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Back to the Serious Stuff

Okay, the tedious hipster librarian article wasn’t the only thing to come out of the ALA Annual Conference. We also got a Declaration for the Right to Libraries, which is as interesting for what it leaves out as what it includes.

The document claims to be in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence and the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I guess that works, if you squint the right way.

It’s not that the document is against the spirit of those documents, it’s just that those documents enumerate rights, whereas this Declaration enumerates what in other ALA documents, as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights itself,  would be considered whereases.

Here’s the meat of it: “We declare and affirm our right to quality libraries–public, school, academic, and special–and urge you to show your support by signing your name to this Declaration for the Right to Libraries.”

There’s certainly nothing about libraries in the other documents. In the more sweeping UN Declaration, there’s nothing about libraries, reading, or literacy.

The closest it comes is education, and in the US at least we haven’t achieved even that right as stated. You might disagree, in which case check out Article 26 (1):

(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

While we technically have a free and compulsory elementary school system in this country, any honest person familiar with the differences between public school systems in rich suburbs compared to public school systems in poor inner cities would have to admit the vast inequality. There are plenty of schools that hardly educate at all, regardless of the reasons.

And forget about higher education being equally accessible to all on the basis of merit. That was a dream in America in the 1960s maybe, or at least in California, but that’s long gone. Higher education is accessible on the basis of wealth for the most part.

Regardless, the Declaration for the Right to Libraries is serious, which puts it well above a lot of the propaganda about how great libraries are. Here are the whereases:

  1. Libraries Empower the Individual
  2. Libraries Support Literacy and Lifelong Learning
  3. Libraries Strengthen Families
  4. Libraries Build Communities
  5. Libraries Protect our Right to Know
  6. Libraries are the Great Equalizer
  7. Libraries Strengthen our Nation
  8. Libraries Advance Research and Scholarship
  9. Libraries Help Us to Better Understand Each Other
  10. Libraries Preserve Our Nation’s Cultural Heritage

Definitely serious stuff. I’m not sure they’re all strictly true, but it’s all stuff most librarians would want to be true and sometimes try to make true, and that’s better than so many of the UN rights, which are given pretty short shrift in a lot of countries around the world.

Think about what’s not in there, though, things like “Libraries Give Us Access to Videogames.” I guess the International Gaming Day crowd within ALA weren’t very successful lobbyists.

We also don’t see “Libraries aren’t just about books these days.” Despite the whereases not mentioning books as such, the preamble says, “In addition to the vast array of books….” Books are still pretty darn important, and are crucial to support several of the points above.

Normally I’m critical of ALA documents and resolutions, often because there’s so much potential wasted on irrelevant or dead causes. At ALA, the Council debated resolutions on ALA divestment in fossil fuels (that one lost) to a resolution on prayers in meetings (that one passed), which declared that the ALA is a secular organization and won’t hold public prayers. Well, duh.

Then there was the resolution where the ALA confirmed its commitment to basic literacy. Fortunately that one passed, but did they really need to do that? Although considering what some people want to turn libraries into, I guess maybe they did.

Despite some minor flaws in the presentation, the Declaration of the Right to Libraries isn’t pointless,  irrelevant, or fluff. It shows that when librarians are put under pressure, they can come up with some pretty good reasons why libraries are important, and not just public entertainment centers.

Thus, consider that declaration signed by the Annoyed Librarian.

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Comments

  1. Will Manley says:

    I move that we pass a Declaration for the Right to Libraries that provide peace and quiet to whomever enters and to not waste money on seed or power tool collections.

  2. “ALA is a secular organization and won’t hold public prayers. Well, duh.” I have a big problem with that. ALA holds itself out as the nation’s censorship police. Further, according to the ALA OIF, you can’t take The Joy of Gay Sex away from Johnny since that will only lead to a slippery slope and it is also censorship. Yet here is the ALA effectively censoring out what little religious speech there ever was. As former ALA Councilor Ruth Gordon said, “When Mr. Friedman intoned the Jewish mourner’s ‘Kaddish’ after the sudden deaths of 2 Councilors, I was highly indignant and walked out. It never should have been allowed and before the second incident I begged Mr. Friedman not to repeat the prayer-at least on Council floor.”

    For ALA to move to ban such religious prayer is intolerant and censorious and it evidences a giant double standard, only made worse as the ALA is the self-arrogated censorship police. Blocking porn from libraries is supposedly censorship but blocking Mr. Friedman from saying a prayer over a fellow Council member who just died isn’t.

    Worse, the wording of the resolution as passed said “meetings,” and as that word is defined in ALA policy rather narrowly, ALA Councilors worked together to figure out how to expand the censorship to all ALA events whatsoever, not just the narrowly defined meetings.

    It looks like hatred of religion. It is definitely intolerance. Let’s hope no one else dies at another Council meeting because if anyone says a prayer, everyone else must now get highly indignant and walk out. Orders of the ALA.

    • Sherry Rhodes says:

      Anyone is free to pray at any time, anywhere. What people are not free to do is to force others to participate in their prayers, which is what happens when one prays aloud. If Mr. Friedman wished to offer a prayer in his own particular religious format, he has a temple or synagogue in which to do so. An ALA meeting is not a religious service, & if Mr. Friedman wished to express his sadness over the deaths of the councilors there, he’s free to do so in a non-religious way.

