Tuesday, March 08, 2005Very belatedly: GormanGate
I know I'm coming at this well after everyone else, but I wanted to think about it a bit. To sum up for anyone who hasn't heard the story yet:
Michael Gorman is the President-elect of the American Library Association.
He wrote an article in the LA Times in which he expressed skepticism about Google's initiative to digitise books from various academic libraries.
He (apparently) was heavily criticised for this in a number of blog posts.
Gorman wrote an article for Library Journal in which he railed against bloggers (or 'blog people' as he calls them).
All hell broke loose in the library blogging community, as well as on Metafilter and Slashdot.
I'm feeling bizarrely out of step on this issue. A number of people, many of whom I have a lot of respect for, are furious at Gorman. And yet I can't help thinking that he has a point.
The original article was pretty much accurate, in my opinion. Google is a great tool for some purposes. It is perhaps not such a great tool if you are using it to locate book-length scholarly material. The reason Gorman gives is that it might land you on page 141 of a 400-page book, but without the context that comes from reading the preceding pages. I'd add that, because Google searches on the full-text of documents, you run a fairly high risk of locating irrelevant information that, by chance, contains your chosen search terms (as my prostitutes in Bangalore' experience demonstrates).
Now, on to the criticism Gorman received. He was called a Luddite, people claimed he only criticised Google because he didn't know how to use it, etc. So he wrote a fairly stupid, poorly written response, that implied that a whole class of people were ignorant and incapable of reading whole texts. Yep, it was an overgeneralisation (though let's face it, the majority of blogs are not particularly interesting, and many, myself included, do little more than repost the more interesting thoughts of others). But the vehement reaction to his article surprised me. A lot of people seem to be getting awfully defensive (like the LISNews poster who is trying to convince people to post "Michael Gorman is an idiot" everywhere, so that phrase becomes a top hit in Google searches on his name. Which, of course, would illustrate nicely one of the weaknesses of Google, its susceptibility to GoogleBombs).
The normally excellent (and under-read) Phil Bradley says "I can only assume that... he has hidden depths". Well, yes. Like editing AACR2, for example. And writing one of the best books about the role of the library that I've read* (Steven Cohen mentions this too, in an intelligent post that I don't totally agree with). Steven also offers a pointer to why this matters, though it seems to me that most of the posts he's pointing to are from library blogs, not so much the wider blogosphere. Jessamyn is funny, and annoyed - mainly because of Gorman's status in the profession.
There's a roundup of Gorman links on LISNews, as well.
So what does it boil down to? Gorman attacks Google (in certain contexts). Bloggers attack Gorman. Gorman attacks bloggers (in general). Other bloggers get even more upset. Seems to me like there's been a fair bit of over-reaction, all the way through this episode. Deep breaths, people. Deep breaths. Even if Michael Gorman thinks you're an idiot with no attention span, does it really matter?
*Edit: of course, Gorman was a co-author of Future Libraries: Dreams, Madness, & Reality with Walt Crawford, as Walt pointed out in the comments to this post. I certainly wasn't intending to denigrate or ignore Walt's contribution to the text, and I'm looking forward to the potential update that Walt mentions.