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Beware the Radical Militant Librarians

A kind reader sent me this critique of the Nassau County (FL) library system by a “conservative” in Florida, if “conservative” is defined as people who hate people different than themselves, which is what the remnant of intellectually respectable conservatives have let it come to mean.

This critique is very different from our Oakland friend “the Boss,” who bases his antipathy to libraries purely on the principle that they’re paid for by taxes, which according to him are inherently socialist and oppressive, except when they’re not.

Instead of the libertarian, live-and-let-live-as-long-as-I-don’t-need-anything-from-the-state conservatives, Nassau County seems to grow the kind who just hate everyone not exactly like them.

When I read the diatribe of this alleged Christian, the hatred was palpable. So much for “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him,” much less “let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Those quotes are from the socialist part of the Bible, so Florida Bible thumpers can ignore them.

The angry Floridian wants to scuttle plans to build a new library, but then wants to keep the old library and fire the librarians, for two reasons: “Our library is corrupted by the far-left ALA,” and “Our library has slanted bookshelves.”

To defend the first claim, he trots out the usual litany of complaints made against foolish ALA actions, like defending terrorists and child pornography, without pointing out that the ALA always loses those battles. If, as I’d suggested, they’d avoided them in the first place, rabid Floridians wouldn’t have such ammunition.

The most amusing reason his library is corrupted is this: “ALA controls 62,000 members and, through its czarist accreditation program of many libraries, largely dictates what books are available for the most impressionable members of U.S. society, our children. For adults who utilize city and county libraries, ALA likewise exercises great influence over what may be read (and, in the Digital Audio/Video Age, what may be listened to and watched).”

This is a man after ALA’s own heart, someone who takes it as seriously as it takes itself. The poor deluded man. I’ve been around a while, and I’m not aware that the ALA “controls” any of its members. The “radical militant librarians” that frighten the poor man into apoplexy are neither radical nor militant, and are only a vocal fringe anyway. The “radical militant librarian” buttons ironic, as if it’s radical and militant to stand up for free speech.

Also, of course, a very large percentage of ALA members aren’t even public librarians, but we’ll ignore that inconvenient fact.

I was also unaware that the ALA “accredited” libraries, either in a czarist manner or otherwise, but what’s a wild, unsupported claim among friends.

He swallows the ALA OIF line completely, though. The OIF claims that a library not buying a book is “censorship.” That’s silly, but it’s pretty close to the claim that a libraries “largely dictate” what books are available or “exercise great influence” over what is read and watched. As “the Boss” and sensible people could point out, libraries don’t control what people read.Only librarians and the uninformed think that.  Information is abundant! It’s another wild, unsubstantiated claim that makes what could be a worthwhile critique into an ignorant rant.

The second reason, that libraries have slanted shelves, could easily be remedied by a good carpenter, except that he really means the choice of books is biased. There’s no way around this except to say, yep, the choice of books is always biased, or slanted, and it would be just as slanted if doctrinaire conservatives were in charge. So go request the library buy some conservative books. Light a candle, don’t curse your darkness!

He accuses the library of “intellectual abuses.” Given that the entire opinion column is an intellectual abuse, that’s the pot calling the kettle African American.

He searched the library catalog and found that there are more anti-Bush books than pro ones, and more pro-Obama books than anti ones. Shocking! And this is a county where 72% of voters voted against Obama. Doubly shocking!

Unless you consider the kind of people who read a lot and use public libraries are probably the quarter or more of the adult population who probably voted for Obama. Maybe if religious conservatives used libraries and read more books besides the Bible, the libraries would have them, but that’s not the case. Librarians aim to please, sometimes as much as the ACLU when they defended the Nazi’s right to burn down ACLU headquarters.

What the ardent anti-librarian doesn’t know is that while librarians might buy books they like or think people want, they have no critical capacity. Everything is information, and if you want it, they’ll try to get it for you, even if they think you’re a semiliterate buffoon.

