Living In The South
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Still in the incunabula stage

In the past few months, the biblioblogosphere has seen interesting discussions about openness, sympathetic listening, the difficulties of managing one's social networks and the like.  We are really still at the very beginnings of figuring out the best ways to engage in discourse using all of these new tools.

So amidst the kerfuffle surrounding the latest Gorman outrage, I was struck by Laura K’s comment, “I think that when people need to diminish the efforts of others to make themselves look/feel better, it speaks to a pettiness in our profession.”  Well said (although I don’t think it’s peculiar to our profession).  Laura K was making the comment in response to the reports of the (curiously) unnamed presenter at the NASIG conference who apparently used one of Jane’s posts as an example of why blogs are bad.

What intrigues me  is that the comment was made in the context of a larger discussion in which some bibliobloggers have been piling on Michael Gorman’s recent pieces on the Brittanica blog, and a number of the posts I’ve seen exhibit the same apparent need to “diminish the efforts of others.”  A sampling:

“the latest Michael Gorman insanity,” “Gorman rambles…like a lost puppy…,” “rambling, nearly incoherent piece….”

“His hair is still blue…”

“I believe Michael Gorman was sad that we were not talking about him anymore…”

“his usual insultingly privileged self.”

These bloggers feel strongly about the issues, and I follow them because they often write useful and thought-provoking things (which I sometimes agree with and sometimes not), and just as often, are simply fun to read.  But presumably, the speaker at the NASIG conference also feels strongly about what he was saying (as does Gorman).  From the reports, it seems likely that I’d disagree with him vociferously, but I don’t have any grounds for questioning his sincerity or his passion for his beliefs.  And yet, it seems that in the minds of some, it’s unfair and petty to go after one of Jane’s posts, but it’s perfectly fine and reasonable to question Gorman’s sanity, ethics, emotional stability and hairstyle(!)  Why is that?

I’ve seen a number of very good responses to Gorman, in particular on Information Wants To Be Free,, Walt at Random and Many to Many.  Think what you want about Gorman, the issues he tries to raise in his piece are fundamental questions to how our societies are going to view scholarship, authority, community and the generation of knowledge in the future.  I disagree with his stance, but he’s trying to talk about the right issues.  Challenging his ideas with better ideas is what’s needed.  Engaging in ad hominem attacks seems, well, petty.

As I was contemplating this post, I was reading de Botton’s superb “The Architecture of Happiness.”   He refers to Le Corbusier’s 1922 plan for Paris as one that “seemed so obviously demented that it intrigued me.”  He goes on,

Only after properly understanding how a rational person might come up with an idea to destroy half of central Paris, only after sympathising with the aspirations behind the plan and respecting its logic, did it seem fair to begin to mock, or indeed feel superior to...

But alas, attaining such an understanding of those one wishes to criticize requires work and time.


Dorothea Salo

If you check the links I included in that particular paragraph, you will discover that I at least backed up my contentions.


To be fair, using portions of those quotes doesn't make it clear that I am talking about the article, and not participating in ad hominem attacks on Gorman himself. I'm not saying that his points are bad because he is bad. The quotes you pulled, in their entirety, are:

"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."

"This is a rambling, nearly incoherent piece of writing when you try to connect logical lines between his arguments. "

Both of these quotes speaks to the quality of the writing, not Gorman himself. I did find the article very...random. It was a shotgun of opinion about many things, and not even really (as many have said) about Web 2.0 at all.

The first quote about "..the latest Gorman insanity.." is also pointing at the article. I do think his POV is insane, irrational, and increasingly irrelevant. But the difference between this and the issue with NASIG and Jane is that they intentionally pulled a post from her blog and generalized it in a provably false manner. To question Gorman's own words is not the same as to intentionally misread and misrepresent pull-quotes from him.

