Monday, June 18, 2007

ALA Debate on Non-Library Issues

I'm not sure if this is a good sign or a bad sign for those opposed to the regressive librarians' totalitarian politicization of every aspect of life, but I'll try to be hopeful. There's going to be a debate at ALA this time on whether the ALA should take stands on non-library issues. Well, no, that's not quite right. The title is already skewed toward the regressives, as you can see here:

"Saturday, June 23, 3:30-5:00 pm
Should ALA Take a Stand on the War in Iraq and Other “Non-Library”
ALA Membership Forum and Meeting I, Convention Center, Ballroom A

So it's not a debate on non-library issues, but "non-library" issues. I've noticed ALA always likes to use the scare quotes to poison the well on any debate before it even starts. For example, the "Banned Books" contingent says some books are "controversial," not just controversial. Since many of those books have in fact caused controversy, they are definitely controversial, and the scare quotes are apparently written by idiots who don't know what the word means, or who somehow think that if one side of a controversy calls it a "controversy," then the controversy doesn't exist.

But I digress, or perhaps I just "digress."

Here's the description:
"What is a “non-library” issue anyway? Should ALA take a stand on the war in Iraq, the minimum wage, or equal rights for women? On one hand, some people say we don't have enough time to consider fully issues like the closing of libraries and library staff wages.
On the other hand, ALA has taken a stand on “non-library” issues like civil rights for decades, and these issues affect us and our families and co-workers. Where do we draw the line?
Forum Speakers: "pro" - Michael Gorman, Immediate Past President; "con" - Steve Matthews, Councilor"

I think you all know where I stand. If the best argument for addressing non-library issues is the precedent of the regressive librarians forcing their agenda on everyone else for 30 years, then it isn't much of an argument. If the ALA is justified in taking a stand on everything that might affect anyone in the country, then the gate to inanity has been opened wide indeed. Perhaps Michael Gorman can use the Snipey Fellow Traveling Dude's logic that if enough librarians believe something to be true, than it's true.

I can't help but feel, perhaps wrongly, that I've had some influence on this debate over the past year. Last year the Council passed resolutions on Samuel Alito and genocide in Darfur (they didn't like either one), resolutions that of course had no effect on anything other than to make some librarians feel like they were on the side of the angels. Then the regressives got their collectivist asses kicked at Midwinter on Bush and War issues. And now the public debate isn't on what stand should be taken, but about whether the ALA should even do things like this at all. It's a small victory for non-totalitarians everywhere.

I also notice that the debate isn't about neutrality, or even "neutrality," which SFTD and the Griping Illini like to throw into the mix occasionally. Since I've never argued that the ALA should be politically neutral, only that it should not address non-library issues, I'm pleased that the debate is framed in those terms. There are plenty of ALA political debates I've avoided (e.g., the Patriot Act), because my main issue isn't to avoid politics, but to avoid the ALA and by association all librarians from looking like ignorant blowhards, which is what they do when they start spouting their opinions on any subject whatsoever.

There are many political issues the ALA is completely justified in addressing, and there are many library issues that the ALA isn't addressing. There's a lot of room for the ALA to help people and to try to make the world a better place. But if the regressive librarians have their way, then the ALA Council will spend a lot of time arguing over issues that have nothing to do with librarianship and passing resolutions that will affect absolutely no one and in addition make librarians look like blowhards. Apparently, the regressive librarians think that libraries and librarianship are boring, and that the problems of librarians and libraries aren't important.

Well, libraries and librarianship might very well be boring, and the problems of librarians unimportant, but these are the areas with problems the ALA just might be able to solve. Until the ALA can get its own house in order and effectively address library issues, why would anyone care what they have to say about non-library issues?


Anonymous said...

I posted on the SRRT listserv recently, saying I wasn't sure that ALA should be deciding issues that aren't directly related to libraries. You can imagine the response I received - in fact, one of the responses from Al Kagan was quoted here (in the responses to your 6/6/07 post).
Anyway, I *also* reminded people that not everyone is able (financially, or because of their employer) to attend conferences - and by extension, to be heavily involved in committee work in SRRT. (You'd think that a socially responsible group wouldn't need these reminders, but apparently they do.)
So where does SRRT decide they're going to debate this issue? Yes, at ALA, which most members of SRRT won't attend. Sigh.

Dances With Books said...

I thought you had an e-mail link on the blog (maybe missed it). Anyhow, to add to the pot, I just saw an item in the Library 2.0 blog debating, of all things, how to pronounce Library 2.0. Now wonder our profession is going down the tubes.


By the way, Anon. there makes a good point about the financial situation of many who are not able to attend.

AL said...

That is indeed quite an idiotic debate, but everyone knows it has to be "two point oh" or the word Twopointopia doesn't work.

tailgunner said...

No wonder it took me two years to land a library job! Instead of saying that I want play a role in helping meet the information needs of library patrons, I should have been promoting the idea that I want to save the world and that library patrons and their needs are secondary in the overall spectrum.

Anonymous said...

Oh, that position wouldn't win you a library job - just the esteem of SRRT. And since they aren't very concerned about whether librarians can find employment, you're probably better off caring about, you know, libraries.

contrarian said...

David Berninghausen, former Director of the Library School at the University of Minnesota, wrote an interesting essay in 1972 (or 1973) called “Social Responsibility vs. The Library Bill of Rights”. It provides some historical context and perspective. Not all his predictions have come true, but much of what he said resonates to this day. Here is an excerpt:

"The raison d’etre of the ALA is NOT any of the following:

1. To eradicate racial injustice & inequities & to promote human brotherhood.

2. To stop the pollution of air, earth, & sea.

3. To build a UN capable of preventing all wars.

4. To promote the homosexual life-style.

5. To advocate the lowering of the voting age to 18.

6. To preserve the separation of church & state.

7. To destroy-or to establish-universities.

8. To judge the guilt or innocence, based on news reports, of Charles Manson, Angela Davis, or the Berrigan brothers on the charges brought against them in the courts.

9. To resolve hundreds of other social, scientific, or political issues, regardless of how vital they may be for the future of humanity.

Attempts to make this library organization into a political organization for the promotion of specific causes unrelated to librarianship could destroy the viability of the ALA. They have already weakened it…unless the attention, time, energy, and resources of the ALA can be refocused upon library problems, the organization cannot and will not survive…"

This article became part of his book, "The Flight from Reason: Essays on Intellectual Freedom in the Academy, the Press, & the Library."

Stephen Denney said...

I would not take a strict position regarding the "non-library" issue. Issues such as minimum wage and women's rights can be related to the library profession. Regarding the war in Iraq my primary complaint is not so much that the ALA addresses this issue, but that it does so without taking into account the perspective of librarians within Iraq, such as Saad Eskander, head of the Iraq National Library, who believes immediate US withdrawal would bring chaos to the country.

It is most important that the ALA council be mindful of the fact that people join ALA not because they want to advance a particular political agenda but because they want to join with others who share common interests regarding the library profession. In this respect, the failed Bush impeachment resolution was probably the worst case of some ALA activists trying to politicize the ALA.