All those people who think that the ALA and its house organ American Libraries are merely the tools of a radical leftist conspiracy to take over America one library card at a time now have to reckon with this opinion piece in the other AL: Librarians and the Threat to Free Political Speech.
I saw the title in my Google alerts and immediately thought, here we go again, yet another article about how librarians are a threat to political speech.
Or maybe it was about how librarians protected us all from threats to free political speech, the way they protect us from “censorship” and band books.
Imagine my surprise when I found a librarian not only in agreement with the Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission decision by the Supreme Court, but who thought that all librarians should be as well, because we librarians are all about free political speech.
In case you don’t keep up with all things SCOTUS, Citizens United is the decision that removed various restrictions on how much money corporations could spend on political propaganda. Corporations can now spend what they want, when they want, because corporations are persons and money is speech. God bless America.
We are told in the other AL that “As librarians, we should welcome unrestricted political speech and endeavor to help make it accessible to our users.”
The great thing about corporate “political speech” is that librarians don’t have to endeavor to make it accessible. It’ll saturate the media and drown out any murmurings about accessibility that librarians might make. The only information librarians get out into the media is that we’re not stereotypical librarians, and I don’t think people are listening.
In a very clever twist, the author defends Citizens United in language from the ALA Intellectual Freedom Manual, which states that “Society makes an equal commitment to the right of unrestricted access to information and ideas regardless of the communication medium used, the content of work, and the viewpoints of both the author and the receiver of information.”
People who want to restrict such “political speech” are thus against free speech and intellectual freedom. This apparently includes Supreme Court Justices Stevens, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor, who all dissented from the ruling.
That revisionist interpretation of the Intellectual Freedom Manual is likely to throw some librarians into fits, but that’s what they get for opposing the intellectual freedom of corporations.
There’s a further analogy to a subject some librarians hold dear.
These pro-restriction groups seek to achieve the opposite of those free-speech values by limiting access to the information citizens need and deserve in order to make voting decisions. It is akin to removing all books from a library’s collection that support a certain political view. That is censorship.
I don’t share the radical faith in libraries of the ALA, but I have to admit that part leaves me a little breathless.
To think that political ads by corporations would ever contain “information citizens need and deserve to make voting decisions” strikes me as naive at best. All the information people need could easily be found online or in a library, but people don’t want information. If people wanted political information, they wouldn’t watch political TV ads in the first place.
The analogy with removing books from a library collection that support a certain political view seems weak, too. The sort of political media campaigns that are typical in America don’t provide “political views,” and whatever they do provide is always available somewhere else.
That, and a library removing books isn’t “censorship.”
Still, it’s nice to see American Libraries publishing a diversity of views, instead of more articles about how perfect libraries and librarians are. It shows that the ALA isn’t the politically monolithic and simplistic organization some people claim. Maybe the ALA Council can pass a resolution in support of the Citizens United decision. It would be more relevant than attacking or defending the Iraq War on intellectual freedom grounds.
Who knows? Next maybe they’ll publish something making fun of the ALA Council passing irrelevant political resolutions or a study debunking the myth of the librarian shortage. Stranger things have now happened.