Revolt Of The Buggy-Whip Manufacturers

The head of the American Library Association (motto: “Sssshhhh!”) is taking bloggers to the woodshed for not being fonts of wisdom like heads of the American Library Association. In a piece titled like a 50’s horror movie (“Quick! We must escape the clutches of THE BLOG PEOPLE!”) Michael Gorman displays both a sense of dripping elitism and a shocking amount of cluelessness:

In the eyes of bloggers, my sin lay in suggesting that Google is OK at giving access to random bits of information but would be terrible at giving access to the recorded knowledge that is the substance of scholarly books. I went further and came up with the unoriginal idea that the thing to do with a scholarly book is to read it, preferably not on a screen. 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.

First of all, Gorman completely misses the point of Google’s initiative for putting the content of the world’s libraries online – the point is to make search results more accurate by having authoritative sources made available. One would think that a librarian would be able to correctly parse a press release, but apparently one would be mistaken.

One would also think that a librarian of all people would believe in widely disseminating information. Last I checked, it’s a hell of a lot easier to delivery packets of information than it is to deliver pressed dead tree material. Last I checked, librarians were supposed to share in the concept of the glorification of information. One can only assume by Gorman’s rhetoric that the ALA stands for ensuring that all the world’s knowledge is kept under the hallowed watch of the librarian where the rabble can’t get access to it without making proper obesiance.

How could I possibly be against access to the world’s knowledge? Of course, like most sane people, I am not against it and, after more than 40 years of working in libraries, am rather for it. I have spent a lot of my long professional life working on aspects of the noble aim of Universal Bibliographic Control—a mechanism by which all the world’s recorded knowledge would be known, and available, to the people of the world. My sin against bloggery is that I do not believe this particular project will give us anything that comes anywhere near access to the world’s knowledge.

Oh, but he’s really for the dissemination of information – just so long as it falls under the control of the ALA…

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.

That is what we call an ad hominem attack. That’s usually the sign of someone who’s intellectually sloppy and has a weak argument. I would put the intellectual skills of someone like Glenn Reynolds, the bloggers of Power Line, or Eugene Volokh among others as easily being far greater than Mr. Gorman at any time. In fact, I would bet that they actually do read books, and apparently have a level of reading comprehension far greater than Mr. Gorman’s crude smear portrays. I certainly know that they can make an argument without stooping to broad-stroked invective.

For someone who claims to read a lot of books, he certainly hasn’t seemed to learn much about the art of rhetoric and argumentation. Perhaps it’s time to break out the Cicero?

If a fraction of the latter were devoted to buying books and providing librarians for the library-starved children of California, the effort would be of far more use to humanity and society. Perhaps that latter thought will reinforce the opinion of the Blog Person who included “Michael Gorman is an idiot” in his reasoned critique, because no opinion that comes from someone who is “antidigital” (in the words of another Blog Person) could possibly be correct. For the record, though I may have associated with Antidigitalists, I am not and have never been a member of the Antidigitalist party and would be willing to testify to that under oath. I doubt even that would save me from being burned at the virtual stake, or, at best, being placed in a virtual pillory to be pelted with blogs. Ugh!

Add to Mr. Gorman’s reading list a book on elementary logic. I recommend he begin with something called the “fallacy of composition.”

Yes, let’s spend our money on moving heavy and cumbersome bits of dead tree, spending money on keeping a building for those dead trees, and librarians to care for them. Mr. Gorman’s lack of sensible rhetoric is matched only be his ignorance of economics. For the past two decades the world’s information has become more accessible to the masses than ever before. Scholarly works that would normally only be housed in university libraries, law schools, or medical academies are now available online. Despite Mr. Gorman’s protestations to the contrary, he seems to be stuck in the past when librarians were the gatekeepers to information.

What Gorman apparently does not realize is that the old-fashioned librarian is rapidly going the way of the buggy-whip manufacturer. As much as they cried that “horseless carriages” would be the doom of us all, they were quickly steamrolled by the inexorable march of technology. The ALA’s leadership clearly doesn’t have the foggiest clue when it comes to new technologies, and his elitist and logically vacant diatribe only proves why the ALA’s leadership is pushing it further and further towards irrelvance.

One thought on “Revolt Of The Buggy-Whip Manufacturers

  1. Heh, this response from the guy who waves around Michael Crichton as an unimpeachable source? I think his criticisms are spot on.

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