Then there’s another shocker, one that means the librarians “may as well hang a hammer and sickle in their window.” Oh, goodness, the old hammer and sickle. You see, there’s one book about Karl Marx in the library, and it’s pro-Marx. There are NO books about Barry Goldwater.

Since Marx and Goldwater are pretty much equivalent by world historical standards, this discrepancy is shocking. I differ from our erstwhile Floridian in that I don’t think having only one book about Karl Marx gives a library the treasured right to hang up hammers and sickles.

A quick Worldcat.org search finds over 25,000 books with Karl Marx in a subject heading, and that library has only one? They sound like a bunch of fascists to me.

The last two reasons are the oddest, because they cancel each other out. Our Floridian friend is a logical victim of his manifold hatreds. The library, it seems, is both pro-Muslim and pro-homosexual. That’s certainly an odd combination, given that the further you get into Muslim theocracies, the more likely deadly homophobia is to reign. I wonder what Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would make of that combination.

If librarians really were the radical militant Marxist this guy says they are, they would probably have come to his house and stomped him to death with their jackboots by now instead of wearing a tee shirt saying “Radical Militant Librarian” to make themselves feel empowered. At least radical librarians and the czarist and yet Marxist ALA should be flattered someone on the other side actually takes them seriously.

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Comments

  1. Andrew says:

    As someone who grew up largely after the collapse of the Soviet Union I’d like to say that it’s time for the old guard to drop the socialism/communism bugaboo. That might have been a credible threat as recently as the mid-80s, but using that tired argument today just makes the person employing the reductio ad stalinum look like an even bigger idiot who doesn’t realize that the cold war is over and we won.

  2. Amy says:

    Religion (any religion) and homophobia pretty much go hand-in-hand. Note I did not say that all religious people were homophobes. Please don’t any tolerant religious types who may visit AL think that’s my meaning. It’s just that none of the “Big 3″ religions is notable for its fundamental tolerance of homosexuality. I expect most if not all of us can agree on that.

    And while I agree that Mr. Fernandina Beach generally comes off as a bog-trotting backbirth, even a stopped [analog] watch is right twice a day. He does make a few valid points.

    There *IS* bias in library collection development. It has saddened and shamed me many times to witness colleagues who cannot keep their politics out of their business decisions. For instance, if there really is no Torah in that library, esp. compared with the number of Bibles and Koarans they have, that’s a disgrace…and I say that as a self-professed agnostic at best and atheist at worst (still on the fence about that). Why would a public library serving such a large Jewish population not have a Torah on hand, for show if nothing else? Pretty glaring oversight for an educated collection development librarian to commit, IMO. Which, in turn, leads a suspicious mind to opine that maybe it’s not just an oversight. Etc.

    Of course I realize that the inability to screen bias out of business decisions is true of most professions, but it’s a particularly egregious trait in a profession that purports to be information gatekeepers and that prides itself on its innate fairness and lack of bias. But it does seem that fair and unbiased within our profession means fairer to some than others. Which, you know, isn’t really fair.

    Further, even though I have heard the argument many times, I am not persuaded that the liberal bias I witness in librarianship is justified by the fact that the bogtrotting backbirths would be even more biased if they had their way. Fair is fair, and all viewpoints, however *personally* repugnant they may be to us, should be equally represented by institutions funded or even partially subsidized by taxpayer money. If you want a biased library, build one and stock the shelves yourself. Otherwise, give the public equal measures of, for example, Barry Goldwater and Karl Marx. Or gay pride and homophobia. Etc.

    Please note I didn’t say all literature/media should be available. Only that a smattering of all viewpoints should be represented in a library collection paid for or even partially subsidized with taxpayer money. The subject of porn and objectionable material has already been covered in this blog and the comments, and that is not what I’m talking about.

