When the ALA gets involved in politics, it’s always a mess. Every time the ALA Council passes a political resolution unrelated to libraries, you can be pretty sure whatever they’re against will happen.
Someone forgot to tell the current ALA President to avoid the fray.
First, at least I think it was first, was a press release from the ALA Washington Office last Tuesday. That one is entitled, “ALA offers expertise, resources to incoming administration and Congress.” Pretty bland stuff.
In the press release she was quoted as saying, “We are ready to work with President-elect Trump, his transition team, incoming administration and members of Congress to bring more economic opportunity to all Americans and advance other goals we have in common.”
That bit didn’t make librarians very happy, considering the sort of campaign Trump ran, because how could librarians and libraries possibly have anything in common with a President 60,000,000 people voted for?
That was followed by another press release on diversity, this time from the ALA Public Awareness Office, which I didn’t even know existed. So much for public awareness.
Here she says, “As an association representing these libraries, librarians and library workers, ALA believes that the struggle against racism, prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination is central to our mission. We will continue to support efforts to abolish intolerance and cultural invisibility, stand up for all the members of the communities we serve, and promote understanding and inclusion through our work.”
It’s kind of hard to believe that the struggle against racism, for example, is central to the mission of an organization “ready to work” with the President-elect that white nationalists are really excited about.
And then it gets even better. On Thursday, not to be outdone by the Public Awareness Office, the Washington Office released yet another press release, very similar to the first one in content, but with slightly different wording and a little more specificity. It’s like they’re at war with each other.
Instead of offering expertise, this one states that “new briefs show how libraries support policy priorities of new administration,” and instead of just mentioning infrastructure, education, and veterans, there are more specific “briefs.”
For some reason, that’s the one that received the most uproar, even though there was little change from the first press release. In fact, it got so much bad feedback from librarians that the ALA President issued another press release rescinding it, which is why the link above is to a cached version instead of the version no longer available at the ALA website.
And boy did the librarian Internet explode, as the clickbait headlines put it. Librarians aren’t going to work with Trump! This isn’t a time for collaboration, but a time for “resistance” against a “fascist regime”! That sounds pretty much like what the so-called alt-right has been saying about President Obama for the past eight years, but whatever.
But then there’s more! After the brouhaha of challenged and rescinded emails, there was yet another message from the ALA President and the ALA Executive Board regarding the matter.
This one is a classic of non-apology apology.
We are sorry that these communications created confusion and anger regarding our Association’s position on safeguarding and promoting its commitment to our core values including diversity, equity and inclusion. We understand that content from these press releases, including the 11/18/16 release that was posted in error, was interpreted as capitulating to and normalizing the incoming administration. ALA administration and leadership issues an apology to all who were negatively affected by these communications.
In short, we’re sorry you felt bad about those press releases.
The librarian Internet is still exploding, but what, exactly, do these angry librarians expect the ALA to do? Librarians can resist all they like, but a tax-exempt professional organization doesn’t have many options.
What should the ALA President say? That Trump is a fascist and that the ALA won’t lobby Congress or his administration while he’s President? What will that do besides give Trump an excuse to send some late night tweets making fun of the ALA.
“Librarians are resisting me! But they’re fat, ugly losers anyway so who cares!” Or something equally eloquent.
The ALA doesn’t exist to represent the political views of individual librarians, and it never has, and no matter how many librarians voted against Trump, that’s totally irrelevant to the ALA.
The ALA is there to represent the interests of American libraries, period, and it’s in the interest of American libraries to try to get along with all administrations. In every political situation the ALA could face, resistance is futile.
Librarians can scream “normalizing” and “fascism” all they like because they’re not in a position where they have to lobby Congress for federal library funding every year, but that’s what the Washington Office has to do as long as funding opportunities exist.
If they equate trying to get federal library funding with every possible bad thing Trump might do to America or Americans, then why didn’t that argument come up before now. Was the ALA supposed to stop lobbying for funding because librarians opposed the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? Or stop lobbying because of the Patriot Act?
What do librarians think, that the ALA is going to start a new program to register Muslim immigrants or something? Is there no line to draw between pro-library actions and other actions?
The ALA is a professional organization with a more or less defined purpose, and that purpose isn’t practicing political advocacy on behalf of its members. Unless the suggestion is to close the Washington Office and stop lobbying the government, then there’s not much else the organization can do. Anything else would risk its tax-exempt status, and nothing makes ALA workers more panicky than that.
On the other hand, ALA should seriously consider hiring some better PR people, because this whole mess would have been avoided completely if the Washington Office had just gone about its business lobbying the government and not released any press releases. It’s not like anyone in the government reads those things anyway.