Daily Archives: June 13, 2007

Gorman Forgets to Wind the Clock

Michael Gorman is blogging (ahem) for Britannica (cough, cough) on the subject of what’s wrong with web 2.0. In two parts, he raises the usual issues: information online is too inclusive, playful, and … digital. Printed texts have authenticity and fixity, whereas texts that are digital may not be what they appear. I’m guessing Gorman hasn’t read Tristram Shandy lately.

One assumption he makes seems really odd to me: “Human beings learn, essentially, in only two ways. They learn from experience—the oldest and earliest type of learning—and they learn from people who know more than they do.” Libraries by his definition only serve the second kind of learning. There is no experiential learning in libraries, only sitting at the feet of authorities absorbing their wisdom (providing you are literate enough to do so, which most Web enthusiasts are not). This seems to position learners as automatically stuck at the most basic level of Perry’s scheme of intellectual and ethical development, received knowledge, whereas ironically the engaged, interactive nature of read/write culture that he criticizes more closely resembles the highest level, constructed knowledge.

But that’s the trouble with diatribes. They either say “this way of doing things is utterly new and revolutionary and it will make everything better” or “this way of doing things is utterly revolutionary and destructive and everything will be worse.” In fact, reading and writing and learning have always been experiential and two-way. It’s just a lot more obvious now. As Michael Oakeshott said in 1959 in “The Voice of Poetry in the Conversation of Mankind” –

We are the inheritors, neither of an inquiry about ourselves and the world, nor of an accumulating body of information, but of a conversation, begun in the primeval forests and extended and made more articulate in the course of centuries. It is a conversation that goes on both in public and within each of ourselves . . .


Education, properly speaking, is an initiation into the skill and partnership of this conversation in which we learn to recognize the voices, to distinguish the proper occasions of utterance, and in which we acquire the intellectual and moral habits appropriate to conversation. And it is this conversation which, in the end, gives place and character to every human activity and utterance.

Lousy Publishers!

Peter Brantley (whose interesting thoughts have been blogged about here before) has an interesting post on university presses, scholarly communication, and what it is that libraries don’t get when it comes to publishing. Putting it bluntly, he says “I am coming to the conclusion that librarians are likely to be lousy publishers.”

The publishing work flow is intense: it requires significant hand- and thought-work. Editors don’t sit around at their desks waiting for pretty, tightly-formed, well-argued drafts to come floating by. There is a lot of work in finding, attracting, grooming talent; encouraging the actual writing; producing coherent drafts; editing; presentation; administration; rights; marketing; and distribution. Some of these things are made easier by Web 2.0 and social computing, but in most cases, the workload has only increased, at least in the short term…. Not everything is going to be improved by being processed through a collaborative, social mill. The best things are always going to take somebody’s care, and love.

Peter’s excited about the possibilities – but it’s not going to be easy. “If either of these sets of institutions are to participate in a solution – libraries and presses – it will require serious, long-term, fundamental re-invention of their essence. There’s pain there; it won’t be avoided. And we’re not there yet.”

Comments are worth reading, too – do publishers do a good job of publishing? are the libraries that are involved in digital publishing succeeding, and how does what they do differ from the old model? what are the costs of the “human-factor” intangibles such as building a list, acquiring important books, keeping an educated ear to the ground?

I’d love to hear from organizations that have developed healthy library/university press partnerships. What’s working? What’s challenging? What do we need to know about each other?