Al Gore, SLA Annual Conference, 06/03/07

Al Gore, former Vice President of the United States of America, environmental crusader, former Congressman
Special Libraries Association Annual Conference 2007
Sunday, June 3, 2007

During the introduction, when his popular vote victory over George W. Bush came up, someone held up a newspaper with a headline about a recount.

“I am Al Gore. I used to be the next president of the United States,” he began after a series of thank yous. When people laughed, he continued, “I don’t think that’s funny.” It was difficult to tell if he was kidding or not. “I used to fly on Air Force 2. Now I have to take my shoes off whenever I fly,” he quipped about the airport security screening process. He joked some more about life after being vice president, like driving himself without a motorcade and eating at Shoney’s, a fairly inexpensive family restaurant chain (which resulted in an amusing series of incorrect news stories).

Al Gore is a very humorous speaker, actually. He’s one of the better speakers I’ve seen recently. He walks around the stage instead of staying at the podium. He does not read from a printed speech.

“I am now a recovering politician. I am about on step 9. I figure you win some and lose some and then there’s that little known category.”

He menitoned how he and Bill Clinton like to celebrate their successes. He told us that he and Bill believe they did some really good things for libraries while they were in office. People applauded.

He told us about how a woman paced around him in a restaurant for a while. Finally, he said hello to her. “If you dyed your hair black, you’d look just like Al Gore,” she told him. “People say I sound like him, too,” he replied.

Gore praised us librarians for our work in the information industry. He recognizes the importance of what we do in this day and age. The challenges we face are plenty: keeping up with the information explosion and the challenge of explaining to people who we are, what we do, and why we’re important. He believes we’re making headway. He has noticed ‘librarian’ being listed as a hot job of the future and he applauds that. He talks about the misperception that gadgets and information technology are replacing librarians when it really isn’t true at all. He does not understand the decision to shut down the EPA libraries, for example. “The rebellion lives where you least expect it,” he kids, then adds that he would expect it here.

He discussed the misnomer that digitized libraries are a replacement for librarians. Digitized how? By whom? Where? Who maintains it? How do you find it? Well, call a librarian. Oh, wait, we closed the library.

Information contributes to a key advantage in today’s world. Organizations with knowledge workers should be ahead of their peers.

The physical matter of the gross domestic product is descreasing. The GDP has increassed significantly, but its weight in tons has decreased dramatically. We’re shifting from goods to information. It’s a strategic resource and an increasingly vital product of our future. Information workers are going to be in higher demand.

The Internet makes knowledge workesrs more important than ever. “The sheer volume of information is a detriment to the speedy knowledge one often needs,” he elaborates. When looking for a needle in the haystack, piling more hay on top probably won’t help. Getting the right information profeessionals to characterize the information and make it available in a timely fashion to the right people is more important than gathering more hay. He compared that action to the US government’s decision to monitor phone calls.

He recounted learning how to do research with John Seigenthaler while a reporter. He believes being a reporter helped him get elected to Congress and helped him be a better Congressman than some Congressmen.

The climate crisis, he thinks, is one of the biggest crises in our history. Information about it is in technical terms, inaccessible to many people. A friend of his describes people as having a low bit rate, but high resolution.

Gore shared some data with us about global warming. The polar ice caps are melting three times faster than predicted. Parts of Greenland are becoming unstable. Some of the hottest weather ever has been in the last 10 years, with the warmest winter and April in some areas of the globe being this year.

Gore clarified that Iraq had nothing to do with the attack on September 11, 2001, and we removed many of our troops from Afghanistan while Osama bin Laden was still hiding there. Do the actions have anything in common with the climate crisis? Yes. In both cases, lots of information exists that a reasonable person could use to figure out an appropriate course of action. (When Gore used the words “reasonable person,” a woman sitting near me sighed, “Well, that’s the problem.”)

The libraries we know and love today result from the invention of the printing press. Gutenberg’s invention changed authority. People could use knowledge in a different way to get power. Once libraries weren’t just a monopoly in the hands of the medieval church and aristocracy, the world began changing. If information is freely available and people can communicate freely, we can draw upon the collective wisdom of people and make better decisions as a government. The dominant medium today being television makes Gore nervous. The medium is very different. An average person watches 4 1/2 hours of television each day. Many homes have the TV on 8 hours a day. The big difference between the media is that television is often one-way and printing can be multi-way. It’s much easier for people to respond via print than on the air. Web 2.0, YouTube, and similar endeavors are changing the ability for an average person to respond via television.

As we are taking advantage of programs, opportunities, and initiatives through SLA, we should be deeply involved in helping the government make information policy choices that are wise. Gore emphasized the importance of net neutrality (which received a loud round of applause), keeping information free, and preserving the openness of the Internet.


The first woman is someone who is trained to give his slide show in her own voice. She asked him to talk about the project. She makes presentations about global warming in San Jose. He has trained about 1200 people across the country to give the talks with the understanding that they’ll talk about ten times a year. He’s now training people around the world.

How can people who don’t make much money help save the planet? Gore gave some suggestions for people in tight financial situations, like buying some new energy efficient lightbulbs some retailers sell inexpensively.

Are you running? No. Not in 2008. I don’t expect to do it, but I haven’t completely ruled out that possibility. I’m working on a different campaign right now.

Gore reemphasized the importance of the climate crisis and how we need to act now. We need to work on a see change in publich attitude, starting in the USA. African proverb: “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” We need to go a long way together to solve the environmental problems.

Judging by the reactions of the audience, I got the impression that the majority of the audience agreed with some of the views Gore shared with us, even about some of the more political issues, like his comments about the invastion of Iraq. I did notice many people refrain from applauding. In light of the audience reactions, I wonder how true the thoughts about the majority of librarians being liberals are versus just the majority of people who would turn out for Gore’s talk being liberals.

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