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Yipping and Yawping to the End

The problem with Michael Gorman “leading” on the issue of library education–however important that topic is to our profession–is that you have to gnaw off a leg to follow him. Witness his column in the May issue of American Libraries:

“If you believe, as I do, that there is a crisis in library education that threatens the very existence of libraries and librarianship, you are likely to draw a negative reaction from a variety of people. First, there are the millenniarist librarians and pseudo-librarians who, intoxicated with self-indulgence and technology, will dismiss you as a ‘Luddite’ or worse. They and their yips and yawps can safely be left to their acronymic backwaters and the dubious delights of clicking and surfing. … ”

It’s like saying there’s patriotic Americans and then there’s them durn Democrats. You either believe in library education, or you are “intoxicated” with technology. I’m not entirely sure what he means by “intoxicated by self-indulgence,” unless he means that it takes enormous personal effort to ignore the impact of technology on library services.

Soon, deliciously soon Gorman will be an ALA past-president, and then the New York Times will call Leslie Burger when they want a sound-bite on the state of things informational. Oh tasty future!

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  1. Meredith wrote:

    And what’s so funny is that I (a “millenniarist librarian… intoxicated with self-indulgence and technology”) do believe that there is a crisis in library education and that our LIS programs are not preparing us for 21st century librarianship. However, I do not agree with Gorman that the key is to go back to teaching LIS the way it was taught way back when he was in library school.

    During his term in office, he could have made great strides towards developing stricter standards for LIS accreditation, but instead, he chose to insult many of the very people who wanted to see a change in library education as well. I just find that tremendously depressing and wrongheaded.

    Saturday, May 6, 2006 at 12:02 pm | Permalink
  2. Speaking of tasty, I think the irony is delicious that Gorman self-indulgently writes in a column that other people are “intoxicated with self-indulgence.” Ha ha, Michael, you’re so funny when you’re drunk and in charge of a column!

    And what the heck is a “pseudo-librarian”?

    Saturday, May 6, 2006 at 12:14 pm | Permalink
  3. kgs wrote:

    Meredith, exactly. I have long suspected that Gorman got elected by people who thought he and they were in agreement on the nature of the crisis in LIS education. They just didn’t know he wanted to party like it’s 1899…

    Saturday, May 6, 2006 at 3:36 pm | Permalink
  4. David King wrote:

    Honestly, one of the reasons I’m not a member of ALA is because of people like Gorman. I realized early on in my library career that the InfoToday folks had what I needed to stay afloat as a librarian techie – good programs and good networking at their conferences.

    But ALA? ALA had people like Gorman.

    Saturday, May 6, 2006 at 8:29 pm | Permalink
  5. Steve Lawson wrote:

    “millenniarist?” Talk about a pseudo-intellectual with a pseudo-vocabulary. Or was that “satire?”

    Sunday, May 7, 2006 at 7:12 am | Permalink
  6. lazygal wrote:

    Isn’t a millenniarist someone makeing hats that last 1000 years?

    On a more serious note, Gorman should check out what the people in LIS programs are saying about ALA manufacturing a staffing crisis to stuff the programs, despite few positions available for “newbies.” Not good for ALA (or the profession).

    Sunday, May 7, 2006 at 1:48 pm | Permalink
  7. kgs wrote:

    Gorman actually likes millenniarists–as long as they’re from the PREVIOUS mellenium…

    Sunday, May 7, 2006 at 5:28 pm | Permalink
  8. Alice Yucht wrote:

    As someone who is Gorman’s age, yet is also (gasp) a contemporary blog-reader/writer, I take offense at his implication that it’s only the “young” librarians who care about technology. And as one who is currently involved in educating the next generation of librarians, I suspect that he has no practical understanding of the kinds of real-world skills and knowledge that the future of this profession needs to have in order to survive and thrive. Gorman is a dinosaur (albeit with a big footprint), and the sooner he’s out of our way, the better.

    Monday, May 8, 2006 at 11:19 am | Permalink
  9. kgs wrote:

    In 2007 I’ll be 50, and I feel the same way, Alice.