K.G. Schneider

T. Scott, when people used the photo of Gorman with blue hair to make lol macros, that is arguably disrespectful. Even I do not do that. When Gorman uses the same picture to represent himself on Britannica, he leaves that wide open, much as those two twin pop stars with the raccoon mascara invite discussion about their choices.

Having served with Gorman on Council, I disagree that he is only trying to discuss the right issues. For as long as I've known him he's been dismissive, leeringly so, of technology and its applications to librarianship, and has been happy to mock technology and its defenders on the floor of ALA Council, which, I would add, is a personal privilege few others exercise. He has never lost a chance to belittle people who differ from him on technology-related issues, as the editorials he wrote about bloggers demonstrate. From personal experience and stories shared with me, I guarantee Cavlec's report of condescension is not some figment of her imagination. He comes by our ire honestly.

As I point out in my post (which you at least link to -- thanks), he is stubbornly, even virulently Luddite in his approach to the Web, and that does more than harm his argument: it misrepresents librarianship, at a crucial time when we cannot afford this misrepresentation. That, and his arguments are hopelessly mangled. The Internet didn't create fundamentalism; look at the religious wars of the past 2000 years. Jason's comments about Gorman "rambling like a lost puppy" are in reference to his argument, and he justifies his point.

The two people representing librarianship for all of us on this debate are Gorman and Thomas Mann, who in my estimation is a union shill I predict will also make us all look horrendous, just from new and different angles. If we are piling it on, we're up against a company who selected two of the least likely -- and most harmful -- voices to represent LibraryLand to the rest of the world.

T Scott

Thanks, all. I appreciate the comments and the further amplification of your thoughts. I'm not entirely persuaded, perhaps, but I appreciate them nonetheless.


Jason is correct when he defended my position against the NASIG presentation. I was not mad that I was used as an example, I was annoyed that what I said was taken out of context and context, as any rational person knows, is everything.

At the time of my post, I did not know who the presenters were who misquoted me, but as soon as I found out, I added a link in my post with the information.

We all know that Gorman has every right to be an idiot online. I display my own failings online every day, but I expect when I do something that is less then intelligent, that I will be called to task for it. Are we harsh? Yes. Are we a bit flippant? You bet.

I would respond to Gorman in a respectful manner if he ever condescended to do the same for me. He has consistently insulted my views on librarianship, my age group, my intellect, and my religion. I do not think he deserves anything from me but my scorn, well and pity.

I suppose you could insert a discussion on Christian forgiveness here, but frankly, I am still working on that particular fault.

T Scott

Jane -- I'm not a Christian m'self, so I wouldn't worry about it.... As I said to the others earlier, thanks for the comments...


I would agree with T. Scott on the name calling. It is not necessary to debunk the argument here. I would prefer to easily disassemble the argument versus the person. The fact that the former is so easy makes those who use the latter weaker in their argument.


All the vitriol back and forth doesn't change the fact that I can quickly find a Wikipedia article with the title of the Goya etching Gorman references, and my library catalog provides me with plenty of books on Goya should I want to dig deeper.

Perhaps I'd be up in arms were my arms not already full with other things I need to do.


Like most of the commenters on the "incident" at NASIG, I was not actually there. I did see some of the PowerPoint slides and discussed the event with one of the presenters. I think that the discussion must have been fairly positive toward blogs. See the program description (page 6) at
and Char Simser's capsule at

I think this context has been misrepresented in blog posts these last few days. The NASIG discussion was not about "why blogs are bad."

I value blogs and encourage their wider use, but they do actually have some problematic aspects (as with conversation, columns, and conferences). I wonder if this reaction to the NASIG incident was staged to highlight some of them (only joking).


I agree that discourse in the blogosphere is too corse. Therefore, I am trying to be more judicious and polite in my own entries. It is all too easy to type out whatever comes to mind without giving it a second thought. All of us should try to remember that words can hurt. We all should apply more discipline to our words.