    Finally, as a taxpayer and a librarian, I happen to agree with Mr. Fernandina Backbirth on the economic points, even if I don’t agree with his reasoning. IMO building a spang new public library in these tough economic times, especially if they’re already cutting librarian’s hours and salaries, is the height of something. It boggles. I am also not persuaded by arguments such as “If the library doesn’t get built, another agency will spend the money”. Doesn’t matter. Staff the existing libraries properly first, then show an actual need (rather than a want) for a new facility. Otherwise, bite the bullet until times get better.

  3. DianaH says:

    Aaaah, my home state, doing me proud as always. We never make the news in a good way.

  4. Sarah says:

    “The socialist part of the Bible.” Sometimes, I love you!

  5. Michael says:

    Eh, people complaining about print is as old as print itself.

  6. Even I’ll say that was a little over the top. At least I use some humor when I criticize the ALA’s OIF:

    The ALA Anthem

  7. Melissa says:

    I’ve got a neighbor who thinks her tax dollars shouldn’t go to public libraries or schools because that’s socialism, but she’s perfectly ok with cashing in her disability check every month. Anytime I hear a person use the word socialist (or any other oft misused word) I cringe and usually end up ignoring what they have to say. It’s rare I find anyone able to speak logically about those issues or anything involving taxes and the good of society.

  8. Dennis says:

    I checked the online catalog of Nassau County, Florida and did find a book about Barry Goldwater, and one about Karl Marx too. There are also four records which have Karl Marx as the author. None where Barry Goldwater is similarly credited however. So maybe the Florida conservative is merely confused bu the search properties of the online catalog and needs assistance from the helpful librarians?

  9. NJ says:

    This is not surprising. Christians have a long history of having a great antipathy to libraries and it is guessed that the world’s greatest library of the ancient world, the Great Library of Alexandria, was largely wiped out on orders of the new Christian emperors of Rome (391 CE, Edict of Theodosius). All references to the great library, which existed for 700 years under non Christian pagans, disappears from the historical record after 391.

    Of course Karl Marx is going to have more citations than “Barry Goldwater” because Marx works had consequences that effected the entire world, while Goldwater, no matter what you think of him, was not a major player on the world scene. But you will probably find listings for many other conservative authors who lived at the same time as Marx, such as Benjamin Disraeli,or later, like Winston Churchill, and of course the father of modern Conservatism,and almost all of the ideas held by conservatives in the US and anywhere else today, Edmund Burke.

    The fact that those using the catalog do not even know enough about the history of conservatism to not be comparing apples to oranges in this case is not the fault of the libraries, but a rather limited education.

  10. MJ says:

    I do agree that Christianity has had antipathy to libraries during its history. However, I have recently found (unfortunately I can’t remember the source) that the cause of the destruction of the Library of Alexandria is currently up for debate among researchers. I had always thought it had a Christian connection as well, but the error was passed along by a respected researcher and then further passed on by the otherwise-wonderful (to me) PBS series Cosmos. Considering the times, it could have had a Christian connection, but the librarian in me needs to say that the researchers really don’t know at this point.

    However, I’m really enjoying this article and the responses!

  11. rpglibrarian says:

    Many librarian jobs require a librarianship degree from an ALA acredited school. Perhaps this is what he means when he says the ALA has control over libraries. I could also be giving him too much credit, but that was the only thing I can think of that shows any degree of ALA control over libraries.

  12. Spencer says:

    The worst part is how he starts off with a rational argument about how they don’t need another library and the lack of public input into the decision- and then he goes completely ape poo crazy!

    I’m not a fan of the ALA as a political org- and I think I’m pretty safe in saying that librarians, on the whole, go about 11-1 in the dem v repub divide. But, this guy is just a little ball o’ hate. Perhaps he meant that the ALA certifies library schools, meaning that no accepted MLS can be taught in a grad program that doen’st get accedidation by the ALA. That’s a bit of an issue- but all in all, any points he might have had or been able to make are completely lost and overshadowed by his overall idiocy and mental problems.

