Thursday, February 01, 2007

AL American Libraries Column #9: National Library Agenda

I started this blog a year ago tomorrow, in a fit of pique at the inanity of the ALA Council passing a resolution against the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. That resolution had the same powerful effect as all of the other idiotic ALA resolutions. Turns out no one cares what the ALA has to say about non-library issues. It's not even clear that anyone cares what the ALA has to say about library issues. Anyway, in the past year, I've had almost nothing good to say about the ALA, its governing council, its mission, its documents, its presidents, its allied professional association, or anything else.

This may come as a shock to people, but there's finally something coming out of ALA I agree with.

Leslie Burger has been busy, and this time she's been doing something worthwhile. Many of you have probably already read the draft of the National Library Agenda crafted at a meeting of librarians in December and supposedly discussed at ALA. I don't know what, if anything, was discussed at ALA, and if I did I probably wouldn't admit it, but the draft is up for public viewing. For library literature, it's blessedly short and coherent, and a lot better than I expected. I expected the national agenda for libraries would be to saturate us with trashy novels and video games and socialist political propaganda at the taxpayers' expense, but the group brainstorming this stuff was better than that. I know some of those participants, and it seems to me that the sum was greater than the parts in this group.

First, the draft starts off with what "The American Public Deserves":
  • Friendly library service in modern, safe, accessible and inviting buildings.
  • The ability to use a library days, evenings and weekends and to use a virtual library 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days per year.
  • Library collections that are current, relevant and responsive to the interests of the community
  • Library collections reflecting the languages of community members and students, including non-English languages, Braille, and closed captioned
  • The guidance and assistance of skilled information professionals
  • Access to library service in their schools, colleges, workplace, and communities
  • Convenient, up-to-date, and unrestricted access to information in all its forms
  • A network of adequately funded, readily accessible school, public, and academic libraries that support a learning society and informed community
  • High-speed broadband access to the resources on the World Wide Web using state-of-the-art technology
  • Community-centered library programs that encourage discussion, debate and civic engagement
  • Libraries that value reading and create and sustain collections that encourage users to read for pleasure, information or enlightenment
  • Library services that support businesses, other workplaces, and economic development to create an information literate and competitive workforce
  • The opportunity to provide ideas, criticisms, compliments, suggestions on the operation and future of their libraries and volunteer for advocacy and support.
Some of this is pie-in-the-sky desiderata, but nevertheless I don't find much in that list that I can't at least agree that in an ideal world we would have that. (I do think they should be more consistent in their use of serial commas, though.)

The main agenda has the following points:
  1. Libraries Preserve the Past and Provide a Bridge to the Future
  2. Libraries Build and Strengthen Communities
  3. Libraries Support Lifelong Learning
  4. Libraries Create Information and Technology Literate Communities
  5. Libraries Encourage Economic Development
  6. Libraries Support Democracy
Why haven't we been getting more of this stuff from Burger and the ALA, instead of all the inanities from attacking the Boy Scouts to the Annoyed Librarian Corps to the videogaming revolution. This is more like it.

It's clear when reading the very brief elaborations on these points that someone was at least doing some thinking. This is not the same mindless rah-rah, libraries-as-entertainment-centers, lowest common denominator pseudo-philosophizing I've come to expect from ALA. This is serious stuff, kind of like Michael Gorman used to write before he became ALA President and made such an ass of himself.

According to the prefatory material, "The National Library Agenda is intended to:
  • Provide a broad framework for discussion and consensus building at the national, state and local level
  • Articulate a clear library agenda that resonates with the public
  • Enable us to provide a positive message for our legislative and other advocacy efforts
  • Provide a focus for advocacy initiatives over the next several years
To accomplish all of these goals, I think the National Library Agenda is the best thing that has come out of ALA in a long time. While the SRRT is dabbling in national politics and trying to press their political agenda on the ALA, the concocters of this Agenda were trying to come up with compelling arguments for why anyone should bother supporting libraries.

I never thought I'd say this, but the Annoyed Librarian supports the ALA on this one. Finally, good job. Let's hope it goes somewhere.


Dances With Books said...

It all sounds very nice. I will wait and see if it actually translates into any substantial and practical action, or it just becomes another nice document that will eventually just gather dust.

AL said...

I suspect it will just gather dust, and I also wonder if libraries can live up to the document.

Greg said...

I have a problem with clauses like this: "High-speed broadband access to the resources on the World Wide Web using state-of-the-art technology"
Sometimes state-of-the-art is not always the best solution. And it doesn't give respect to ALA's own motto of "The best reading for the largest number, at the least cost." Least cost as in not throwing away tax dollars.

contrarian said...

If there ever comes a day when the radicals in SRRT are marginalized and ALA focuses on only those issues within the scope of its mission, I'll become a member again. Until then, I will join other library associations that are more responsible to their members. And I won't hold my breath waiting for ALA to change:

On 1/27/07, an ALA Councilor wrote to the ALA Council listserv:

Hi All,
As a charter member of SRRT and still a member, I applaud SRRT's
continuing effort to bring socially responsible issues to our attention.
Bernadine Abbott Hoduski