    • @Sherry Rhodes, could you be more cold, intolerant, hateful? The guy dies right there, the other guy reacts immediately by saying prayers in a manner his religion directs. You overhear his prayers so you get offended? You think that “force[s] others to participate in their prayers”? What, you want him to self-censor while you sit on the Council of the self-arrogated “censorship” police? “[I]f Mr. Friedman wished to express his sadness over the deaths of the councilors there, he’s free to do so in a non-religious way.” The councilors having just died right there in the ALA Council meeting, at least that’s my understanding, you have the gall to allow people to express grief “in a non-religious way”? It’s the Sherry Rhodes way or the highway? “If Mr. Friedman wished to offer a prayer in his own particular religious format, he has a temple or synagogue in which to do so.”

      I don’t think I have ever heard anyone in ALA ever say anything colder in the decade + since I’ve been following the ALA. That ALA Councilor who just said all those people who died in Quebec did so for “fossil fuels” while he advances an ALA effort to politicize the issue was callous, but this statement of yours has to be absolute bottom.

    • Sarah K says:

      The ALA does not hold official prayers because it can be offensive to people who hold other beliefs, or even–gasp!–none. If official prayers are allowed, it can be construed that the ALA supports or affirms a particular religious tradition, which is exactly the opposite of the freedoms that ALA espouses.

      Furthermore, I haven’t seen any evidence that the two council members died AT the meeting. The wording implies that they had died suddenly, not that they were lying prone on the floor. Do you have any sources that contradict this?

      If you don’t understand why it’s important to foster respect and impartiality for all belief systems in a library environment, then you have no idea what a library is or should be.

    • Sarah K, I understand what you are saying. This is the entire message upon which I based my assumption that at least one person died AT an ALA meeting:

      When Mr. Friedman intoned the Jewish mourner’s “Kaddish” after the sudden
      deaths of 2 Councilors, I was highly indignant and walked out. It never
      should have been allowed and before the second incident I begged Mr.
      Friedman not to repeat the prayer-at least on Council floor.

      Maybe a resolution like Larry’s might have helped, but I doubt it if a
      person wants to intone anything.

      For those who need prayer, I suggest private prayer in corners.

      Ruth Gordon

      Back to me. Sounds like he died right there in the meeting that she then walked out of. Sarah K, if someone dies right there in the meeting, and Ruth Gordon is indignant that someone says a prayer, or Sherry Rhodes demands that someone saying a prayer might be considered to be forcing others to participate in their prayers, that is a very, very serious problem, especially in an organization that promotes free speech so strongly that the “Library Bill of Rights” makes it “age” discrimination to keep children from reading/seeing any material they wish, including porn. To go further and make it a policy to silence people? Unbelievable. All that worry about slippery slopes apparently only applies to people external to the ALA, like the “censors” Beverly Jones is quoted talking about in the papers today, who want to keep sexually inappropriate materials from their children in public schools. Certainly, Sarah K, in such a case of death AT an ALA meeting, saying a prayer immediately on the death of someone has nothing to do with a lack of “foster[ing] respect and impartiality for all belief systems in a library environment,” and it should not be precluded by ALA policy. I’ll assume you agree.

    • Me! says:

      Does anyone know whether the people who passed away (whether at the meeting or not) were Jewish? Sorry, but the prayer would only be appropriate if they were in fact Jewish and more importantly would have wanted a prayer.

      However, if Mr. Friedman was saying the prayer for his own benefit because he is Jewish than the prayer was ultimately a selfish act. I am an atheist but I have ignored my own discomfort with prayer in certain situations. We do not know that whole story so we cannot say who was in the wrong, But I do think in most circumstances prayer should be avoided at ALA. Not everyone is religious and not everyone practices the same faith. Sometimes the best way to promote tolerance is simply everyone keeping quiet about their beliefs and just focusing in the common goal which creating a library environment that is good for the communities.

    • Sarah K says:

      Well, Dan, since research IS my job, here you go.

      While searching the ALA website, the only report I found that matches any details of this incident is from 2009, when the ALSC Vice President (and President-elect) and the Notable Children’s Videos Committee Chair were killed in a hit-and-run on the way home from ALA Midwinter (http://www.ala.org/news/news/pressreleases2009/january2009/alscdenverstatement).

      The minutes of the ALA Executive Board for the 2009 Midwinter Meeting state that the news arrived in the middle of the meeting, and the meeting seems to have been adjourned immediately following the receipt of the news:

      “The liaison reports were interrupted when the Board received the news of the deaths of Kate McClellan, ALSC President-elect, and Kathy Krasniewicz, an ALSC committee chair, when their taxi was struck by a hit-and-run vehicle on the way to the Denver airport following the Midwinter Meeting. Upon learning this news, the Board elected to have the remaining liaison reports submitted in writing for distribution by the Board secretariat.

      The meeting adjourned at 5:30 P.M.” (Minutes of the ALA Executive Board, 2008-2009 Executive Board, Midwinter Meeting)

      While I can certainly understand the urge to pray for a colleague after his or her sudden death, silent prayer allows a person to exercise his or her own religious tradition without infringing on any others. If an attendee had wished to pray aloud, it could easily have been done after the meeting was adjourned.

    • Sarah, I’m not sure that’s it. And the meeting was immediately adjourned, so Ruth Gordon would not have had a meeting to walk out of, which she said she did That said, you’re probably correct. Thank you.

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