    Monday, May 8, 2006 at 11:31 am | Permalink
  10. Gwen Martin wrote:

    Before I “put my oar in” as my grandfather would say, I must first admit a few things. 1)I don’t belong to the ALA, although I did when I first became a librarian – more than a few years ago. 2)I don’t know who Gorman is. 3)I am a late bloomer as far as technology goes. Thus said, here comes my oar! I am still trying to get over my sister insisting that I am a humanistic liberal and here I find out I must be a millenniarist. Don’t have a clue what that is, but I do know that I love reading a blog or two and have just started one of my own. I know that I can steer students and parents to some good websites and can help them judge the sites they find. I even purchased some e-books for my library next year! This does not mean that I don’t love getting down on the floor and reading a book with student, or to discuss an author, or to leap (well, mosey) over to respond to the question, “Do you know any good books?” All I can say to Mr. Gorman is that when I was taking my library courses we didn’t even have e-mail. If we return to the days of yesteryear, I will have to learn how to stoke the fire in the stove and haul the drinking water from the well. No thanks, I like my millenniarist library – whatever the $%^%^ that is.

    Monday, May 8, 2006 at 11:07 pm | Permalink
  11. Fintan Codd wrote:

    The more I read these rather hysterical attacks on Michael Gorman, the more I realise how right he is. Please try to stop whining.

    Tuesday, May 9, 2006 at 1:59 am | Permalink
  12. Peter Murray wrote:

    First, there are the millenniarist librarians and pseudo-librarians who, intoxicated with self-indulgence and technology, will dismiss you as a ‘Luddite’ or worse.

    Everyone is entitled to their own interpretation I suppose, but I read “intoxicated with self-indulgence and technology” as user-empowerment — tagging, trackback, annotation: all of those things you can do to a digital object to enhance its description and use that (gasp) don’t involve a librarian. What? Users making their own descriptive terms? Horrors! Offering their own interpretation? Heaven forbid!

    Now most of us would admit that this application of technology isn’t great (yet). Tagging and annotation tools have very raw forms of recommendation engines, and those could be enhanced to allow the most trusted tags and annotations to float to the top. But lets face it — their is only a couple hundred thousand of us and a couple billion on them…why not harness ‘them’ to help each other describe stuff?

    So I think Gorman is missing the boat here. Our profession no longer chains books to desktops and in most places does not require an intermediary to pull an item from closed stacks. There is a new world of information out there waiting to be described and discovered. It is a digital world, and so the task facing educators in the library profession is figuring out what of legacy practice works in this new age and what needs to be tossed out.

    Tuesday, May 9, 2006 at 6:35 am | Permalink
  13. kgs wrote:

    Fintan, what a coincidence: that would be my advice to Gorman!

    Tuesday, May 9, 2006 at 6:59 am | Permalink
  14. kgs wrote:

    Peter, concur. Not only do we want The Masses to tag, but often we as the information providers want to tag our content on the fly, during discovery. Tagging, however crude, is a participatory, win-win activity. (I saw a search engine that facilitates tagging, and it made me drool.)

    Also, and I’m betting you’d agree here as well, it’s not that these roles don’t involve the librarian; the librarian who enables, markets, improves, educates about, seeks to standardize, and champions a useful technology is intimately involved indeed. It’s just a different type of involvement–one far more professional than dredging books from stacks.

    Tuesday, May 9, 2006 at 8:10 am | Permalink
  15. Peter Murray wrote:

    Wholeheartedly agree, Karen. The “librarian who enables, markets, improves, educates about, seeks to standardize, and champions a useful technology” is one who has learned the enduring practices of the past and applied them to the new digital world of information. I think where we stumble sometimes (myself included) as a profession is trying to force paper-based practices into this vastly different world.

    The other place we stumble is thinking that problems are “too hard” — libraries were some of the first to adopt technology (it helped us with cooperative cataloging and inventory control) and decades ago there were some problems that were indeed too expensive in CPU, memory and disk. The technology has changed (radically!) and doing something like running a linguistic analysis program over a body of full-text to automate the extraction of “subject terms” is no longer too hard. Or, put more crudely, computer effort is now much less expensive than human effort.

