Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The ALA's Choice

Those regressive librarians just can't deal with arguments, which is why they keep focusing on "anonymity" and how they don't like it. As most of you know by now, when the regressives say they don't like anonymous criticism, they're not just talking about anonymous comments on blogs. They're also talking about me, baby.

All their high-minded rhetoric doesn't bother me a bit, because I know it's just a red herring. Because they don't have any good arguments, they can't address any, so they're putting a bit of spin on the issue to draw attention away from the insubstantial basis for their attempting to politicize the entire ALA.

According to the "Librarian" blog, there's an editorial in the latest issue of Regressive Librarian, penned by all the usual suspects, on anonymity, and presumably how they don't like it. I say presumably, because even though there is a citation and a link, the link doesn't go to the editorial. The editorial is supposedly in the summer issue, but there's no summer issue listed online, and the last issue available online isn't completely online anyway. It's refreshing to see librarians putting out a publication and making some of it available only in print.

So while they focus their ire on anonymity, let's analyze the best arguments they've come up with for why the ALA Council should pass resolutions on non-library issues.

First, there's the very conservative, nay, even reactionary argument that "this is just the way we've been doing things for 30 years." How many of you have heard that argument from some of your older colleagues? A polite term for it is precedent, but since the precedent was established with lots of hostility and rancor, and has never gone uncontested, it hardly counts as a good precedent. That's what the slave owners kept telling the abolitionists. But we've always done it this way! But the regressives like conservative and reactionary arguments when they serve regressive purposes. Almost all of the regressives have put forward this pseudo-argument at one time or another.

Then, there's the wikiality argument some of the regressives are so fond of. If enough people believe something is true, then it's just true, darn it, and who are you to challenge the democritization of truth! If enough librarians say this is a library issue, then it just is. We don't need any arguments or justification for the totalitarian politicization of the world; we just need the votes! This is the favorite argument of Snipey Fellow Traveling Dude and the Griping Illini. They don't want too many people voting, though, just the relative handful of councilors who attend ALA, ones they can lock in a room and badger with their hostile irrelevancies until the sane councilors break down just to get them to shut up. They don't want to put any of these issues to a vote of the entire membership, that's for sure. To do that would be to circumvent the representative process we've established, as one of the regressives argued. They're all about process over democracy if it serves their purposes. "Participatory democracy"--the alleged goal of so many regressives--pales as a goal in comparison to political victory.

My favorite is the "public funds" argument, where anything that has any implications for public funding of anything becomes a "library issue," because libraries receive public funds. Since that's just about everything in our age of expansive and intrusive government, then everything is thus a library issue. QED. This suffers from some of the same problems as the wikiality argument, and is definitely governed by the blowhard fallacy. This argument assumes that librarians as librarians have something worthwhile to contribute to absolutely every debate. Does that seem like a reasonable assumption? Would the regressive librarians agree that every other organized group whose members receive public funds has something to contribute to every public debate by virtue of their profession? Does the library custodial staff have the same expertise to contribute to such debates, or only the exalted librarians? How about the postal workers? Is everything a "postal issue" as well as being a library issue? Should we librarians pay attention to what postal workers have to say about intellectual freedom, because everything is a postal issue? Oh, and the military. They receive public funds. Does everything then become a military issue as well? Are the regressives thus providing the justification for the militarization of society? And what about those librarians who don't work for public libraries, but work at private colleges or law firms or whatever. Do they not have a say because they don't receive public funds? And let's not even mention those regressives so prominent in this debate who aren't even librarians. Why should we listen to them?

And then of course there's the red herring of anonymity. We can't take any of these arguments or concerns seriously, because some of the people putting them forward are anonymous! Of course no one believes they'd address the arguments if their opponents put their names on them. No, then they'd just call them names and smear them in public. Either way it's a convenient out for people who don't have any arguments, very convenient indeed. Either way the approach is to smear opponents rather than engage in debate, and that's a lot easier than thinking and a lot more fun than being civil for people who actively hate anyone who disagrees with them on anything.

I would mention other arguments, but the regressives don't have any. Conservatism and reaction, wikiality, smear tactics, and red herrings--these are the tools in the regressive toolbox.

Perhaps Michael Gorman, who looks like he'll be arguing the regressive cause at the ALA debate, will come up with a new one, but I doubt it.

