleen de la Peña McCook [], are bad either, and oh, yeah, I definitely don’t want to seem to be criticizing PLABlog [], the brand new blog of the Public Library Association [], especially not when we put out a nifty little press release [] crowing about it, just last month, because that would look pretty stupid, now, wouldn’t it — er, um, what was I saying, again?”

EVEN FURTHER EDIT: So people are now digging up different quotes that Gorman has made in different publications about blogging/bloggers. Here’s one found by Rachel Singer Gordon on the NEXTGEN list:

“Unfortunately, if there are writers of genius, or talent, or even basic competence out there blogging, I have yet to find them. In the early heady days of the Internet, we were promised that, in the future, everyone could be published. Alas, that promise is being fulfilled, which should remind us all to be wary of what we wish for” (Our Own Selves: More Meditations for Librarians. Chicago: ALA, 2005:208).

And this guy is an example of a librarian that the rest of the world is going to use to judge our profession. *sigh*

Digital Culture Library Issues

Haiku for Libraryman

Oh, Libraryman
your humor amuses me
please don’t ever change

Ok, so it’s not the best haiku ever. But I had to find some form of poetry to express my love for Libraryman’s recent short film. Oh, Gorman, how I’ve missed you! And Michael, I so owe you a drink at Internet Librarian for this…