Y’know, in some ways, it’s terrible trying to write a term paper about something that’s actively under conversation. People keep saying things! And then I have to read them! And then my already-too-long notes document expands even further!
However, there’s been some intense acrimony flying back and forth in the last few days that couldn’t help but grab my attention. First, Walt Crawford, a senior analyst at RLG (the Research Libraries Group, for those not quite as library-nerdy as me), whose newsletter, Cites & Insights, I cited heavily in a paper about Orphan films last semester, has come out with a new issue in which he discusses Google Book Search and the Open Content Alliance (with which RLG is heavily involved).
In that piece of commentary, he levels some pretty harsh criticisms at Siva Vaidhyanathan’s take on the project, which this blog’s three regular readers will recognize as an issue about which I once boiled over on this blog. At the time that I put up that post, Siva was actually pretty cordial in responding to it; maybe because I’m a newbie in the field or something, I don’t know.
However, in Crawford’s case, Siva got pretty harshly defensive. In the very first line, he calls Mr. Crawford “Some dude named Walt,” which, though perhaps rhetorically effective as a way of undercutting Crawford’s legitimacy as a commentator, doesn’t seem very polite—or very professional—when you consider Crawford’s actual credentials. Indeed, Crawford himself sniped back about that aspect of Siva’s post, in the midst of issuing an apology for some of his own prior snippiness.
It’s fascinating to me how this issue can get otherwise rational people’s blood to boil, to the point where they’re essentially resorting to namecalling and trash-talking. [Note: I make no claim that I have not played a part in such childishness; I undeniably have.] I mean, these are all interesting and intelligent people, with interesting and intelligent things to say; they (or perhaps, we?) just don’t seem to want to really listen to one another. Instead, it seems like people are carving trenches, out of personal defensiveness and, I would submit, in some cases out of a lack of interest in really engaging with the issues being broached by the other side.
For example: I wonder if Siva has ever made contact with the librarians here at Michigan, whom he takes such glee in trashing all over the internet. I sat down with John Wilkin for an hour or so last week to hash out some issues for my term paper, and after talking to him, I cannot imagine asserting, as Siva does, that he doesn’t “care…about the values that libraries are supposed to uphold” (or at least, not as much as Siva himself claims to).
Can this go back to being a thoughtful conversation, rather than an elementary school food-fight? I wonder.