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Rigor mortis

Several people have asked me what I thought of Steven Bell’s recent post about a lack of “rigor” in library discourse.

It’s a hard piece to discuss because its locus is undefined; it seems to be trying on arguments the way I try on clothes at Talbot’s, rushing in and out of outfits hoping to find The One. Bell opens by briefly discussing academic librarianship–with my four months of experience in that arena, I hardly feel qualified to comment–but swiftly moves on to the “penchant for pleasantry” in the “library blogosphere,” and yet a moment later we are mulling the sad state of library literature, and yet a moment later he is advising us that any discourse on electronic discussion lists is not really debate, it’s just axe-grinding–yet without a single example to buck up his argument.

There is one exception to all this glutinously sweet back-patting in the biblioblogosphere: perhaps not surprisingly, it is ACRLog, a blog for which, Bell informs us, he writes. At this point I leaned forward in my chair, hoping against hope to see a real example, a wee scrap of evidence, just one tiny bit of discussion about why ACRLog stands out–but we are suddenly in GormanGate, trying on yet another too-tight skirt.

Yes, GormanGate was controversy–but there wasn’t enough defense of Gorman for Bell’s taste. And why might that be? “… I know why. Fear of underserved and irrational reprisal.” Bell adds, “it seems increasingly the case that a speech chill has descended on the library blogosphere.”

Rerprisal–chill–hard words! Where does this come from, you ask? From what might well be called a vast, biblioblogging conspiracy, in which the “A-list library bloggers” clomp their iron fist on speech (it being so hard and so expensive to set up a blog these days) and increasingly disable comments on their blog (I find just the opposite is true).

Oddly, Bell and I are in agreement on some core issues (much as Gorman and I are equally suspicious of Google). I find far too much library literature to be a ghastly mess of flabby thought and missing evidence. We do have very poor self-image compared to other disciplines, and some of that is richly deserved. Sometimes people seem anxious about disagreement. (What was most interesting about GormanGate was that Gorman himself appeared surprised, even upset, by the blow-back… when you tell people they are semi-literate fools, shouldn’t you be just a teensy bit surprised if they choose to disagree with you?)

But overall, for an article about the dearth of rigor in scholarly bibliodiscourse, I found it a bit of a disappointment–putting it squarely in the tradition of most library literature.

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  1. Yorick wrote:

    This is, I suppose off topic, or at worst [seeming to] miss(ing) the point completely, but when you wrote, “when you tell people they are semi-literate fools, shouldn’t you be just a teensy bit surprised if they choose to disagree with you?)”,
    I believe it would have been more in keeping with the implied gist of the meaning if you had written “when you tell people they are semi-literate fools, you shouldn’t be just a teensy bit surprised if they choose to disagree with you, now should you?)”

    Tuesday, May 1, 2007 at 2:26 am | Permalink
  2. kgs wrote:

    Thanks, Yorick. My guess is that sentence needed more attention–interrogatives are dangerous. Among other things I don’t cite what Gorman *does* say, though I criticize others for this kind of sloppiness.

    Tuesday, May 1, 2007 at 5:27 am | Permalink
  3. steven bell wrote:

    Well, at least the word curmudgeon is not used in this post. I consider that a positive indicator right off the bat. :)

    I think you make some good points, and I appreciate your comments on the piece. It was a tough article to write, and the editing may have left it reading in a way that seemed like it was jumping around or bouncing off to new ideas too soon. I acknowledge that librarians are going to have different perceptions about just how much discourse is taking place, what the tone of that discourse is and to what degree it is happening in a substantive way. My goal was to bring to light concerns that there is not sufficient rigor in our discourse (I think a case can be made for that – and that the commenting and exchanges at ACRLog are a postive indicator – take a look), and that it would benefit our profession and its practitioners to give more thought to sharing our ideas in a constructively critical way. I think there was a good mix of comments to the piece over at IHE – and I’m pleased with the reaction – in whatever form it took.

    I appreciate your thoughts as well. I will definitely keep them in mind as I continue to think about this issue.


    Tuesday, May 1, 2007 at 1:39 pm | Permalink
  4. kgs wrote:

    I loathe the word “curmudgeon,” largely because it is one of those male-domain words that irritate me. I think we are on the same page about discourse and rigor, but I’d like more concrete examples, not only of what is meant by that, but of the impact on the profession.

    Tuesday, May 1, 2007 at 1:48 pm | Permalink
  5. I made several attempts to put Michael’s work in context of a career. Yes, much of his work was pre-WWW, but it was impt. work for online catalogs. No one should be just one point in time.


    Wednesday, May 2, 2007 at 8:14 am | Permalink

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  1. [...] Free Range Librarian » Blog Archive » Rigor mortisKGS on Steven Bell’s recent bit about academic librarian blogs. She does a nice job of dissecting why this essay was so dissatisfying. My most cogent critique so far had been "bullshit"; Schneider takes a more reasoned approach. [...]

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