    Tuesday, May 9, 2006 at 10:47 am | Permalink
  16. kgs wrote:

    Not only is it less expensive, but it’s really, really close to what we want in the first place–good enough to warrant using it with just a soupcon of far less expensive exception-handling to clean up the inevitable machine errors.

    Tuesday, May 9, 2006 at 12:55 pm | Permalink
  17. Davette Zinik wrote:

    I am currently working on my MLIS. Library education should help prepare students for some of the technological changes transforming librarianship. I just went to the North American Serials Interest Group (NASIG) annual conference. It’s amazing the changes that are taking place with electronic resources.

    Wednesday, May 10, 2006 at 7:48 am | Permalink
  18. Aurora wrote:

    I don’t like the idea of schools of library and information science totally removing “library” from their curriculum any more than Gorman does, but the way he goes on the attack and puts all the blame on anyone who likes technology really makes me want to disagree with him, just out of spite.

    I agree with Karen’s main premise here that Gorman is setting up a dichotomy where not exists. I’m somewhere on the border between Gen X and millenial, work in an “Automation” department, and love Flickr. Technology should be a major part of an LIS program. But I also believe strongly in requiring collection development. Not necessarily “traditional” collection development where we only talk about great literature versus graphic novels and review journals. Collection Development could also include information on how to transition to new formats and technology in libraries or how to develop an electronic collection (e.g. how to negotiate database contracts). There are 36 credits in the average LIS program. Surely we can achieve a balance?

    Friday, May 12, 2006 at 11:06 am | Permalink
  19. Brian Gray wrote:

    I, as others that have posted, believe library education is in need of drastic improvement. I just am not sure how someone that continually attacks technology or those that promote it can lead the change in library education. Our patrons are using technology, sometimes as an alternative to libraries, so why sould we ignore it. We should incorporate or lead the changes in technology so libraries are an active player, rather than a spectator. Also, even if in satire, why would an elected leader of such a large organization continually downgrade and insult newer/younger librarians that will be the future of the profession? Does he lack all understanding of generational differences in people or does he just want to fight change in general?

    Friday, May 12, 2006 at 12:10 pm | Permalink
  20. Mark wrote:

    “Millenniarist” isn’t even in the dictionary. If he means “One who believes in the coming of the millennium” defn. of “millenarist” then, heck, I guess that’s me, too.

    Monday, May 15, 2006 at 11:28 am | Permalink
  21. Ted Gemberling wrote:

    I am posting in support of Gorman. I agree that he was probably wrong to imply that this controversy has to do with age. I’m middle-aged, but I’ve only been a librarian for a bit over 5 years and went to library school in the late 90′s, so I don’t think you can say my viewpoint is “typical of old fogeys.” But whatever age you are, I think Gorman is pointing to some serious dangers in our field.

    kgs (or kqs?) says Gorman is “setting up a dichotomy.” I (and I assume Gorman) would agree that “balance” of some sort between traditional principles and web-based principles is important. But the question is, why are librarians so ready to give up the principles they’ve developed over the last few centuries? Why do they think the personal computer, something we’ve had for about 25 years or so, will somehow replace all those things in the next few years?

    Maybe that is one value in being older, that you don’t assume that the latest thing is necessarily going to solve all the problems. I always remember the 1968 film, “2001: a Space Odyssey.” When it was made, people apparently thought that within 30 years or so we’d be travelling pretty freely to other planets, and that hasn’t happened. Sometimes technology advances faster than we expect, and sometimes more slowly.

    Take a look at David A. Bell’s article in the May 2, 2005, issue of the New Republic (“The bookless future”). Bell ends up opting for the same “optimistic” view of the power of digitization people who have posted here have expressed, but his piece is remarkable for the degree to which he shows the downside of this rush to digitization strategies. Fintan Codd spoke of digitization and the Web as providing “user-empowerment” for library users. But look at this lucid statement by Bell:

    “The very nature of the computer presents a different problem. If physical discomfort discourages the reading of texts sequentially, from start to finish, computers make it spectacularly easy to move through texts in other ways–in particular, by searching for particular pieces of information. Reading in this strategic, targeted manner can feel empowering. Instead of surrendering to the organizing logic of the book you are reading, you can approach it with your own questions and glean precisely what you want from it. You are the master, not some dead author. And this is precisely where the greatest dangers lie, because when reading, you should not be the master. Information is not knowledge; searching is not reading; and surrendering to the organizing logic of a book is, after all, the way one learns.

