I was first alerted to the low opinion of blogs held by Fairbanks librarian Greg Hill by the Blog Herald. But there's more to this story: the same guy doesn't like the Internet itself much. Now, I happen to love libraries and librarians themselves have been a huge help to me and my family over the years. And as a resident of AZ, which is also sometimes thought of as less-than-superior when it comes to the latest information and its uses, I felt I had to say something.
My response, which was submitted as a Letter to the Editor of the News-Miner, and cc'ed to the Blog Herald, Dan Gillmor, The Mayor of Fairbanks North Star Borough, and the librarian himself, among others:
As a multi-blogger whose eight blogs approach the daily circulation of my own hometown newspaper, the Yuma Daily Sun, I was surprised to see the news of blogs had not yet reached Alaska. Your local librarian, Greg Hill demonstrated his own lack of established credibility and editorial rigor in his recent letter, which included among the many spelling and other errors, a decided lack of research into the subject.
He has in fact, apparently made the same mistake so many college students make by doing a desultory bit of reading on a topic and determined he knows the entire subject matter. By so doing, he has insulted not only his profession, but Alaskans in general by his poorly-informed rant against the new personal publishing technology of blogs. To explain the scope of this insult by Mr. Hill, as you are probably aware, your paper is online and accessible to anyone. I received mention of this sad example of Alaskan library professionalism through a New Zealand-based website, at my home in Arizona. By now many thousands, if not millions of people are aware your librarians do not bother to “do their homework.”
I have been online since 1995 and have used blogging technology for a year and a half. None of my blogs is of the personal journal variety which Mr. Hill holds in such disdain. As a professional writer for nearly two decades, published in both hard-copy and online, I am well aware of the value of research. I am also well aware of the fact that one’s readers will always note and expect correction of any errors, so my research is as rigorous as possible on any matter where I am not already fully informed. I frequently use Wikipedia to begin my research, as it is most convenient for my working hours. Far more often than not, the information gained there has been verified by printed sources and an Arizona librarian, and sometimes adds a bit of insight not provided by these more-established sources.
In these days when libraries and librarians themselves are becoming leaders in the field of information distribution, I am mystified as to why an otherwise progressive state has such arrogant and ill-informed people in their libraries.
e-mail from Greg Hill:
Golly, it's interesting to receive this sort and tone of message, but its level of vitriol was rather amazing. My column must have hit a nerve, and it's nice to I'm being read as far south as Arizona. As I wrote in the column in question, "Bloggers feel passionately enough about a subject, often themselves, to create and regularly update blogs expressing their views," and "Blogs focus on whatever subjects their creators care to expound upon, and while some are academically rigorous, most are merely personal rants."
First, I know of no typos or mis-statements in that column, unless they are those of the sources I cite, and every point in my column stemmed from multiple sources. As a rule, there's not enough space in a 700-word column to list multiple sources, but I can readily produce them.
Concern about the validity of Wikipedia, for example, was expressed in numerous sources, including articles from Newsweek ("It's Like a Blog, But It's a Wiki," by Brad Stone), "Mudslinging Weasels Into Online History" by Sara Boxer, and "When No Fact Goes Unchecked" by John Schwartz, both from the New York Times, "School Librarian Sparks Fight Over Free Online Resource" by Kathy Ishizuka in School Library journal, and from the Wikipedia site's "Criticisms" section, which includes amusing sections dealing with all sorts of "wikiwars" such as the potato chip flavoring controversy, as well as the reality that the ill-informed and vandal-minded can and do contribute articles and editing to Wikipedia.
Accusations, like those proffered by Ms Schuett, are easy to make and much harder to verify. I stand by my statement that while there are some very good, creditable blogs, in my experience most blogs are ill-conceived, poorly maintained, personal diatribes. Ms Schuett obviously tries hard to provide her blogs' readers the best information she can, however, her example alone does not disprove anything in my column. If she has proof to the contrary, I would really like to see it, for I'm not perfect and always prefer being corrected when I'm in error over continuing down a wayward path. That, along with doing good, verifiable research, is what a creditable librarian is supposed to do.
However, with no evidence to the contrary, I must assume from her comments that Ms Schuett believes all blogs follow her example. Again, there are many worthwhile blogs on the Web, and in that group I'd include Ms Schuett's very nice blog on blogging, http://wolves.typepad.com/wolves/. For my part, I always have and always will do my best to provide citations for every point I make in my column. I believe my sources are more creditable than her personal opinions and stand by every aspect of my column on blogs.
FNSB Library Director
Dear Mr. Hill;
If you think my carefully-considered letter to the Editor of your local newspaper (and cc'ed to you as a courtesy) could be classified as vitriol, then I guess you'd better watch out. I'm sure there are others far less restrained than I to follow! As it is, I had 350 words to speak my piece, and though I tried to keep within that range, I did go over word count. There was far more I would've said otherwise.
You don't apparently understand that one does not need and should not accept the word of others in this case. You should have been visiting blogs rather than reading about them and other new technologies in poorly-informed publications with vested interests in giving bad information. You left yourself wide open for criticism when you chose not to make your own estimation by visiting blogs within your field of interest of the moment. Then you tried to hide behind your librarian's desk and complain that your sources were inaccurate, when in fact, you should have been investigating this information on your own.
That is the difference between the old hard copy references and today's Internet. The old sources cannot be considered reliable in any discussion of electronic publishing, and many librarians already understand that. (You wouldn't, in other circumstances, say for a search on textiles rely entirely on the opinion of the cotton industry for information on polyester fabrics, when that is exactly what you've done.)
Here are library-based references: The Shifted Librarian and Librarians' Index to the Internet. Had you taken a moment to access either of these resources, you would have quickly discovered your mistakes, such as the misspelling of Dan Gillmor's name, and mistaking the title of his eventual book, "We the Media." Two links here -- one for the old info, one for the new. http://weblog.siliconvalley.com/column/dangillmor/archives/000924.shtml
I doubt in your arrogance you would have understood that the English language does not contain a word such as "unserious." (It was probably a construct of your apparent favorite author, Dave Barry, who is not a dedicated blogger and recently announced his retirement.)
At no time in your piece in the News-Miner did you make the statement; "...while there are some very good, creditable blogs, in my experience most blogs are ill-conceived, poorly maintained, personal diatribes." You could have saved your bacon with that one. Instead you made it clear you had no knowledge in this arena and apparently springboarded from that. Did you at any time bother to even search for the many excellent Alaskan bloggers? You could have done a fine service to your community. Instead, you choose to denigrate small, independent publishers in any location for reasons unknown.
Of course I cannot believe that all blogs follow my example; the field is much too large and dynamic to even consider that. Blog technology is a publishing platform; nothing else. 18 months ago there were many people who also hadn't bothered to do their homework and look at blogs as they are. They, too, decided incorrectly that blogs are nothing more than personal diaries and should be ignored as any kind of authority. If they were that bad, then we wouldn't have the dependable resources I mentioned earlier.
Your own colleagues have embraced blogs and taken the time to understand what they are. Please get off your high horse and start waking up to the current wave of information technology. I'm sure you would never had insulted me in the manner you have, had I walked into your library as a patron. Nor would you have insulted fellow Alaskans who maintain personal publishing platforms. I would appreciate it if you began to learn some new things -- such as the meaning of the term, "transparency." I feel you will need this information in days to come.
Trudy W. Schuett
Ever more stuff: