AUTHOR: Slublog DATE: 2/25/2005 08:59:00 AM ----- BODY: Writer's Block Cure? - Last night, I sat in front of the computer playing watch the blinking cursor instead of writing. I didn't see myself updating the site a lot today. Then I read this story linked from Instapundit, by the president of the American Library Association. Wow.
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.
"Unpublishable" - If I were an academic, I would be gasping for air and sputtering at this point. This is the most heinous insult in academia, where publish or perish is the rule. But, I'm not an academic, so I just found it kind of a non sequitur. "Untrammeled by editors" - I see this is going to be the major criticism of those who don't understand blogging. We're rogue agents, uncontrolled in our...what? Generation of debate? Communication of ideas? Isn't that a good thing? "...or the rules of grammar" - Yes, there is some painfully bad grammar on the web. I'll give him partial points on this one. But there are also those of us who have a familiarity with Strunk and White, William Safire and various stylebooks. But my grammar isn't always good - I have a passive voice problem.
(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.
"Something you would find stuck in a drain" Heh. That's actually pretty good. "Blog People," though? Ugh. So he hasn't had much experience with bloggers? Well, thanks to this piece, he's about to get some.

I had heard of the activities of the latter and of the absurd idea of giving them press credentials (though, since the credentials were issued for political conventions, they were just absurd icing on absurd cakes). I was not truly aware of them until shortly after I published an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times ("Google and God's Mind," December 17, 2004). Then, thanks to kind friends with nothing but my welfare in mind, I rapidly learned more about the blog subcultures.

My piece had the temerity to question the usefulness of Google digitizing millions of books and making bits of them available via its notoriously inefficient search engine. The Google phenomenon is a wonderfully modern manifestation of the triumph of hope and boosterism over reality. Hailed as the ultimate example of information retrieval, Google is, in fact, the device that gives you thousands of "hits" (which may or may not be relevant) in no very useful order.

Here we're presented with a very odd contradiction. The president of a library association is decrying how easy it is to retrieve information. Information shouldn't be available to the masses! It should stay safely ensconced in a library, where people like Gorman can choose what books to put on the shelves. I do like the idea of being in a subculture, though. Maybe I should get a tattoo and buy a motorcycle jacket.
Those characteristics are ignored and excused by those who think that Google is the creation of "God's mind," because it gives the searcher its heaps of irrelevance in nanoseconds. Speed is of the essence to the Google boosters, just as it is to consumers of fast "food," but, as with fast food, rubbish is rubbish, no matter how speedily it is delivered.
Funny, considering the first hit I got after typing "Michael Gorman" into a search engine was his website. When I type "The Prince" into Google, I get this, and quickly. When I type "US Constitution" I get this. Has Gorman ever actually used Google? I mean, it's a search engine for crying out loud. Sure, sometimes it gives you crap results. You just have to refine the search.
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.
Wow. This sounds like the full-throated rant of a guy who googled his own name and was disappointed at what he found. "What!?! I'm not in this search engine thingy? Well then, it's useless!" And I agree with him about books - for me, the computer screen will never replace the feeling of opening the cover of a book I've never read before. Those who get their information entirely from the computer are missing out on this feeling, I think. Of course, rather than share that feeling and inspire others toward it, Gorman insults his readers. Nice guy.
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.
So if we can't have all of the world's knowledge, we should get none of it? What Google and the Internet provide is more access, not total access. There's a lot of knowledge in the world, and a network of interconnected computers seems a pretty good way to store and distribute it. Or at least a good beginning.
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.
Gorman would do well to remember the adage that you attract more flies with honey than vinegar. Rather than explain the appeal of libraries, he's decided it's more effective to call his critics dolts. This intemperate paragraph shows, more than anything else in this piece, the weakness of Gorman's position. If the best he can summon is crude insults, then it's clear he's more interested in lashing out than finding common ground with those who share his thirst for knowledge. Bloggers are obviously interested in ideas, or we wouldn't spend so much time each day sharing our thoughts and reading those of others.
At least two of the blog excerpts sent to me (each written under pseudonyms) come from self-proclaimed "conservatives," which I find odd because many of the others come from people who call me a Luddite and are, presumably, technology-obsessed progressives. The Luddite label is because my mild remarks have been portrayed as those of someone worried about the job security of librarians (I am not) rather than one who has a different point of view on the usefulness of this latest expression of Google hubris and vast expenditure of money involved.
Note the scare quotes around the word conservatives. Egad. That was rather unnecessary. Do I use a pseudonym? No. Are psuedonyms always bad? Well, perhaps Gorman can seek knowledge in the works of George Orwell, Mark Twain or Daniel Defoe. Or, as they were probably known by their friends, Eric Blair, Samuel Clements, and Daniel Foe. I don't think Gorman is a Luddite at all. I share his views that digital information cannot replace the amazing resource that is a local library. I don't want libraries to become obsolete, but also think that the advent of digital technology provides a way to get past the filter that exists at so many libraries. What is the filter? Well, the librarians. The filter that orders multiple copies of books by Michael Moore but only one copy of every book by Ann Coulter. And that was just a quick check of two authors on opposite sides of the ideological spectrum. Further searches would likely lead to other instances of this. And it happens in the digital world as well. I link to conservative or libertarian blogs because that's where I happen to visit and read. Like anyone, I read what I agree with. The difference between me and Michael Gorman is that I admit my biases. The ALA does not.
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!
Ugh indeed. Should a blogger have called Gorman an "idiot?" No. But how is that different in tone from Gorman's earlier comment - "I doubt that many of the Blog People are in the habit of sustained reading of complex texts." It's really not. One just uses more graceful language. The library has always been a refuge for me. I love going into our local library and just walking through the stacks. I love the feel and smell of books and the thrill of starting a new book. I think Google and the internet are a great source of information, but they cannot replace the complexity of a book. Gorman has the right ideas, but is terrible at communicating them. Note how at the end he resorts to the language of the oppressed - he's finding common cause with witches and victims of McCarthy. It's just all so tired. And this is from someone who basically agrees with the guy. Gorman will likely get his blog attention from this piece, but he will not influence many who disagree with him. I count this one as a lost opportunity on Gorman's part - as the president of a library association, he has a unique voice on the importance of libraries and the wonder of the written word. But he squandered it with his retreat into academic snobbery and elitism. --------