Sunday, March 25, 2007

Reflections of a Conservative "Librarian"

Courtesy of Annoyed Librarian, I find that I have finally fulfilled my ambition of pegging the John Berry Sputter-o-Meter:

Conservatives, blogging away as "librarians,"” still try to convince us that ALA has no business taking stands on issues that are not specifically related to libraries, although it is difficult to know where to draw the line between what is a library issue and what is not. The most recent rant about this was from the Heretical Librarian, that conservative librarian who worries that he will become "“a mirror image of Mark Rosenzweig."” He isn't a "“mirror image"” but he's no less personal, political, or ideological than Mark in his posts as a "librarian."” He cites the Annoying Librarian, who in her own anonymous blog ranted on about how how those of us on the left always mix up the personal and political. I have to confess, I'm guilty of that. As long as I have been a member of ALA, more than 30 years on the record, and by recollection since the wonderful Sixties, ALA has frequently taken stands on political issues. Many of those ALA positions would not have measured up to the terms Heretical or Annoyed would apply to what ALA is allowed to speak about.

The post that has Mr. Berry in such a tizzy is here, if you want to read it. I'll deal with his core argument below. In the meantime, here are a few random reactions to this paragraph:

-The only reason I choose to blog as a conservative "librarian" is because of people like Berry, Mitch Freedman, etc. using ALA, listservs, and various other professional forums to shove their personal politics in my face.

-"Annoying Librarian"? Dude, did you actually think that up on your own?

-Every time some aging radical goes on about "the wonderful Sixties", I think of that hilarious Freedom Rock commercial. "Hey man, is that Freedom Rock?" "Yeah man!" "Well, turn it up, man!"

-Actually, it's ALA's constitution which limits what "ALA is allowed to speak about":

The object of the American Library Association shall be to promote library service and librarianship.

The fact that Berry takes pride at having politicized ALA despite what the organization's constitution says speaks for itself.

Now, on to his second paragraph, which I will discuss in detail:

I look at it this way. ALA is not a library. ALA is a membership organization, and if those members or their representatives on the ALA Council decide that war, in Iraq or Vietnam, is an issue about which they wish to take a stand, and that it is related to librarianship, that is legitimate. Indeed, war is a library issue, as is any other issue that raises questions about how we will allocate public resources.

People involved in ALA have the "right" to do anything they want within the laws of the United States. If they really want to draw such an absurdly broad view of "library issues" that virtually any topic is considered relevant, go right ahead. All critics like myself do is point out that taking such stands makes a mockery of the organization's commitment to be a non-partisan professional association, and help turn our profession into an ideological echo chamber. I suspect that Berry regards such consequences as being features, not bugs.

Of course, that begs the issue of whether or not the views of ALA members are really being represented by some of the resolutions passed by ALA Council. The organization has over 66,000 members. If you were to ask them their opinions on the conflict in Iraq, for example, the results would be far closer to Berry's views than to mine. If you were to ask them if they wanted ALA to take a position on Iraq, I think the results might be somewhat different.

As Berry himself has noted, only a "relatively small percentage of the total eligible members vote in ALA elections". So, are ALA Council's resolutions on political issues really reflective of what the membership wants, or are they simply indicative of an ideologically driven minority using the organization as its own political plaything?

I just can'’t understand why right wingers like Heretical and Annoyed, who constantly spout their views either anonymously or not, but always as librarians, find it wrong for ALA members to vote to do the same.

Here, Berry has deliberately blurred the distinction between speaking as a librarian and speaking as a member of a professional organization. I just hope that no one was injured while moving those goalposts. Radical leftists like Berry are perfectly free to speak as librarians, and have been doing so for many years. My objection is to their hijacking of American librarianship's largest professional association and using it as a vehicle to foist their political beliefs on the entire profession. Well, not in my name, as they say. Of course, by alienating me to the point that I quit my ALA membership, Berry and company have allowed me to save $620 over the last four years, so I'm not totally unappreciative.

Since Berry argues that ALA members have the right to be politically engaged, you would think that he also accepts their right to be apolitical. You would be mistaken:

It is important that everyone else in our society make the connection between libraries and war and the other problems we face as a society. It is just as important for us, as librarians, to make sure the people realize that while librarians practice a certain kind of neutrality on the job, they are active political people in their personal lives and in the organizations to which they belong. Librarians, as librarians, do have social responsibilities, and they are duty bound to express their views about them, either as individual librarians or as members of library associations. That is how we've always done it in this country, whether we're auto workers, migrant farm laborerers, miners, doctors, or librarians. That is the American way, after all.

(Emphasis added-DD)

This passage raises a number of questions: What if the ignorant masses let down their intellectual betters like Mr. Berry and fail to "make the connection between libraries and war"? What of class traitors and wreckers within the profession such as myself, who believe either that their is no connection or who draw a different connection than the one Berry does? Or those who define "social responsibilities" differently than he does? What about those librarians who don't want to be "active political people", and who just want to do their jobs and be the best librarians they can? Are their reeducation camps waiting in our future?

Mandating that "everyone" needs to believe what you believe, or that librarians are "duty bound" to engage in political harangues at every opportunity doesn't exactly sound like "the American way" to me. After all, I've been led to believe that dissent is patriotic.

In short, what Berry seems to be saying is that only politically committed radical leftists can be good librarians. Hence his use of scare quotes to describe conservative "librarians". The implication is that he wants a profession that preaches intellectual freedom but doesn't actually practice it.

Update: 3-26-07: The punctuation in the Berry quotes, which was not displaying properly, has been fixed.


Blogger theotherwaldo said...

Let's look at it this way: if the ALA were a union, how long should its members allow the leadership to stray afield from improving conditions for the union's membership? Non-pertinent political and social movements would be dropped in a hurry!

2:54 PM  
Anonymous tomeboy said...

Terrific thoughts here David. (And kudos to Stephen Denney and Robert Lanxon).

FWIW, I was once (perhaps still am) on the Buschman, et al hit list. And with Berry too. He offered to publish my thoughts in LJ however said the he needed to know my real name. Some nonsense about libel and the journal.

Anyway, if interested my thoughts about the Bitter Berry

2:52 PM  

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