Skip to content

Parsing Gorman

For an essay I’m revising, I have been buried in the history of women in the military, from Civil War soldiers to modern-day aviators. Every night I read, I write, I read, I write.

Tonight I’m going to plotz and blog for a bit (I’ll schedule this post for the morning). I love my research and my writing, but I’m knackered.

The question I want to tackle is how Michael Gorman got elected. It’s not that ALA is filled with idiots. Here’s what worked for him:

Name recognition. I benefit from that too. I am sure a lot of people who have voted for me for ALA or LITA office have no idea how I perform in governance; they know the name and trust it from my “Internet Librarian” years. Me, Gorman, and Kleenex: we’re a threesome.

AACR2. Do not overlook the cataloger contingent, out in full force to vote for the man who led them out of Egypt. Go down Gorman, way down in Catalogland; tell old Pharoah, those old fields have got to go… Support from a large contingent, in a division or not, can elect you.

The “progressive” shtick. I don’t get this one, but somehow Gorman has a reputation for being implicitly far, far more progressive than many other major muckety-mucks in ALA. He had the devoted support of many SRRT types occluded to the authoritarian-Communist school of “progressivism.” The Luddite League is still behind him, I believe. If you’re in the Venceremos Brigade and you use a typewriter, hands-down, Gorman’s your man.

Demographics. Gorman lives in California, a state with a huge population. If you want to win an ALA office, it helps to come from a big state. In 2002, I ran for reelection to Council in California, having just moved from New York. I was one of the top vote-getters. ALA Council has many great councilors–but I had two big states that knew me.

When he was running for ALA president the pressure within certain geographic regions to support him was overwhelming, and I’m going to remember that. People are entitled to support the candidate they believe in, for crying out loud. I remember groupies placing Gorman stickers on my lapel (which I gently unpeeled); I remember his virtual coronation-in-advance. No one ever explained why Gorman was our Fearless Leader. It was Gorman! We should support him! Etcetera. By the time the vote was done I was getting a bad case of the Bob Roberts DTs.

Perception as LIS education reformer. If you have listened to and read Gorman for years, this doesn’t wash. He claims to be worried about “the seductions of modern communications technology,” but his reform plan for LIS education is unclear (though I think it has something to do with pencils and p-slips), and he is as likely as the next person to suggest there is a pending librarian shortage. Yet new librarians believed ardently in Gorman as again a Pharoah-like figure out to Show The Man. I very much recall a blog post that fawned over Gorman for his leadership in rethinking library education; at the time I wrote the author and asked (but did not receive) specifics. Funny, I can’t find that post now.

What I know most of Michael Gorman are the anti-technology posts to Council lists and toss-away comments on the Council floor. I respect his work with AACR2, but I never did grasp his allure with the so-called progressives, and knew, without doubt, that he is aggressively and unthinkingly anti-technology.

The good thing to come out of that election is that Barb Stripling, a lovely person, has plenty of time for her new job as chief muckety-muck of New York City’s school libraries. I have the most wonderful memories from my time as a children’s librarian (before technology uprooted me to a new career) of Alice, a school librarian in Jamaica, Queens. She was underfunded and underappreciated and so marvelously dedicated and enthusiastic. It’s a good day when the world Alice occupies is the same one Barb occupies. Blessings to them both.

The lessons for candidates? Not much, really. Do something that gets your name out there for good. Live in a big state. Have a few blocs in your bucket. Hope nobody asks hard questions.

The lessons for voters are more important. Think about your candidates’ credentials. Do ask hard questions. Also ask yourself what you want your candidate to be. Frankly, I want an ALA president who is going to be supportive of modern library services and will be eloquent when a microphone is pushed in her face. Ann Symons, Carla Hayden, Carol Brey-Pasiano, Nancy Kranich, Sarah Long, Pat Schuman… we’ve had some great folks in office even in my time in ALA, and I’m probably forgetting a couple. Oh, and John Berry, you were good too (not to ignore the dudes).

We have a responsibility to elect the right person to office. If you’re not happy with Michael Gorman, first, I trust you voted, and second, I trust you voted this year with maybe a little more wisdom and questioning than you did the previous year. You won’t change a 65,000-member association by leaving, but you could change it by joining and getting active. Trust me, there have been periods–many–when I felt like throwing in the towel. But if ALA isn’t working for me, it’s up to me to make a difference.

Posted on this day, other years: