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ALA President-Elect Michael Gorman Slams “The Blog People”

:: Michael Gorman, Dean of Library Services at the Henry Madden Library, California State University, Fresno, President-Elect of the American Library Association, and considered by many to be a leader in our profession, is taking a beating online for his Library Journal column, Revenge of the Blog People. The column begins with (and maintains throughout) a condescending tone, as he writes:

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. (Though it sounds like something you would find stuck in a drain, the ugly neologism blog is a contraction of “web log.”) Until recently, I had not spent much time thinking about blogs or Blog People.

Ostensibly, Gorman’s column is a response to criticism leveled at him by bloggers for an op-ed piece he wrote for the LA Times (“Google and God’s Mind,” December 17, 2004), in which he questions “the usefulness of Google digitizing millions of books and making bits of them available via its notoriously inefficient search engine.” However, he also chose to use his column to condemn anyone who dares to blog:

It is obvious that the Blog People read what they want to read rather than what is in front of them and judge me to be wrong on the basis of what they think rather than what I actually wrote. 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.

I do not recall ever reading something so hard-edged and mean-spirited in its dismissal of a new, exciting movement, There is little point in defending Weblog Nation, or the many diverse applications of weblogs being utilized in libraries today. In my library system, at least fourteen blogs are used for applications including dissemination of library news, project management, e-journal maintenance, software working groups, digital projects, management of our knowledge common, and more. My guess is that none of the participants consider him- or herself a charter member of The Blog People. The weblog, for what it’s worth, has provided a new way for rapid distribution and exchange of diverse ideas, new ways to communicate, to share information and opinion, and create communities of like-minded librarians interested in sharing their knowledge and experiences with others. (As an engineering librarian, I introduced the weblog as a project management tool in 2004 to a number of engineering design classes in which I teach sessions on library and information resources, and continue to do so this term.)

The larger concern, however, is that he is the next leader of the largest library association on the planet, which means he is moving into a position of major influence in the profession. On his website, he stresses that he hopes to be “an effective advocate for our shared values and a leader who can help the association to seize its opportunities and rise to its challenges.” In acknowledging his adamant disdain for weblogs and those who create them, I wonder how he plans to accomplish this without alienating a growing population of intelligent, articulate, and passionate librarians, committed to their profession, and who are already among the converted. I also wonder, what about younger librarians, those new to the profession or about to enter it, what might their reactions be to the dismissal, by one of its noteworthy leaders, of a relatively new but growing component of librarianship?

Of note, Jessamyn West reports that Gorman has since indicated his column was intended to be satirical, but does state that he is not a fan of blogs, and notes that he has “an old fashioned belief that, if one wishes to air one’s views and be taken seriously, one should go through the publishing/editing process.” Times have changed. That process still exists, and must continue to do so, but it should not be the only way to air one’s views and be “taken seriously.”

One of my favorite of many responses to Gorman’s column appeared on library_grrls:”Despite the fact that this is indeed a satirical piece, I resent being compared to a B movie.” Imagine the sequels… The Blog People vs Larry Flynt. 24 Hour Blog People. Ordinary Blog People. The Blog People That Time Forgot. Darby O’Gill and The Little Blog People. The Curse of the Blog People. Games Blog People Play. An Enemy of the Blog People. Where Have All the Blog People Gone? Blog People Who Die Mysteriously In Their Sleep. I Like To Hurt Blog People. Blog People Hate Me and They Hate My Glasses. The Best of the Village Blog People. All Power to the Blog People. Let My Blog People Live. Man of the Blog People. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Blog People. Blog People are Dead. We The Blog People. The War of the Six Million Blog People. OK, enough. Thanks, IMDb.

Jessamyn, who supported Gorman for the ALA Presidency, wrote the following in his website guestbook:”Lovely website, have you considered a blog?” My guess is, no. Then again, who knows?

NOTE: This post originally appeared in my work-related blog, STLQ; comments from that post are here.

7 Responses to “ALA President-Elect Michael Gorman Slams “The Blog People””

  1. Tony Dalmyn Says:

    I tried to follow some of the links in your entry to see if the text of his article in the LA Times in December was available and it didn’t come up. I think he was right about several of the shortcomings of Google – it is a dumb brute which brings up lots of commercial and promotional sites and lots of oddball sites on any given search. I think he is right when he says that information needs to be evaluated in order to be properly indexed and retrieved. I don’t know if librarians are going through the pangs of post-modernism or a debate about the rules for evaluating information.

    I can’t figure out what he said about blogs and bloggers in his original piece. If he said that some bloggers are google-whores, I agree. There are lots of bloggers aiming for visibility and Google ranking.

    But he is wrong if he thinks that blogging is not an efficient and legitimate way to self-publish.

  2. Tony Dalmyn Says:

    On further search, there is a link to Michael Gorman’s LA Times piece here and his piece was about Google’s plan to digitize whole library collections. Nothing at all about blogs. But someone must have criticized him in a blog. In fact yes, like blogger Kevin Drum (and check the trackbacks and comments). But other bloggers, for instance Jonathan Goodwindefended Gorman’s LA Times piece.

    Gorman made a mistake in writing a piece responding to something most of the readers of his February piece never saw, and a bigger mistake in attacking the medium and the blogging community instead of focussing his comments on the people he was mad at.

  3. Keith Alias Alias Says:

    Peer review is great for major articles, but not for discussion.

  4. Brad Says:

    While the internecine squabbling continues, I think it may be generally more interesting to consider how many librarians have adopted this newfangled phenomenon of blogging. Librarians globally are utilizing what is a fairly cutting edge technology to desseminate information, express interesting views, share fact and opinion, and generally get out there and shake it for all to see.

    After years of dusty stereotype, there is an emerging class of (gulp) cool librarians. What is more surprising?-Gorman’s comments, or the fact that the 21st century is starting to showcase the profession for what it always has been, namely a bunch of really neat people who know a lot about a lot and moreover, know how to share that knowledge with the rest of us?

  5. Nick Says:

    Here’s a terrific response by the OCLC as well.

  6. halftruths Says:

    I think I hate that man. Mean-spirited is definatly the best way you could have put it. I find that people like that are simply too pleased with themselves for their own good. Who gives a damn if the majority of bloggers are unpublishible? Most of those who blog do so for their own gratification and for the possible amusement of their friends.

    For a librarian, he sounds curiously backwards-minded when it comes to communication and information technology advances.

  7. A Sea of Flowers Says:

    Lost in the Library

    My friend Randy Reichardt, a librarian by profession, blogged about the Gorman controversy in two separate entries today and yesterday. Gorman is the president elect of the American Libary Association. In December he wrote an essay published in the LA …

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