Despite my frustrations with The American Library Association (ALA) Council, I voted in its election. The ALA Council’s email list (ALACOUN) has been endlessly repetitious for weeks. It was spurred by an array of fatuous messages from a chapter councilor fixated on cutting the number of at-large councilors in that august body.
I made the mistake of posting my opposition to his idea on a Facebook group called ALA Think Tank. That error brought days and days of the same mindless debate to ALA Think Tank, to my everlasting regret.
These process debates are common in the postings on ALACOUN. Usually they are interspersed with a lot of self-congratulatory palaver about the hard work and achievement of the Council and endless complaints about how councilors are unable to get their conference rooms and registrations straight on the online devices the ALA staff set up for them. Other gripes and occasional requests for information or parliamentary guidance punctuate this ongoing postings parade. Once in a while a message brings a link to a useful report, article, or comment on a major issue facing libraries.
The most idiotic of the messages on ALACOUN and ALA Think Tank helped me decide which council candidates would not get my vote, although I couldn’t penalize that absurd chapter councilor because only chapter members have votes there. (I wonder how many votes got him elected?) That we can’t vote against these chapter councilors is another good reason the ALA Council should have more at-large members.
Later that day I received a letter from the ALA president urging me to vote for a proposal to raise ALA member dues automatically by tying them to the Consumer Price Index (CPI). The problem to me was that it would eliminate the right of members to vote on every ALA dues increase. In a message to an ALA councilor, the ALA president said no messages would be broadcast to members giving views opposed to that dues proposal. It was a red flag.
You might think nearly 40 years of ALA membership, 40 years of so much misguided argument in the name of democracy, would leave me apathetic and uninterested in ALA, its elections, and its various units, debates, and activities. That is not the case!
Sure, the Council’s usual focus on trivial pursuits is frustrating, but its history is loaded with moments of which I remain proud. They prove how much the profession needs ALA to amplify the voice of librarians and their allies on the issues governing our profession’s future and of the society we serve.
After all, ALA led the battle to integrate U.S. libraries and library organizations. ALA always led the fight to expand freedom of expression for all citizens, even children. ALA, with sister associations, fought and still fights to ensure that copyright law does not become a prison in which we lock up the information that society needs in order to function. ALA campaigned for federal funds to build more libraries than Andrew Carnegie. ALA even joined other professions to support the Equal Rights Amendment and oppose the war in Vietnam.
Most important, ALA provided an open structure in which members could organize units to advocate for the information rights of women; gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals; the incarcerated; the poor and homeless; indeed every citizen. That structure allowed activist members to force the old association to be more democratic a few decades ago.
That’s why I stick with ALA. Librarians and libraries need ALA, and right now we need more ALA members willing to engage in the conversations and activities of the old group. The issues on our agenda mean we need that traditional ALA activism as much now as ever.
Of course, there are still some activists in ALA, and many of them are organized. My only hope is that the murmurs of discontent I hear so frequently will not become the voices of more disaffected ALA dropouts but, instead, will bring on the next wave of activist members, ready to reenergize the old ALA to address the challenges it faces today.
John N. Berry III