    “If my own experience is any guide, “search-driven” reading can make for depressingly sloppy scholarship. Recently, I decided to examine the way in which the radical eighteenth-century thinker d’Holbach discussed warfare. I could have read his book Universal Morality in the rare-book room of my university library, but I decided instead to download a copy (it took about two minutes). And then, faced with a text hundreds of pages long, instead of reading from start to finish, I searched for the words “war” and “peace.” I found a great many juicy quotations, which I conveniently cut and pasted directly into my notes. But at the end, I had very little idea of why d’Holbach had written his book in the first place. If I had had to read the physical book, I could still have skimmed, cut, and pasted, but I would have been forced to confront the text as a whole at some basic level. The computer encouraged me to read in exactly the wrong way, leaving me with little but a series of disembodied passages.”

    Bell is a historian, and another fascinating thing he points out is that if you think of our current developments as a “digital revolution,” something that will change how people read books, this isn’t just a new step from the printing revolution of 5-6 centuries ago, but really involves replacing the way we’ve been reading for about 1,600 years. The “codex” or book with pages on separate sheets and bound together was invented about the 4th century. The printing revolution only changed how you create codices, not the reading format. Do we really expect that little digital book readers are going to replace that any time soon?

    Aurora said “we should lead in technology rather than be a spectator.” Bell also implies that the movement to electronic form is “inevitable,” but then goes on to admit that the technology to make reading online as comfortable as reading a print book hasn’t come yet. He chides publishers and librarians for not supporting the development of that technology more, “not being leaders” in that realm. Personally, I don’t think publishers or librarians have an obligation to do so, UNLESS we accept the premise that it’s inevitable. If that is the clear wave of the future and we drag our feet, then of course we’re being irresponsible. But would people in 1968 have been wise to plan our society around the assumption we’d be on the moon in a few years because that’s the way technological development seemed to be going? I’m glad we didn’t.

    I think librarians and publishers are wiser to follow their time-tested principles for the time being and leave such technological innovation to hardware and software developers. Those people will have plenty of resources for developing the technology if it’s possible. Notice that they usually get much bigger salaries than librarians! And also that Barnes and Nobles quit selling e-books several years ago when they found hardly anybody wanted them.

    I think it’s important to make a distinction between monographs and journals in this discussion. Electronic journals really do appear to be replacing print journals, and maybe that’s perfectly fine. Because articles generally aren’t real long, people can usually read a journal article online with no trouble. But reading a book online is another matter.

    I have to agree with Michael Gorman that this whole debate shows librarians don’t have enough regard for their own field and pride in the work they do. Admittedly, library literature is kind of yucky a lot of the time. I think this derives to some extent from this lack of self-esteem on librarians’ part. The whole field of library literature is dominated by statistical studies, which I think are often a way of getting something published without really having to examine the assumptions of what we do. I also think another aspect of recent academic life, the stress on quantity of publication over quality, plays a role here. Like other academics, many librarians have to publish a lot of stuff, and that means they don’t have time to do much deep work. There’s a superficiality in much of the work that the stress on statistics helps to promote.

    I personally admire the work of LC reference librarian Thomas Mann, who was the first person ever to make me care about library science. Before, I thought of library science as something I just had to “endure” to make a living, not something I really cared about. We should probably scrap about half of library literature and just require people in library school to read his writings the first year! (I’m only partly kidding there.)
    –Ted Gemberling, UAB Lister Hill Library, Birmingham, Ala.

    Wednesday, May 17, 2006 at 1:18 pm | Permalink
  22. Ted, you are setting up a dichotomy. I’m a tech-drunk Gen X’er, and I don’t know any library professionals who want to give up any traditional library principles, and the fact that you think that’s what going on is, frankly, really sad. In fact, I think that using new technologies that come along, that help us connect people with information, is completely in line with traditional library principles.