And then there are those of us who think the ALA should focus on library issues, because many of us are librarians and we actually know something about libraries. The ALA could just possibly have some sway in a debate on access to information, intellectual freedom, rural access to libraries, and other political and library issues where librarians could speak with authority and expertise. And the ALA could certainly speak up more on behalf of librarians regarding such issues as library compensation, library school recruitment and accreditation, library jobs, etc..

But dealing with those issues is painful and difficult and tedious, and not nearly as much fun as being on the side of the angels and joining the Second Life Liberation Army. Focusing any attention at all on non-library issues not only gives the regressives a chance to be blowhards--a role they dearly love to play--but also draws attention away from all those boring library issues. The regressive blowhards want to be responsible for all of society, but not for anything related to libraries. It's easy to stand up and say you don't like something that you can't do anything about. Okay, so librarians don't like war. That's fine. I don't like war. But nothing the ALA does is going to stop any wars. If the ALA focused on library issues, people might actually expect some positive change. There might be failure, but in this case failure is better than irrelevance.

The ALA faces an important choice, and it's not the choice between saving the world and ignoring their "social responsibility." The ALA Council can waste time passing resolutions on non-library issues where it's guaranteed that what they say will have no relevance or interest or effect at all, or they can try to address library issues where there's just the slimmest possibility they can do some good.

That's the choice, and let's hope from now on the ALA Council makes the right decision.


contrarian said...

I'll become a member again if the ALA chooses to refocus on library issues and carry out its real purpose and mission. It's not enough however, if the regressives lose just one debate. If after a year the ALA truly rejects non-library issues, I'll send them my money. This means not wasting time and resources on debating irrelevant resolutions. It also means choosing legitimate speakers from different sides of the political spectrum and isolating the regressives who protest. In addition, it means the ALA Governing Council stick to library issues on its listserv and ignore the regressives who try to bully and deflect its attention away from those issues. It's going to take a concerted effort over time to reject the regressives. The regressives are living in the 1960's, but they are still entrenched in the ALA's bureaucracy.

Anonymous said...

So let's try this line of logic:
1. If many people support a certain truth, that truth is indeed correct.
2. Anonymous bloggers have the support of many people (as seen in the readership).
3. Anonymous blogging is true and correct.

No? :o)

Anonymous said...

second life liberation army! that's fantastic!

Anonymous said...

I would love to provide an explication of the following, and the illogic, incoherence and general grammatical foolishness of the following. But as AL said, heat and humidity are soporific. So I leave y'all to ponder these gems:

according to the prevailing logic of the justifications

(*SO* "NewSpeak" yet so retro commie-pinko, it's painful).

That is no more a reasonable defense...

(They need some corporal punishment from the Grammar Nun).

than it was for the Ku Klux Klan’s tactics

(On a par with "JUST LIKE THE NAZIS")

or infiltration of progressive groups by the police

(one persyn's progressives is another man's Anarchists, what do the "progressive groups" have to hide? Maybe they should be anonymous?).




faithless minion said...

notes for the upcoming logic quiz - all informal fallacies, except as noted.

the very conservative, nay, even reactionary argument... : argumentum ad antiquitatem

the wikiality argument : argumentum ad populum

"public funds" argument : Non sequitur (a formal fallacy)

the red herring of anonymity : argumentum ad hominem

PLG Delenda Est.

Anonymous said...

I haven't been an ALA member since I was in library school (about 15 years ago). I too will no join the ALA until they give the frozen combat boot to the SRRT, and start paying attention to library-related issues, ONLY!

Post coitum omne animal triste est.

Brent said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brent said...

So is this highly touted debate going to be on C-SPAN 3?

Now, I'd prefer the ALA to take up non-library issues so it makes the ALA more irrelevant. And if the ALA keeps going down the path, no one will take the organization seriously.

Talk radio will make fun of librarians as a bunch of crackpots, and we will forever be branded as 60s-retreads.

Why would I want this? So I could at least pretend that I am liberal. If a non-tolerant liberal asks what my beliefs are, I will say I am a card-carrying member of the ALA, thus I will be accepted!

Robert L said...

Are they still carping about anonymity? LOL, and what can they really do about it? Absolutely nothing. But then, I guess, if you enjoy spitting into the wind....

And it is particularly funny given what some of them have attempted to do to people whose postings they found offensive.