April 23, 2018

Trapped in Orlando | Blatant Berry

John Berry IIIThere are lots of reasons I don’t want to go to Orlando, FL, again to attend a conference of the American Library Association (ALA). Most are matters of personal comfort, cost, and convenience, so the good things I’d get from the conference outweigh those annoyances. In 2016, however, there is a compelling reason to stay away from Orlando, especially if you are a young African American.

The Black Caucus of ALA (BCALA) made clear its concerns about meeting in Orlando in light of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law and the recent cases in which it has been used to exonerate the killers of young African American men. After discussion of the heavy fiscal penalties ALA would probably incur if the 2016 conference was moved, ALA leadership rejected relocating.

Conferences as large as ALA’s must be scheduled seven to ten years in advance, according to ALA executive director Keith Fiels and ALA president Barbara Stripling. The contracts for Orlando were negotiated in 2000, five years before Florida’s dangerous Stand Your Ground law came about. Canceling all of the convention contracts would result in fines totaling $814,000. Even if the organization was willing to absorb that loss, Fiels and Stripling assert that ALA would not be able to find another site for its late June/early July 2016 meeting at this late date.

“Most troubling,” according to a joint statement by leaders of ALA and its ethnic caucuses, is “the growing prevalence of Stand Your Ground laws.” ALA’s Executive Committee and BCALA’s Executive Board decided that it would be better to turn the Orlando conference “into an opportunity to educate, build awareness, and advocate for equitable treatment, inclusion, and respect for diversity.” They agreed to a host of meetings and discussions on racial diversity and to make the issue the “major topic of the Membership Meeting at [the 2014 conference in] Las Vegas” and of a Virtual Membership Meeting in June. ALA will support “conversations and actions at the state level,” appoint a Special Presidential Task Force on the issue, direct communications toward the public, and more.

Obviously, ALA members will support that program, but that won’t diminish our deep depression over being forced to go to Orlando. I don’t doubt the facts of the situation, but I resent that to participate in our professional association we must risk visiting a state where gun nuts are acquitted after they shoot and kill innocent youths.

As an ALA member since the 1960s, I remember the many, many times we have been told that ALA’s tax-exempt status would be endangered by actions that were proposed. We were repeatedly told about the penalties to ALA if conferences were moved after contracts were signed. ALA actions and principles have too frequently been overruled by money. That will be on my mind as we continue to contemplate Orlando.

ALA must not continue to be held hostage to such dangers, especially if the only reason is the huge penalties for breaking conference agreements. Surely we can hire the legal talent needed to break contracts that rob ALA of any flexibility to change sites for a decade after they are scheduled, rather than continuing to accept the notion that venues and cities can call the tune no matter what new laws, policies, or dangers they add to the already strong case against meeting there. As well, future contracts should be written to anticipate potential changes. If I go to Orlando in 2016, and I probably will, I will go under protest against the site and, alas, against the ALA officials who accept this sad concession to evil. All the town meetings and palaver available in Orlando in 2016 will not make going to that city palatable. Now, as in the past, money trumps principle in ALA.

John Berry

This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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.



  1. spencer says:

    Is this a joke? For a profession of information dissemination, it’s horrible such misinformation be used to sway. Shame on you. “in light of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law and the recent cases in which it has been used to exonerate the killers of young African American men. ” Any cases cited? There have been 2 high profile cases recently where this law has been blamed, but neither defendant sought protection under this law- and neither would have been afforded it.

    • Exactly, Spencer. Shame on you, LJ & Mr. Berry.

    • Thanks for being the voice of reason, Spencer. I live in Florida and I can show you the many, many ticket subs of mine from the number of celebrities, comedians, and lectures like Neil DeGrasse Tyson that have cancelled Florida appearances in “protest” of the Stand Your Ground law. All that does is hurt the people who wanted to see the shows and the local economies that would have benefited from the show; it does nothing to change the law.

      Mr. Berry, shame on you for throwing a thin veil over your unwillingness to go to Orlando (the reasons, I quote, are: “matters of personal comfort, cost, and convenience”) into false outrage over a rarely-invoked law that you know nothing about. The borders of Florida are only a line on a map; if you’re really this upset over Trayvon Martin’s tragic death, then realize that hatred, bigotry, and malevolence are all around you no matter what state the ALA conference is held in.

  2. Bravo, John Berry, for a principled, nuanced stand. Some of the commenters’ arguments are belied by the affiliations and websites attached to their names. Two cases of wild injustice is more than enough. Stand your ground laws merely endorse vigilantism–“Taking the law into one’s own hands and attempting to effect justice according to one’s own understanding of right and wrong”–thereby contradicting the rule of law and order professed by so many of their advocates.

    I was in a “Library 101” class you led, and still recall your valiant attempts to instill ethics inextricably into the fabric of librarianship. Again, bravo!

    • spencer says:

      Susan, you are missing the point. Stand your ground laws had, literally, NOTHING to do with these cases. Nothing, that is, save erroneous links like this one.

    • Some of the commenters’ arguments are belied by the affiliations and websites attached to their names.

