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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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