I think I’m probably the last person on earth who should have a blog — or at least, a blog that people actually read. Readership wigs me out (unnecessarily, highly irrationally, etc.). But I kind of like having the blog here, to just write down what I’m thinking, and maybe keep two or three friends in other cities in the loop. Unfortunately, though, when I just write down what I’m thinking, with no revision process, I frequently end up wishing I could suck some of it back in later (of course, I’ve heard from some of my professors that the same thing happens when you start publishing books, and that process has a lot of revision built in…).
In the most recent case, I think mostly I just exaggerated the problem a bit. It’s absolutely true what Walt and Siva say, that much of the conversation has been quite civil and deliberative in tone. Indeed, maybe that’s why the tone of their recent exchange stood out so much to me. On the other hand, I have frequently been impressed at the heated reactions this project does arouse, not just on blogs and not just from the people I’ve talked about, but more broadly (some of the publishers’ statements come to mind). So my impressions from elsewhere probably also played into my assessment. But anyway. What’s blogged is blogged.
One thing in Siva’s response that really struck me was this:
I probably should have just let those things slide. But I care very deeply about my reputation among librarians and my passion about library values and the institutions themselves. I get very worked up when people question either — especially when those people don’t know me.
That provoked a couple of thoughts.
First, I’m pretty glad that knowing the people you’re responding to isn’t a prerequisite for criticism. It would make the world a lot less interesting (and think of the implications for politics…). At the same time, I recognize that when you do know someone, it can moderate your perceptions of the views they express; maybe my views of Siva’s opinions would differ if I did know him. There’s really no way of knowing.
Second, and more broadly, I completely understand Siva’s caring about how librarians view him, and why that would lead him to respond strongly to Walt Crawford. After all, Walt’s newsletter has an actual readership, from what I can tell. Me, on the other hand… The only time I get more than 10 hits in one day on this blog is when Siva links to me (at which time my hits explode by a factor of ten). Which makes me think that really, the best way for Siva to safeguard his reputation among librarians when it comes to me would actually be to just ignore me. If nobody reads it, it can’t affect you. Unless, of course, I just make a good straw man to swat at in order to make a point. And then, well, I guess at least I serve a purpose.
I also have one final comment on all of this. Personally, intellectually, I am overwhelmingly glad that Siva’s opinions on this project are out there in the world. As much as I might disagree with many of his views, they are infinitely more thought-provoking than most of the publishers’ arguments. Indeed, in that paper of mine that I’ve mentioned, the questions he raises will probably be a major focus — and not in a purely negative sense. There are some very real issues with this project; there is also a lot of misinformation out there, which makes it difficult to see what those issues actually are, but there are definite issues, and Siva has articulated some of them quite well. The future of libraries, and what this project means for that future, are issues that fascinate me. I’m glad there is disagreement on them; they’d be a lot less interesting otherwise.