      Ad hominem fallacy.

  3. Barbara Stripling says:

    I feel compelled to respond to your column, because it does a disservice to the commitment of the ethnic affiliates and ALA leadership to confront the issues of equity, diversity and inclusion in ALA, our profession, and our communities. We made a joint decision to form a presidential task force to develop strategies and tools that can be used by libraries and librarians across the country. We agreed to use the Orlando 2016 Annual Conference as a platform to take an active and public stand to promote our shared commitment to a comprehensive approach to addressing the challenges that face us professionally and within our respective communities.

    We are looking at the issues broadly to confront discrimination in all its forms, including racial, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, and age. We offered an explanation of our thinking in an open letter to ALA membership (http://www.ala.org/news/press-releases/2014/03/joint-statement-presidents-aila-apala-bcala-cala-reforma-and-ala).

    I believe that it is incumbent on each one of us to push back on the discrimination and injustices we encounter in all of our communities. We cannot cause the change that we want to see by avoiding the problem or boycotting a conference. We must exercise our voices as individuals and as an ALA community. I invite all members of the library community to join us in speaking in support of equity, diversity, and inclusion in all forms. As I said in my May American Libraries column, “Each one of us is responsible for ensuring a just society for all.”

    Barbara Stripling
    2013-2014 ALA President

    • And THIS is precisely why I will not renew my ALA membership. ALA no longer represents books and librarians, but rather displays its truely political side that NOT. EVERYONE. IN. LIBRARYLAND. BELIEVES. IN. Get rid of the politicalness and I would reconsider.

  4. Glenn Storbeck says:

    Library Journal, the tragic jokes continues. I was born in 1964 (almost 50, Mr. Berry!), time for the editor to retire. New ideas, new view, let someone else get a piece of the action.

  5. I concur with AnnMarie, Spencer, and others who have pointed out the horrible misinformation being put out by John Berry (and if he is too believe, the Black Caucus). Stand your ground had nothing to do with the cases in question and if you look at the statistics Florida is solidly in the middle of the states in murder rates with other states hosting ALA conferences such as Louisiana, Illinois, Georgia, and Pennsylvania having higher rates (not to mention DC). Besides, even in states with tough gun laws, teens like Christopher Cervini are killed (New York) while screaming, according to witnesses, “Please don’t shoot me, I’m just a kid.” The person who killed him didn’t get convicted and there was no question about whether the killer was being servilely beaten at the time, But that doesn’t follow the liberal agenda. Apparently libraries are only for people with left-wing ideology.

  6. Deborah Blum says:

    The law in question had everything to do with the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial spencer.
    ” Judge Debra Nelson made clear in the jury instructions (PDF) that they should consider the law:

    If George Zimmerman was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in any place where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”

  7. vanderleun says:

    Berry’s just another professional drooler here to try and sneak his pile-driving ignorance past the door. His endless decades as a lackluster editor for a journal of inbred thinking is a testament to a life lived poorly with a fully colonized mind. Sad but his quiver is empty now.

    • Vanderleun –
      What is wrong with you? Is it just anger coupled with a lack of filter that would lead you to post such a vicious personal attack against one person in a public forum? Does your chosen graphic represent your “humorous”, “lighthearted” stance towards sarcasm and hate targeted towards one person, with wording delightedly chosen to make one person feel bad about his entire career for the sake of laughs from sarcasm-loving peers? Even if you don’t agree with statements made in an opinion column post, the wording you chose here astounds me. There is no need to be so hateful.

  8. Emily N says:

    As much as I appreciate your desire not to patronize a state with questionable laws, I can’t help but think you’re being a little overly idealistic and even naive. Are there any states out of the fifty that have no laws or practices with which the ALA disagrees? If absolute agreement is the standard, I suspect that the ALA will be left without a place to meet.

  9. I have to say that I was disappointed to read this editorial. I am not going to get into the debate on the “Stand Your Ground” laws and whether or not they are pertinent in the aforementioned cases.I will say , though, that a professional journal is not the place for a clearly political stance. Please stick to library issues, Mr. Berry, and leave the politicizing to the right forum.

  10. I was going to pen a response to this unbelievably misguided editorial, but it looks like many sound minds have beaten me to it. I will admit to being a resident of the State of Florida, but I do not believe this makes me overly prejudiced to finding offense to this ridiculous editorial. I will refrain form making personal attacks but did want to speak my mind on what I found to be the most unreasonable statement in the editorial. Berry states,
    “There are lots of reasons I don’t want to go to Orlando, FL, again to attend a conference of the American Library Association (ALA). Most are matters of personal comfort, cost, and convenience…”.
    I have to point out that last year Orlando was the number 1 tourist destination in the United States, trumping even beloved New York City. Also, there are many much more reasonably priced accomodations in the greater Orland area than in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, etc. I am not sure what he means about comfort, but I have been in DC and NYC in August and it is just as humid there as it is in Orlando in June. I sincerely hope everyone comes to the Sunshine State in 2016 to enjoy the ALA Conference and I will personally give a tour to anyone who wants to see many of the great features in the Orlando area.