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:
- Libraries Empower the Individual
- Libraries Support Literacy and Lifelong Learning
- Libraries Strengthen Families
- Libraries Build Communities
- Libraries Protect our Right to Know
- Libraries are the Great Equalizer
- Libraries Strengthen our Nation
- Libraries Advance Research and Scholarship
- Libraries Help Us to Better Understand Each Other
- 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.