Blog people… Sounds like creatures from a cheesy sci-fi movie you’d see on MST3K. ;)

I know this has been talked to death, but as a dues-paying member of the ALA, I wanted to offer my two cents on Michael Gorman’s opinion piece in Library Journal. I thought about writing last night, but I thought it imprudent to publish my initial reaction to his diatribe.

First of all, Gorman seems to be proud of the fact that he has studiously ignored everything having to do with blogs up until this point. “Until recently, I had not spent much time thinking about blogs or Blog People… I was not truly aware of them until shortly after I published an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times.” Is this supposed to be a good thing? While one may not respect blogs and blogging, I think it is important for someone involved in the information field to be up-to-date on how information is being transmitted to the public. Lots of library patrons are bloggers or read blogs. Lots of librarians, and many of the ALA Councilors themselves, have blogs. Lots of libraries are using blogs to communicate information to their patrons. Lots of respected scholars have blogs, such as Professor Lawrence Lessig of Stanford, Professor Gary Becker and Judge Richard Posner (both of the University of Chicago), and Professor Juan Cole of the University of Michigan. In the introduction to the Becker-Posner Blog, the two describe their views on blogs:

Blogging is a major new social, political, and economic phenomenon. It is a fresh and striking exemplification of Friedrich Hayek’s thesis that knowledge is widely distributed among people and that the challenge to society is to create mechanisms for pooling that knowledge. The powerful mechanism that was the focus of Hayek’s work, as as of economists generally, is the price system (the market). The newest mechanism is the “blogosphere.” There are 4 million blogs. The internet enables the instantaneous pooling (and hence correction, refinement, and amplification) of the ideas and opinions, facts and images, reportage and scholarship, generated by bloggers.

Whether you like blogs or not, it is becoming a significant phenomenon in our society, and I don’t think it is at all a good thing for an information professional (especially one who is supposed to be representing the members of the ALA) to have such disdain for blogs when he apparently had never even read them. Sure, I agree with him that a lot of blogs are absolute drivel, but how often can someone with just an internet connection read a debate between a nobel prize winner and a judge/law professor without having to buy a book or a professional journal? Certainly free access to that sort of scholarly dialogue is a good thing, right? Or I guess it can’t be considered scholarly if it hasn’t gone through the editorial process, right Dr. Gorman? Then again, as we’ve seen, a lot of crap can make it through the editorial process because someone has a big name in their field. We aren’t all so lucky to easily get our rants and raves published.

I wrote something last week about my frustration that political discussion has become impossible in our polarized society. Looking at Fox News, the recently defunct Crossfire, and the U.S. Congress, you can see that anyone who doesn’t agree with one’s point of view is ignorant or evil. It’s the “you’re either with us or you’re against us” mentality. Well, apparently Gorman is against that sort of unthinking “fanasticism” as well.:

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.

While I don’t agree with Gorman that all “Blog People” are so fanatical (I personally have agreed with him sometimes and respectfully disagreed with him other times), I do agree with him that that kind of attitude is just stupid. But then Gorman really sticks his foot in his mouth:

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.

So I see that it’s wrong for people to portray him as an “idiot” and an an “anti-digitalist” because they disagree with him, but that same behavior is ok when he is the one pointing the finger. If a few bloggers disagree with him and hurt his feelings, Michael Gorman is allowed to say that most bloggers are illiterate blowhards (based upon his significant experience with blogs). Perhaps my blogger brain is too puny to grasp the “satire” in his writing, but it sounded a lot more like hypocrisy and bitterness to me.

I can’t take what Gorman wrote about “Blog People” too seriously because, as he said himself, he knows next to nothing about blogs. He has read just a few, and only the ones that called him an idiot among other things. And he finds it much easier to stick to his beliefs than to read more and perhaps learn that some blogs contain useful information and intelligent commentary (maybe even as good as some of the things that go through the publishing process). Confirmation bias, anyone? It’s tantamount to me judging everyone involved in the ALA based on the things Michael Gorman has written (and that wouldn’t be pretty). What disturbs me is that Gorman is the President Elect of the ALA, an organization that represents the interests of many blogger-librarians. The ALA already seems to be blind to the existence of blogs, so, considering Gorman’s antagonism, I would be shocked if the ALA got hip to any trends in the online information world. I just don’t know why Gorman can’t see that blogging is a brilliant way for librarians to share ideas about improving their services to their patrons. And that doesn’t just include technology innovations; there are plenty of blogs about library programming, reference services, cataloging and collection development. This is a way for ALL librarians to get involved in the dialogue, not just those who have the time and wherewithall to get published. I have learned so much from my fellow bloggers about real-world librarianship and have taken so many lessons and ideas from their experiences. More often than not, the things I learn from blogs would not be things that people would ever publish (bits of wisdom and experience), but they have a great deal of value for front-line librarians.

I do not feel like the ALA (or Dr. Gorman) represents the bulk of its dues-paying members in any way. I feel like the ALA is living in a 1970′s model of librarianship and has missed this tremendous paradigm shift that has occured with the Internet revolution. The way we serve our patrons is changing. The way our patrons access information is changing. And our roles as librarians are changing. I don’t know if Dr. Gorman wants to stick his head in the sand and ignore progress, but, from his recent writings, I do wonder. I don’t have enough information to judge, so I won’t paint him with the same broad brush that he chose to use on us. I just find it sad that someone who was elected to represent our needs and interests has chosen to antagonize and insult a large part of his constituency.

Other bloggers are none to happy with Michael Gorman’s commentary. Michael Stephens, Steven Cohen, and Sarah (The Librarian in Black) Houghton have written particularly articulate and well-reasoned posts. Take a look if you’re interested. I, for one, find this whole thing depressing, and it has led me to wonder if I want to be a member of the ALA once this year’s membership is up.