February 17, 2018

ALA Midwinter 2011: Every Issue Is a Library Issue | Blatant Berry

I joined ALA to amplify my voice

The conversation about body scanning of air travelers turned sour and fatuous. Participants on ALACOUN, the American Library Association (ALA) Council discussion list, voiced concerns about the exposure of genitals, especially those of juvenile humans. A few Councilors resorted to responses such as “Oh, Please!” to share their frustration with the debate.

Meanwhile, the Council all but ignored the good and bad news coming in from libraries across America. Budgets had been savaged in the big urban libraries and a few suburban and smaller cities and towns. The president of a company to which library management has been outsourced by benighted politicians was quoted saying libraries were horribly managed, and he could make money doing it for a smaller budget. On the other hand, 80 percent of the library funding proposals brought to voters in the recent election passed. A number of new libraries were funded. Most important, library use continued at record levels. Little of this got anywhere near the attention from the ALA Council that the security measures for air travel did.

Late in the debate an apparently frustrated member of the Council, Aaron Dobbs, decided to add his two cents worth to the discussion:

Please tell me how the TSA scanner procedures “directly” affect libraries, library policies, library funding, library employment? (one straw-man for another). The American Library Association exists to combine voices to highlight, address, and speak out on common and not so common “library-related” issues. There are organizations which exist to speak out specifically for consumers, for airline travelers, for civil liberties at-large, etc. ALA can and should highlight and/or partner with these external, more focused on a given topic, groups; as suggested and identified in earlier threads such as Janet Swan Hill’s forwarded message and the OIF & IFC message. But, ALA (and especially Council) should be focusing on our primary expertise: Issues and concerns directly related to libraries and their place in, and benefits to, an engaged and literate society.

It was an echo from ALA’s past. The same sentiments were offered to prevent ALA from taking a stand on the Vietnam War. It didn’t stop the association from coming out against that war. They were used to try to stop ALA from boycotting Chicago after the Illinois legislature turned down the proposed Equal Rights Amendment. ALA pulled its conference out of Chicago anyway.

At first, personally annoyed by the conversation, I agreed with Dobbs. The memory of those earlier debates changed my mind.

I realized that the reason I first joined ALA decades ago was to be part of a democratically governed organization in which my voice would be amplified and have more impact. I wanted ALA to oppose the Vietnam War and fight for the Equal Rights Amendment.

In this round, ultimately, I cheered when Peter Hepburn, ALA Councilor from the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transexual Round Table of ALA responded to Dobbs.

“We’re discussing it because it has been brought to us as a concern by ALA members—perhaps not the ones you know, but members nonetheless. Be assured that they appreciate that…the conversation is taking place,” Hepburn wrote.

“Right on!” I shouted to my empty home office, ready to run out and do battle with ALA’s conservatives who would tightly bind the ALA agenda to issues they define as “directly related to libraries.” This debate resurfaces frequently.

Most issues fit the description. Consider the billions we are spending on a war in Afghanistan, billions more in Iraq, billions to bail out Wall Street, the auto industry, and to build infrastructure. You can’t tell me that there wouldn’t be more for libraries if those costs of government were lower. You can’t tell me that libraries and librarians will not be safer if we can make our country more secure. You can’t tell me that one candidate for local, state, or federal office would not be better for libraries than another. Despite that fatuous debate over TSA scanning, I still believe, as I have since I first joined ALA, that every issue is a library issue.

John N. Berry III About John N. Berry III

John N. Berry III (jberry@mediasourceinc.com) is Editor-at-Large, LJ. Berry joined the magazine in 1964 as Assistant Editor, becoming editor-in-Chief in 1969 and serving in that role until 2006.