Being unfamiliar with Gorman, I at first thought that I would read his entries to see why he appears to be so polarising. I did actually read the piece linked in your blog and then went no further. I read no further because I decided to present my own views and I didn’t want those views to be prejudiced by Gorman’s writings. Reading the entries here and the entries on the one Gorman blog that I have read would lead me to conclude that Gorman is a techno-sceptic. Without getting into the virtues or failings of any particular technology or site, I thought I would offer my own views on this subject before I read any more material from Gorman.

I remember when the web first became available to the general public. The promise was great, the statements were bold. The web was going to make my life better by putting the world at my fingertips. Anything and everything I wanted would be just a click away. I would be freed from drudgery, thus allowing me the time to do the things that were really important to me. Did it deliver on its promise? Well certainly everything is now just a click away. A world of knowledge, products, and services presents itself before me on my computer, phone, television and Blackberry screens. I can keep in contact with friends across the globe. I can conduct business anywhere on the globe from my home and office here in Sydney. I can hold a discussion with friends half a world away. But is my life better? Have I been freed to pursue my interests?

Unfortunately, the story is mixed. Yes, I can do all of the wonderful things listed above. Yet, depending on whose statistics you use, our generation works 10% to 20% more hours a week then our parents’ generation. The income of the average American has stagnated for twenty years or more. More of us are at risk of loosing our jobs to someone who will do the work for less money (via the net) in another part of the world. For well over a decade now I have had to work more hours and do more tasks because computers and the net have improved my efficiency. Yet, my income has stagnated. I am doing more just to stay in place. Certainly, my company has benefited from the internet. But have I? I think that the results (for me) our mixed. The net offers conveniences, to be sure, but my life has become more stressful as a result. It is a bit of a paradox, isn’t it?

And what about the academic world? Is the net a positive or negative influence? Gorman’s position seems to be that it is negative, his detractors seem to hold the opposite view. Maybe it is my training in economics but I tend to take a practical rather then philosophical view on these issues. I don’t know whether or not electronic resources have been beneficial to the academic community. To answer that question I would need answers to the following questions.

Ultimately the internet should be judged on its results:

In the past fifteen years has the output of academic research increased? I assume yes, but by how much?
Our research papers more thoroughly grounded in past research? What I mean by that, has there been in increase in the number of references on original papers? I have seen no data on this? Are there fewer misrepresentations and fewer omissions in original papers then there were fifteen years ago? The internet should allow for a more thorough review of past literature. Is that happening? I assume it is, but I would love to see the data?

Academic institutions also have an obligation to teach. What of the students?
Are student papers better prepared today then they were fifteen years ago? Are they more thoroughly researched? With all this data at their fingertips, are students better at analysis and interpretation? Are grades for papers going up? Are students able to do more work, write more papers, during their academic career? From society’s standpoint, it would be beneficial for students to complete their degrees in less time (they would then move into the productive workforce sooner). Is that happening? What percentage of students complete their academic requirements early? How does today’s figure compare with fifteen years ago? In short, with all this availability of knowledge are we smarter? Are we using it to its fullest potential?

Scott, I think you hit the nail on the head in your title. We are indeed in the incunabula stage of the electronic age. The web holds great promise and enormous potential. But we are not there yet. The structures of society have not yet caught up to the changes wrought by the web. The real benefits of the web will come to the next generation, not ours.


As an interesting postscript to my entry yesterday, I read an article about web 2.0 in the Economist last night. The article was about a sinophile, ‘Chrissy,’ in Berkley, California. It seems that Chrissy is interested in learning Mandarin and has found a web solution. She receives Mandarin lessons via Podcast from Shanghai each morning. The Podcasts include new vocabulary words, standard language exercises and Chinese written characters. In the afternoon, via Skype, she speaks with her Mandarin tutor in Shanghai. How cool is that! All of a sudden, no more classrooms no more text books, it is all done via the net from China, and who better to teach you then a native speaker. It works out well for everyone, Chrissy gets specialised tutoring for a small fee, the company in Shanghai offering the program has the ability to scale globally at a very small cost (no need for text books, teachers and classrooms in cities across the globe). Everyone wins! Unless of course you are a professor of Mandarin at Berkley. If you are, you just suffered a permanent and irreversible decline in your standard of living. But that is the nature of revolutionary change. There are always winners and losers.