  13. Zach says:

    “Bias” and “censorship” are oft-misunderstood concepts. If I decide to purchase a book written by Obama rather than George W. Bush’s “Decision Points” for a library, I could be considering criteria that are generally unrelated to the fact that one author’s a Democrat while the other’s a Republican: the quality of the writing, and the factual accuracy being probably the most important ones. I might think it’s more likely that a Democrat is producing quality work, but I should have a stronger basis for that opinion than the mere fact that the label “Democrat” is attached to the author’s name. If that’s what’s guiding me, then accusations of prejudice may be relevant. As an acquisitions librarian, even if I’m a die-hard Democrat, I should still be willing to purchase a book written by a Republican if it’s clear that the author makes good points and is intellectually respectable.

    For the same reason, being “unbiased” need not involve purchasing one book about the Holocaust, along with another book purporting to prove the Holocaust never happened. Even though there are two viewpoints out there, the quality of a book is not determined by the votes of interested parties, as though acquisitions were a democracy. Am I “self-censoring” by not choosing the Holocaust-denier’s book? Everyone would admit that I’m not. But, likewise, am I “self-censoring” by forgoing Bush’s (or Obama’s) book, in favor of the other one? Such a question can only be determined by asking about my motives. Because Bush’s (or Obama’s) political views are much more widely accepted than the Holocaust-denier’s views are, is it not wrong to think that their works are entitled to my attention *for that reason alone*? Half the country probably rejects Darwinian theory of evolution. Should their numbers dictate the ideological balance of a section on my Biology shelf? “Oh, but politics and religion are more subjective, unlike science,” you might say. I don’t think that’s necessarily true.

    If I go into a Borders and see half of the “Current Events” books are written by liberals and other leftists, while the other are written by conservatives and other right-wingers, it does not make me admire Borders for generously offering their customers a wide spectrum of opinions. More likely they have their bottom line in mind: appealing to as many customers as possible means selling more books at the end of the day.

    It’s not really a valid criticism of a library to accuse it of not being similarly catholic (in the lower-case “c” meaning) in its representation of all religious and political viewpoints. It may mean that whoever is responsible for acquisitions is politically biased if certain views are under-represented. But it may also mean that this library is trying to fight against “bias” (which means bending facts to fit one’s argument), by only choosing books that carry markers of respectable fact-checking and logical coherence.

  14. joneser says:

    Remember when Pluto’s “planet status” was revoked a few years ago? Massive calls for weeding the 520s went out across the land, because these titles were no longer factual.

    Yet, what about climate-change books which might be factually-challenged? Or “Intelligent Design”?

  15. Evan says:

    Christians have historically had antipathy for libraries?

    That’d be a shock for the Christian monastaries of the Middle Ages, many of whom saved knowledge after the fall of Rome.

    Not to mention, the role of Christianity in the popularization of the book itself, the Gutenberg Bible, and oh…the popularization of the codex as a book form? Christians have been, on the whole throughout history, quite the friend of the written word in general.

    And yes, the Burning of the Alexandria library is an old propaganda point with a more complex truth. The wikipedia article is actually fairly helpful. Basically, it had already been burned several times, and wasn’t nearly the place it had been by the time Theodosius got to it.

  16. Young Librarian says:

    Funny. I had to look up Barry Goldwater on Wikipedia because I didn’t know who he was. Is that because my librarian was a radical militant librarian? Or because my school teachers thought he was irrelevant to my course of study? Or the fact I grew up in Canada and didn’t move to the states until grade 12?

  17. Spencer says:

    @young librarian- it’s probably a combination of the 2nd and 3rd. Goldwater and school teachers generally don’t mix- plus he was the loser of a presidential race in US, so how often are those really remembered?

    He was, however, a MAJOR influence in conservative philosophy in the US for the last half century.

  18. Literati says:

    I just found you blog, and I must say, it thorougly amuses me. As a resident of the illustrious state of Florida (and as someone fortunate enough to be in cities that LOVE censorship) can I just say that this article makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside, and the idea of a radical militant librarian made me giggle (primarily cause I’m fond of puns, “throw the book at all the non-believers!”) I’m totally going to follow your blog now…