Nobody ever said… a post on semantic difficulties

The current set of discussions related to Library 2.0 and “Library 2.0″ (and yes, I’m going to keep making that distinction, because I believe it’s fundamentally important) is interesting. With some exceptions, there’s relatively little dogmatism and relatively little absolutism–and some of the posts deserve printing out and rereading after a little time has passed. (Which I’ll do with some of them, probably.) By and large, I’m enjoying reading the posts–and this may be a side commentary rather than adding to my brief participation in the discussion.

One long and interesting post reminded me of something that’s bothered me a lot in the past–the ease with which people on one side of a discussion (used to) say the equivalent of “Nobody ever said everyone should do X” as a way of dismissing objections to overenthusiasm–presumably assuming (correctly) that most of us have better things to do than track “Nobody” down. That tendency, to accuse others of straw men, has been around for a long time; that’s why Library 2.0 and “Library 2.0″ documents all the statements so carefully.

So, here’s Phil Bradley’s post in this current discussion, mostly responding to Meredith Farkas’ post. And here’s a specific passage:

I diverge from her opinion when she talks about ‘not every library needs a public facing blog’…

There’s a lot more, to be sure–that’s one sentence from a post that prints out at three pages (one reason I’m not ready to comment on the rest of it–it belongs in a more thoughtful discussion down the road). But read that one carefully.

If I say “at least one UK librarian says every library needs a blog,” I would probably be hit with a straw man accusation–you know, “Nobody ever said every library should have a blog.”

And, indeed, Bradley doesn’t use the words “every library should have a blog.”

He does, however, disagree with Meredith Farkas’ statement–well, here it is (bolded) in context:

We should always be focused on our patrons’ needs. Not every library needs a public-facing blog. Not everyone has a population that wants to read news about the library or book reviews. Not everyone has a population that wants to have a dialog with the library. Unless you see a real need that could be filled by a blog, your library does not need a blog.

So. Straw man or not? Bradley disagrees with Farkas statement that “Not every library needs a public-facing blog.” Does that mean Bradley is saying “Every library does need a public-facing blog”–or is there a semantic nuance that I’m missing?

Is it reasonable to make the leap from “X disagrees with Not-A” to “X says A”?

Honestly, I don’t believe I have ever claimed a generalization that involved any more of a semantic leap than would be involved in going from “Not Not-A” to “A,” as in this case. But I’ve come to recognize that the absence of a specific citeable string of words is equivalent to the absence of the assertion. (Actually, I’ve recognized more than that: If I cite the string of words, the response is sometimes “Well, they didn’t mean that literally” or “You’re taking that out of context.” Even if I link to the context.)

So I’m not going to make the assertion. I’ve been burned more than once too often.

Bradley’s post is interesting in terms of the things he (seems to) think(s) every library should be experimenting with/doing. Maybe UK libraries are all well-staffed and well-funded, so that the extra time and energy is readily available. I am aware of the number of UK public libraries that (a) had blogs by the end of 2006, (b) kept those blogs active through mid-2007 (that is, had at least one post in two of the months March, April and May 2007), and (c) thought enough of the blogs to list them in one of the two primary library blogging wikis. That number, for England, is zero. (One in Ireland, though.) But of course, that might be just (c): Maybe none of the libraries ever looks at either wiki or wants to be included.

Do I believe every library should have a blog? Well, it would be self-serving to say “Yes, and they should all buy copies of my books so they have good examples to consider.” But I’m with Meredith Farkas on this one–not only in the cases she notes but in cases where libraries already have working, effective known ways of staying in touch, such that a blog would be redundant. Very few tools make sense for every single library out there…


Addition and modification, January 28, 2008: I’ve modified this post for two reasons: 1. The WordPress ParagraphSwallower was more active than usual; I’ve tried to restore the intended paragraph breaks. WYSI[S]WYG is always amusing, when the [Sometimes] starts to act up. 2. Most people reading posts through feeds, and some people reading them directly, don’t see comments. Please do read the comments on this one, the first coming from Phil Bradley. Based on his comment, I struck out the language that suggested that I personally regard what he wrote as ambiguous; I do not. (There’s much more to his comment and my response. Read the comments.)

3 Responses to “Nobody ever said… a post on semantic difficulties”

  1. Phil Bradley Says:

    If there is a semantic difficulty, confusion or problem there is of course an obvious option – to actually *ask* the person involved to explain in more detail exactly what they meant, or to seek clarification.

    This is the second time you’ve posted about what I have said, have not said, may have said or have been reported as saying. This is also the second time that you’ve done me neither the courtesy of asking me for clarification or letting me know that you’re writing about me.

    Is it too much to hope that there will not be a third repetition?

  2. walt Says:

    I posted a commentary on what you posted in your blog–a post in which you were commenting on what Meredith Farkas had to say. And I comment on the language you used. I do not say anything about what you were “reported as saying” or “may have said.” I comment on the words that are in your blog, linking directly to them.

    In fact, I don’t believe there is any confusion about what you mean. I threw in one “(seems to)” because I recognize someone could say “but he didn’t use those words.” Maybe I should have omitted that qualification.

    I believe you were saying “Every library should have a blog,” but not in those words. So, apparently, based on her comment on your post, does Meredith Farkas.

    Oddly, I can’t remember once, in the nearly three years that I’ve been blogging, that any other blogger has ever asked me (through email or any other private method) to clarify what I was saying, or let me know in advance that they were planning to write about what I wrote. I’ve certainly been attacked for what I’ve written. Never, not once, have I felt that it was discourteous or unfair for someone to publicly comment on what I publicly wrote without giving me advance warning.

    “Is it too much to hope that there will not be a third repetition?”
    Yes, it is–unless I create a short list of bloggers who I deliberately avoid responding to or commenting on. Maybe I should do that. Naturally, it would also mean unsubscribing from your blog and adding it to a (currently nonexistent) list of sources that I never use for possible Cites & Insights coverage and praise. I cited your blog three times last year in C&I, in each case favorably.

    If you’re asking that I let you know before I write about something you’ve said–sorry, but that’s just not going to happen, any more than it happens for Farkas or Salo or Crawford or Stephens or Lawson or anyone else who writes publicly.

  3. Steve Lawson Says:

    Interesting to note that Ms. Farkas seems to read Mr. Bradley the same way that Mr. Crawford does. Here’s a link to her comment:

    http://tinyurl.com/25ccxk


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