I remember when I was young, studying economics in the late seventies and early eighties. At the time, globalisation was wreaking havoc in the American steel industry. Cleveland, Detroit, Birmingham and Pittsburgh were being hollowed out by competition from Japan and Korea. Being young and full of new ideas about terms of trade, I took a very cold view of the plight of those unfortunate steel workers – most of whom became unemployable or suffered a dramatic decline in their standard of living. My professors assured me that the suffering of American steel workers was a small price to pay for global rationalisation and rising standards of living of the greater whole. I wonder what those professors would say now that the cold hard realities of global trade (complements of the web) now put their jobs at risk. Think about it. If Mandarin classes can be taught from Shanghai, then why wouldn’t it be possible for me to earn a business degree from a university in Chenai, for a fraction of the cost of getting that degree at the University of California or the University of Alabama (or that matter). And I can do it all from the convenience of my home. My friends, education has just gone global. Welcome to the world of America’s steel workers. Is this bad? Actually no, for society at large this is a great advancement. For those of us in higher education in the west, well it may not be so good for us.

Don’t be too hard on Gorman my friends, his views may merely reflect that fact that he fears for his job.

walt crawford

Not to restart this particular discussion (although, since I'm linked within it, I guess I could), but one direct comment on MarkD's comment:

Michael Gorman has retired. Therefore, it's extremely unlikely that he fears for his job.


Card catalogues. Remember those?

No one could argue that the demise of that old archaic system in favour of electronic databases is anything but a vast improvement. Yet, I remember being a student in university, spending hours in the library. I was fascinated by the card catalogues. I would think about the detailed work and skill that went into putting together and maintaining those cards. I wondered at the logistical beauty of it. But what is more, there was a beauty in those old oak bureaus in which the cards were kept. I appreciated the craftsmanship, the touch, even the smell of those old bureaus. The whole thing was a marvel of ingenuity and a tribute to human ingenuity and craftsmanship. Think of the painstaking work that went into it. Think of the daily effort people like Gorman must have put into that effort to make the sum of human knowledge available to an unappreciative ignorant student like myself. Those people put the world at my fingertips in age when that was no easy task.

In the internet age, all you need is a smart mathematician with a slick algorithm and the world is yours to take. Undoubtedly, unreservedly today’s technological marvels are a vast improvement over the old card catalogues. One would be foolish to argue otherwise. But, that doesn’t stop us from recognizing the nobleness of the effort and the subtle tactile joy of the old system. Appreciating the sleekness and efficiency of electronic databases of today does not preclude me from appreciating that something was also lost. That is the nature of all human advances – things are gained but things are also lost.

One more postscript to my previous message. I was reading in the paper the other day that a new service was about to be launched here in Australia. An Indian entrepreneur was about to introduce an internet based grade school tutorial service for the modest sum of $100 per month. Like our Chinese friends, this system was entirely web based using a combination of technologies. Also like our Chinese friends, after taking their lessons on the net, students could speak with their teachers via skype. This entrepreneur had hired retired teachers in India for the tutorial services. Again, what a marvel this is. All of a sudden, literally hundreds of thousands of struggling students in Australia could get one-on-one tutorial services for a fraction of the cost of a local tutor. Did I mention that this was a daily service, involving as much as 20 to 30 hours of personalised instruction for $100, making this service available to a much larger percentage of the population. Now, even poor parents will be able to provide extra education to their children. Everyone is a winner, accept of course those local teachers who used to earn a little extra money by tutoring children. They of course, just suffered an irreversible decline in their standard of living.

Every advance means giving something up. Every advance always leaves someone behind.

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