Monday, October 03, 2005

Response to a Critic

Judging by the Chronicle forum and what's gotten back to me from library listservs, there has been no shortage of criticism of my recent article. Jack Stephens of Conservator links to this example from Michael McGrorty:

I assume there will be some discussion of this, but I'd like to observe that Mr. Durant is correct. What he is missing or chooses to ignore is that members of other political persuasions are perfectly free to run for Council. That they don't, or aren't commonly elected, reveals that the left-wing bent of the Council is a mirror of the membership's views-- or at least that portion who bother to vote.

That's true, which is a point I actually made in my article. Mr McGrorty is also correct when he notes that the most politically committed exercise a disproportionate amount of influence within ALA. The majority of ALA members, regardless of their political beliefs, tend not to be active within the organization.

It is equally true that the American public have twice elected George Bush, a conservative Republican, to the Presidency. He and the conservative majorities in the Congress run the country. We of the Left have our tiny fiefdom here in ALA. I'd be willing to trade control of ALA for the government of the nation if a deal could be stuck. The way it works around these parts is that you have your elections and suck up the results. My advice for Mr. Durant is that he decide whether he wants to complain about one of the last remaining islands of opposition to Bush doctrines, or rest happy in the knowledge that his folks control the country.

This attitude seems to be a common one among critics of my article. So what if ALA is run by the left? You conservatives run the country, so shut up and quit complaining. This seems a rather odd attitude for a profession dedicated to the proposition that people should be able to "speak freely as guaranteed by the First Amendment". Still, my critics are entitled to make whatever arguments they wish.

However, there's one other problem with this argument. It ignores the fact that the American Library Association is not supposed to be a bulwark of "opposition to Bush doctrines". Nor for that matter, is it there to support conservative causes. The object of ALA's existence, according to Article II, Section 1 of the ALA Constitution, is "to promote library service and librarianship." Period. There is nothing in ALA's Constitution about being anyone's little political fiefdom.

Contrary to Mr. McGrorty's assertion, there is no shortage of "islands of opposition to Bush doctrines", and he has every right to support any of these groups and their causes. If Mr. McGrorty is unhappy with the current residents of the White House and the Capitol, he should do everything in his power as a private citizen to replace them with people more to his liking, not settle for politicizing a nonpartisan, professional organization.

Apart from that, I think he should make a run for Council. This would give him the chance to express his views, perhaps convert some of his opponents, and either win office or head home a martyr to his cause. Besides, I'd like to see him give a stirring speech to the rest of us about the benefits of the Patriot Act to libraries.

I'm sure that the spectacle of me speaking before an ALA audience would be extremely entertaining. As to running for ALA Council, I'm afraid I'm going to have to decline Mr. McGrorty's nomination of my candidacy. As strongly as I feel about the politicization of American librarianship, there are other things I feel even more strongly about. This is why I recently joined an organization called the North Carolina Army National Guard, and as you can imagine, this commitment will take up a substantial amount of my time. Besides, I've already expressed my views, and will continue to do so in future. However, even before my article, Greg McClay announced his candidacy for ALA Council. Greg is running on a platform I wholeheartedly endorse, and will certainly make a far better ALA Councilor than I would.

As far as extolling "the benefits of the Patriot Act to libraries", Jack Stephens offered a good response at his site. I will just add that our patrons have every right to read what they want and have their privacy respected. They also have the right not to be blown up by suicide bombers. Finding the right balance between these two imperatives is what is at issue.


Blogger Mari said...

Neither do a number of archivists or business (special) or law librarians seem to run for ALA office either. I let my ALA membership drop sometime ago because I felt that the membership and leadership and the whole thing was way too Public library oriented and lacked diversity in professional thought. Yeah you have your token non-public library groups but it just didn't seem worth it to have an ALA membership AND a membership in the speciality I was in. My point is that the visable ALA body lacks any real diversity in thought, professional and political.

8:16 AM  
Blogger Akaky said...

Isnt that odd? I've always thought ALA had the exact opposite problem, that there were too many academic librarians used to having their own way in their ivory towers and not enough public librarians who actually had to deal with the public who pays our salary and the elected officials who represent them. Libraries as the acme of the Rashomon phenomenon; who knew?

2:40 PM  
Anonymous Jill said...

I just wanted to say THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU! to you Mr. Durant. In your article "The Loneliness of a Conservative Librarian" you wrote about so many things that I have felt, but never put down on paper anywhere. I thought I was alone. Thank you for being a spokesperson who truly understands what we, as keepers of the info, are supposed to be about.
My hat is off to you!

3:00 PM  
Blogger Jack Stephens said...

David, I can't begin to tell you how much I admire your decision to sign up for the North Carolina National Guard. I trust you will be posting on it.

1:20 AM  

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