Saturday, February 26, 2005

Michael Gormon vs. The Blog People

Back in December, Michael Gormon griped about Google and its ambitions. More recently, he tore into blogs and the people who keep them. Since the Prexy-elect of the A.L.A. is weighing in with comments that fall somewhere between professional criticism and open mockery, and since they've in turn been picked up on the ultimate tech-salon, Slashdot, this debate has turned into a Whole Big Thing. (875 Slashdot comments and counting!)

For those of us who have been in the information services arena for any length of time, I think we can hear overtones of the classic (and pointless) I.T. vs. Library culture wars of a previous era. Before I comment directly on Gormon's incendiary remarks in the Library Journal, I'm putting on the record that I fervently love and admire librarians. (Let's give a shout out to all my friends at the reference desk.) I've spent many years promoting (successful) (they tell me) partnerships between I.T. workers, librarians, and other academic tribes; I'll continue to do so until they pry my meeting schedule from my cold, dead fingers.

Gormon's remarks in both pieces, are, of course, generally true. And yet, they're embarrassingly unsophisticated, in ways that my hipster librarian friends who can fluidly navigate traditional librarianship and the roster of expanding digital forms of expression could immediately spot. Is Google's PageRank algorithm the ideal way to store and retrieve information? Does the ideal exist? Do libraries have the market cornered on optimal finding and access to information? Are most blogs good? Are all blogs bad? Are the "Blog People" uniformly illiterate Neanderthals? (Answer key: no, no, no, no, no, and no.) Gormon confesses to not knowing much about the blogosphere until December. This statement suggests to me that, for a person involved in the information services field, he'd been living under a rock. Not that he's a raging Luddite or "antidigitalist." Just moldy as all get-out. As I was reading his piece in the LJ, I had the vague impression that he was speaking about blogs the way my pappy would have spoken about the newfangled rock music in the 1950's. For better and for worse, rock-and-roll is here to stay.

I believe that we will be well-served to be critical of what Google does (up-to-date ready reference) and doesn't (in-depth, scholarly inquiry) do well. Likewise, the best blogs are enormously useful in aggregating news, providing well-written opinion, and building learning/interest communities. In fact, the best "Blog People" (we call them "bloggers") read. A lot. Whole books, even. Without even hesitating, I could name two dozen blogs that are more interesting, informed, and informative in an average post than Gormon's piece in the LJ.

Here are some other takes on the Gormon piece, not all of which I agree with:
Steven Cohen
David Winer
Mark VandeWettering
David Rothman


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2:24 PM  

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