Monday, December 18, 2006

Illiberal Librarians

Annoyed Librarian has written a must-read piece on the fundamentally illiberal nature of the PLG/SRRT radical left. Here's just a sample, be sure to read it all:

I've been thinking a bit about the political labels thrown around by my critics, and some of my supporters for that matter. Liberal this, and conservative that. I should point out that there's nothing particularly "liberal" about the radical left. But libraries are liberal institutions when they provide the means for education and self-improvement and then let people take advantage of them, or not. That's standard liberalism, even in its modern variety. The state helps give opportunities, and then lets people make their own choices. Making the choice for them isn't liberal, or conservative for that matter. It's often totalitarian. Seeing people as helpless victims isn't liberal, because it doesn't respect their right to and capacity for individual choice and their duty of personal responsibility.

This is a problem with the SRRT, though. It's certainly not liberal, and the folks inside it know this, even if they use the language of liberalism to get their way. A library association that promoted liberalism would promote intellectual freedom and access to information. Okay so far with the ALA, except for the bizarre belief they have that some pervert massaging his membrum virile while viewing Internet porn in the library is doing something "intellectual." Outside of a commitment to liberal democracy in general--which, by the way, is the only regime that supports the intellectual freedom of writers, artists, historians, philosophers, etc.-- liberal institutions should take no substantive political position. A liberal library association would support intellectual freedom, access to information, and liberal democratic political institutions, but wouldn't go on to make political statements irrelevant to libraries. Passing a resolution on Bush or the Iraq War isn't liberal. It doesn't provide information for people to make choices. It tries to make a choice for them. That's typical of the radical left among others, but it's not very liberal.

The SRRT has always been illiberal. They've always taken a stance against one of the central tenets of liberalism: political neutrality. The SRRT was born so that a lot of illiberals could get the ALA to take political stands on issues rather than a neutral stance. Illiberals don't like political neutrality, because they believe not only that they are absolutely right but that they're entitled to foist their political opinions on everyone else in the form of laws and resolutions. Illiberals don't like liberal neutrality because they're more interested in political victory than in providing neutral procedures for all people to make their own decisions. It's this liberal neutrality and the liberal desire to provide means for people to choose their own ends and not choose the ends that critics of liberalism always attack, whether they are radicals, conservatives, communitarians, civic republicans, socialists, communists, fascists, whatever.

This is the point I tried to make last year in the Chronicle, though Annoyed Librarian expresses it much more eloquently than I could. Librarianship is about empowerment, not indoctrination. To do otherwise makes a mockery of our profession.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said. I left ALA for exactly these reasons. I wish there were enough like-minded librarians to start a professional organization that could have ALA's clout without its politics, but I fear that's too much to hope for.


12:03 PM  

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