    Nobody I know is talking about computers replacing anything. They’re talking about computers enhancing other technologies (like books, which are a terrific technology) we already use. The latest toy won’t solve all of our problems (what will?), but if it helps us do our job, and if our patrons are already using these toys, why would we ignore them?

    So, that false dichotomy out of the way, there still remains Gorman’s language and attitude. Both of which I find unwelcoming to me as a young librarian. Luckily, I don’t really have to care all that much, because he’s on his way out of the ALA presidency, and because honestly, he’s the past and I’m the future.

    Wednesday, May 17, 2006 at 2:30 pm | Permalink
  23. Ted Gemberling wrote:

    Joshua, if you don’t think anyone wants to replace print books, open and classified stacks, etc., you need to read the Calhoun report:

    as well as the critical response to it by Thomas Mann:

    and the California set of recommendations on cataloging:

    Calhoun and the California report both suggest that we should quit using such things as controlled subject headings because keyword searches can replace them as more and more things get digitized. I can tell you more about why I think that’s a bad idea if you’d like. But the fundamental assumption is: “we have computers and the Web now, so why keep doing those things?”

    They also suggest, if I understand them correctly, that putting geographic (latitude and longitude) coordinates in our metadata is more important than subject headings, a proposal that boggles my mind. As if identifying an exact place is more important than identifying an exact subject. If you can explain that to me, I’ll thank you. The only guess I’ve been able to come to is that it has to do with, as you said, a new “toy.” Someone has been using some geographic database and wants to impress on the rest of us how wonderful and important it is.

    You actually alluded to one of the main reasons not to go with proposals like those of Calhoun and the California report: the richness of our current information environment. We currently have an incredibly rich world in information terms, with the ability to browse classified print stacks, read print books at our leisure, and look for information on the Web, too. That’s the situation you allude to, and I’m all for it. I’m not saying the Web isn’t important: I probably use it every day, and it even helps in my cataloging and authority control. But what Calhoun and the California report essentially suggest is: now that we have the Internet, we can start to transition away from many of our traditional library practices. Pretty soon everything will be digitized, and Google searches will take care of everything.

    Joshua, I’ll admit that’s a bit of hyperbole. They’d both be taken aback to hear their position described that way. They’re not envisioning anything quite that drastic. But the point is, some of the most important principles of library organization are things they’re ready to give up. Cataloging they envision as basically just data entry: they want to create a situation where some library administrator could just create a blank form with some labels, perhaps in Dublin Core, that barely trained workers could fill in. Keyword searches will be adequate because there’s no need to distinguish between “the history of philosophy” and “the philosophy of history.” Patrons will just need to get a heap of “hits” and figure out on their own which ones are irrelevant. That will be cheaper for libraries but a lot more expensive for our patrons.

    Now, actually, to give you a sense of the complexity of this, I have to admit that Calhoun does seem to favor keeping classified stacks. Maybe because they exist and people get some value from browsing them. She seems to favor using LCC while dropping LCSH. Now, while I do think that’s possible, I don’t know why one would want to. She cites a study at Cornell that attempted to create an online subject scheme from the LCC numbers in use at the library. But the study actually showed it couldn’t be done for libraries of more than 150,000 volumes. Much of Calhoun’s proposals and those of people writing in the same vein are based, as I said yesterday, on hope rather than experience.

    Well, Joshua, I realize this started out as a thread on Gorman’s statement, and my postings have gotten pretty far afield from that. Once again, I do agree that Gorman seems to have used harsh language that may unfairly target younger librarians. As you said, youth are our future, and we need to encourage rather than insult them. But I just wanted to show there are grounds for worry about the deterioration of libraries and library school education. I basically agree with Gorman with those reservations.

    Thursday, May 18, 2006 at 11:34 am | Permalink
  24. joshua m. neff said:
    And what the heck is a “pseudo-librarian”?

    He tried that one on Andrei Codrescu, and look what he got!

    Wednesday, May 24, 2006 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

One Trackback/Pingback

  1. on Saturday, May 13, 2006 at 9:29 am

    Yip. Yawp.

    We interrupt your regular clicking and surfing to make a general announcement to all fellow “milleniarist librarians” and “pseudo-librarians” out there that you are — now as always — welcomed with open arms in the acronymic backwaters of the ISCLA.

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