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Gorman’s Latest: An Analysis (and Self-Analysis)

Going over the November 1 WSJ article where Gorman was (again) quoted on Google’s ambitions to scan all known texts (let’s face it, that’s what it is), I thought it might be worth to look at the article in context. My conclusion is that the reporters tried hard to be balanced, but in terms of vocal critics of the book scanning project within our profession, they had to look no farther than the president of ALA, and that’s always a nice catch, like getting Patricia Shroeder to foam at the mouth. So I conclude my pot-shot at MSM reporters wasn’t fair. No one called me on it, but that doesn’t make it right. I will link back to this post when it is published.

The citation for the WSJ article quoting Gorman: Kevin J. Delaney and Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg, “Google Will Return to Scanning Copyrighted Library Books,” Wall Street Journal (Eastern edition), New York, N.Y.: Nov 1, 2005. pg. B.1. According to Proquest, this is the fourth of five articles on Google that Trachtenberg and Delaney have co-authored.

What Gorman said in the November 1 WSJ article:

1. He “feels” the Google book scanning project “is a potential disaster on several levels” that is “reducing scholarly texts to paragraphs. The point of a scholarly text is they are written to be read sequentially from beginning to end, making an argument and engaging you in dialogue.”

(This is Gorman being Gorman, fully on-message in his argument that snippet-reading grows hair on your palms.)

2. The American Library Association “doesn’t have an official position on the subject.”

(N.b.: This is one area where the reporters could have stretched a little farther. A quick Google search would have revealed plenty of unofficial positions.)

3. The idea of reading “snippets” online (I suspect “snippets” was his word, not theirs) is “ridiculous.”

(This is just the snippet argument again, this time not obscured behind the smokescreen of “scholarly texts.”)

4. As a published author, the Google database is a “flaunting” of his IP rights.

(The article emphasized that the project is still focusing on books out of copyright, so this is a factual flub.)

Aside from Google and ALA, two other entities are cited in the article: the Association of American Publishers, and the Authors’ Guild. Both groups are formally engaged in litigation over Google’s scanning.

Three library representatives were quoted before Gorman: Andrew Herkovic of Stanford, John Wilkin of the University of Michigan, and Tom Garnett of the Smithsonian. Herkovic and Wilkin are both involved in the project, and had positive comments about it. The Smithsonian, however, will “maintain a conservative stance until the disputes are resolved.” (I read Garnett’s position as “the second mouse gets the cheese”: not a bad approach in general, and one I espouse for most new technologies.)

Then come the two Gorman paragraphs, which occupy over ten percent of an 1147 word article. This is understandable: Gorman talks a lot, he’s colorful, he’s willing to go way out on a limb, he fits the narrative template of an old-tyme librarian, and he holds a key position in a large organization. It would have been nice if the WSJ had tracked down one of us peons, but the WSJ isn’t that concerned about peons to begin with, so the focus of the article can’t be faulted as far as the newspaper’s goals are concerned.

On a related front, Leslie Burger has already been elected, but it’s not too early to send the message that we will be thrilled, just thrilled, if she helps make us all look good to the outside world. (I didn’t vote for her, but I have never thought of her as a charlatan like Gorman; I just preferred Christine Hage.) Perhaps she needs some talking points from the biblioblogosphere and TechnoLibraryLand (it’s a small island off the LibraryLand peninsula). What would you say to Leslie?

It’s also not too early to pointedly ask the latest ALA candidates what their opinions are, and to make it clear they are being watched. I plan to send them the link to this blog post.

And now it’s late, and I need to tend to My Craft.

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