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    Location: Aberystwyth, Wales, United Kingdom

    I am the owner and managing director of Information Automation Limited (IAL), a company that specialises in research, consultancy and training for the information profession. We are particularly interested in all forms of electronic information resources (e-journals, e-books, etc) and I teach a course in electronic publishing at the Department of Information Studies in Aberystwyth. Drilling down still further(!), my interests centre on the quality and evaluation of electronic information, and in the thinking that underpins activities in library and information science.


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    Sunday, June 24, 2007

    Gorman and the missing Good

    Many-to-Many points to one of two new Michael Gorman postings:
    Siren Song of the Internet contains a curious omission and a basic misunderstanding. The omission is part of his defense of the Luddites; the misunderstanding is about the value of paper and the nature of e-books.
    This statement does not go far enough. Read Gorman and you cannot help but agree with some of the more obvious statements that he makes...
    "the Internet in particular and the digital resources available to us in general are ineluctable forces that are shaping our lives, in many ways for the better" or "we must exercise judgment, use digital resources intelligently, and import into the digital world the values that have pervaded scholarship in Western societies for many centuries"
    You are lulled into a false sense of security, and then - bang! - you are hit by some half-truth turned generalisation which damages not just the thesis but possibly - depending on the credence put on his writing - the Web 2.0 world.

    Gorman quotes Mortimer Adler, "long-time chairman of the Board of Editors for Encyclopaedia Britannica (on whose blog he writes), who proposed a categorization he called 'the four goods of the mind.' These were, in ascending order of value,
    information, knowledge, understanding, and wisdom"
    Sitting somewhere between information and understanding, and possibly eclipsing knowledge is propoganda, which is what appears in Michael Gorman's article from time to time. Gorman says, for example,
    The many manifestations and failures of e-books have shown that enthusiasm for them is confined to hobbyists and premature adopters. The kind of e-books that are used by a wider public of library users are those texts consisting of assemblages of information that can be used out of context (quick reference books, computer and automobile manuals, and the like).
    Or again:
    Though we like to think that the history of society is a story of continuing progress, many electronic texts are in as much danger as manuscript texts—they are subject to loss or corruption in the same manner as those from before the Age of Print.
    As someone who knows about e-books - Gorman might well label me an enthusiast - let me concentrate on the first piece of mis-information. e-Books have been around and used seriously for at least 10 years. Most academic libraries (and many public libraries) in both the UK and the USA hold large collections of e-books which enhance their collections of print books. Collections of e-books offer many advantages - space savings, search, multiple users, ease of loan return, flexibility, granularity (loan of chapters), 24x7 access from outside the library, etc - which print books cannot. Major publishers in both countries are producing works in electronic, as well as print, formats: textbooks, monographs, reference works, novels, and so on. To dismiss this publishing as 'failures' and 'assemblages of information' shows either lack of insight, or too great a focus on the overall message of 'The Siren Song of the Internet'. Part II ends:
    There is a present danger that we are “educating” a generation of intellectual sluggards incapable of moving beyond the Internet and of interacting with, and learning from, the myriad of texts created by human minds over the millennia and perhaps found only in those distant archives and dusty file cabinets full of treasures unknown. What a dreary, flat, uninteresting world we will create if we succumb to that danger!
    Certainly we must educate "screen potatoes" to look beyond dumb facts presented on the screen, and even to look beyond the screen - but should't we be doing this in a positive way, by presenting the strengths of the Internet and Web 2.0 within a broader spectrum of 'goods of the mind'? Let's not be blind to what is available, and valuable, online.

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