I'D LIKE YOUR HELP on my new project on what successful libraries are doing right. To that end, I'd like you to e-mail me and tell me about libraries you know of that are winning financial, political, and/or administrative support from the communities, companies, schools or organizations they serve. Thanks!
by Marylaine Block
A confession: I like Michael Gorman, and I voted for him for president of ALA. That doesn't mean I will support him when he makes sweeping, defamatory comments on an entire class of people he doesn't appear to know much about.
I'm speaking, of course, about his wholesale condemnation of bloggers in his Library Journal article, "Revenge of the Blog People" <http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA502009>, which begins with an entirely unsupported ad hominem attack, "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." Later, he adds the even more mean-spirited statement, "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."
In fact, some of our profession's most respected writers are producing weblogs, and library publishers are finding some of their hottest new writing talent by reading library blogs. If Mr. Gorman doesn't know that, he needs a crash course in the library blogosphere, which I herewith offer.
Let me count some of the useful weblogs by "unpublishable" librarians: Karen G. Schneider's Free Range Librarian <http://freerangelibrarian.com/>, Jessamyn West's Librarian.net <http://www.librarian.net/, "Beyond the Job" <http://librarycareers.blogspot.com/, by Rachel Singer Gordon and Sarah Johnson, Library Autonomous Zone <http://gort.ucsd.edu/mtdocs/laz/> by James A. Jacobs and James R. Jacobs, LISNews <http://www.lisnews.com/, a shared weblog from Blake Carver, with contributions from some of the leading young lights of the profession, Jenny Levine's The Shifted Librarian <http://www.theshiftedlibrarian.com/>, Michael Stephens' Tame the Web <http://www.tametheweb.com/ttwblog/>, Michael McGrorty's Library Dust <http://librarydust.typepad.com/library_dust/>, and Steven Cohen's Library Stuff <http://www.librarystuff.net/.
I'm leaving out many other fine librarian blogs by limiting this to people whose names I'm sure Mr. Gorman will recognize because they have written for, and brought fresh new ideas and perspectives to professional library journals.
Let me apply to this artificial controversy over blogs versus professional literature the wisdom of my husband, one of the few people in the world who could equally love an exquisite rare beef roast and the cafeteria version of it. The trick, he said, was to regard them as two entirely separate dishes. If you don't insist on comparing them to each other, he said, you can enjoy them on their own merits. As I explained in my own article on library weblogs <http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA155178>, these are two separate species, each with its own merits and drawbacks.
The professional literature is filtered and edited; often, though not always, it aims for a tone of calm rationality; often, though not always, it employs high standards of evidence and rigorous methodology. For those very reasons, however, professional literature is slow to respond to crises and new ideas, and its voice is commonly impersonal and distant. Neither its content nor its tone invites reader participation.
Weblogs, on the other hand, are the products of individuals, compulsive sharers who are passionate about their subject. The voice is conversational, personal and identifiable -- anyone who has read the blogs mentioned above would have no difficulty recognizing the unmistakeable voice of Jenny Levine, for instance, even in a blind quote. Furthermore, weblog posts are not static statements; they are intended to be the beginning of a conversation, and they provide the means for talking back (until weblogs came along, I'm not sure anybody in the professional publishing industry understood how hungry readers were to be part of the conversation). The blogs are nimble, responding speedily to news stories, court decisions, funding crises, and interesting new ideas and web sites librarians have come up with.
Those very virtues of weblogs are also their drawbacks: some bloggers feel free to use insulting language, without any demanding standards of evidence. (I don't support whichever unidentified blogger called Gorman an idiot, but I do note that Gorman was allowed to be equally insulting in a respected professional journal).
Furthermore, weblogs' very capability for immediate response can lead to over-reaction and the need for a subsequent Emily Litella-like retraction ("Oh, that's very different"). That's one of the reasons I recommend that librarian bloggers adopt as their own CyberJournalist.net's "Bloggers' Code of Ethics <http://www.cyberjournalist.net/news/000215.php>.
Which of these two formats is the fine, rare roast beef? Which is the heat-lamp-warmed, gravy-laden cafeteria version? Which would you rather have for dinner? And do you really have to choose, when you could have the benefits of both? I leave that to you.
But before you insult the cooks, I do suggest that you at least sample the menu.
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The larger concern, however, is that he is the next leader of the largest library association on the planet, which means he is moving into a position of major influence in the profession. On his website, he stresses that he hopes to be "an effective advocate for our shared values and a leader who can help the association to seize its opportunities and rise to its challenges." In acknowledging his adamant disdain for weblogs and those who create them, I wonder how he plans to accomplish this without alienating a growing population of intelligent, articulate, and passionate librarians, committed to their profession, and who are already among the converted. I also wonder, what about younger librarians, those new to the profession or about to enter it, what might their reactions be to the dismissal, by one of its noteworthy leaders, of a relatively new but growing component of librarianship?
ALA President-Elect Michael Gorman Slams 'The Blog People.'" SciTech Library Question, February 27, 2005 http://stlq.info/archives/001814.html
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