Tuesday, October 04, 2005

What to do About ALA?

One fair criticism of my piece in the Chronicle regards my decision to avoid having anything to do with the American Library Association. Judging by the responses I've received, there are plenty of conservative, moderate, and even liberal librarians who feel as I do. Greg McClay, among others, takes issue with this approach:

People we're never really going to know if ALA is completely closed to conservatives unless we actually start speaking out. Heretical Librarian has a great article but please HL and all you commenters there, dropping out of ALA isn't going to help the situation.

Even if we get the real political stuff out there are still actual library issues that can sway in either political direction. We have to fight for them on conservative grounds.

Greg makes a fair point: by quietly dropping out of ALA, we are in effect ceding the organization to the radical left. When I decided that I no longer wanted to be a member of ALA, it was because I was tired of paying $155.00 a year to an organization that openly embraced political positions with which I disagreed. (No, I don't believe it is ALA's place to espouse political views that I agree with, either.) As I wrote in the article, I felt cynical and disillusioned, and didn't really believe that change was possible.

The dozens of responses I've received have caused me to begin to reconsider this approach. There are plenty of people in this profession opposed to the politicization of ALA. Whether it's enough to make a difference remains to be seen. The main question is, can ALA be saved, or would any such effort be futile? Should those of us fed up with the current nature of the association make a last-ditch effort to reform it, or should we pursue some kind of alternative organization? I honestly don't know what the answer is, I'm just raising the issue for discussion.


Anonymous Ed Merwin, Jr. said...

Although I have been a resident of library land for over twenty-five years, I did not become a year-to-year member of ALA until approximately five year ago, after my Academic Dean said "professional memberships would help my cause for tenure." I am presently pleased that I am now tenured. But outside of that indirect benefit, I see little value for academic librarians in ALA, as a whole; ACRL being the one exception. I might feel differently if, somehow, non-library issues/causes disappered from the ALA plate.

10:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ACRL has been a benefit to me, but maybe a public librarian would say the same thing about PLA, or someone could speak kindly of RUSA... the thing is, ALA is sort of like One Big Union, and you can't get to the better parts without (in some sense) condoning the disagreeable bits. Sounds like politics to me.
I think walking away is conceding the field; perhaps the question is between whether good ideas can drive out bad ones, or whether political power is necessary to effect change.

10:26 AM  
Blogger Norma said...

I'm very much in favor of the smaller, more focused organizations. They seem to stay on topic and present excellent programming, good networking, more opportunities to present papers and be on panels, and a lot less fog factor. If ALA collapses tomorrow, no library would be hurt, because it isn't helping libraries, it's just providing a platform for certain interest groups.

11:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a feeling that moderate and conservative librarians will continue to remain in the minority at ALA--even if we all rejoined or retained our membership. ALA needs money from membership dues and conference attendance in order to keep the lawyers paid. I think hitting them in the wallet might change things faster than waiting for multiple elections to try to balance the council. I attend smaller conferences and stay in touch with what's happening in the library world via listservs. It works, it's inexpensive, and it doesn't support unnecessary political activity.

7:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been a librarian since the early 90's, and I have come to believe that ALA doesn't do much for professional librarians, but instead is kind of an organization for the institution of libraries, not professional librarians themselves. This is a fine distinction, but a cogent one when you are spending your money for the sake of professional development.

When I worked in public libraries I was a member of ALA, but it always irked me that some divisions spent so much time voicing their opinions about issues that seemed so remotely related to librarianship.

The first time this became obvious to me was in library school. I was taking a acquisitions class in Chicago when we had Judith Krug come in as a guest speaker to talk about intellectual freedom. She spent a great deal of time lecturing on abortion rights. I suspect that she saw the connection between intellectual freedom and abortion in a common enemy — those "damned fundamentalists."

I put my dollars in SLA; it seems much more focused on individual librarians and the practice of their craft. I will probably not go back to ALA as a member. While I would guess that most SLA members are more towards the liberal end of the spectrum, it seems that the organization has stayed more focused on the right issues. The issus isn't politics, it's librarianship.

Librarians in general do seem to be more liberal in their political leanings, but I agree with the opinion that our organizations ought to stay focused on professional practice and avoid spending time politicing.
Although, sometimes this in not as simple as it sounds, such as with the Patriot Act.

4:32 PM  

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