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:
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, librarian.net, 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.