April 19, 2018

Library Associations Turn Activist for April Marches

Library Workers at Boston March for Science

At the March for Science on Earth Day, April 22, and the Climate March held the following week, thousands of participants took to the streets in cities around the world, voicing their support for policies and practices based on scientific principles, government funding of research, and open dissemination of the resulting data. In those crowds, librarians, archivists, and other information professionals were well-represented.

Some 40,000 people were estimated to have marched in Chicago and in Washington, DC; 20,000 in New York; 10,000 in Philadelphia and in London.

Norfolk, VA, March for Science
Clockwise from upper l: Richard Wambold, Medical Librarian and Systems Coordinator, Brickell Medical Sciences Library, Eastern Virginia Medical School; Brittany Horn, Coordinator of Library Academic Services Libraries of Tidewater Community College, Virginia Beach Campus; David Palmer, Librarian (retired), Virginia Beach Public Library; Rita Soulen, Library Media Specialist, Azalea Gardens Middle School, Norfolk Public Schools

While many librarians likely would have attended on their own, the marches were notable for the support they attracted from professional organizations like the American Library Association (ALA), its Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) division—whose board of directors voted to partner with the March for Science and encouraged ACRL members to attend—and the Association for Information Science and Technology (ASIS&T).

The marches also saw involvement from newer professional organizations specifically formed to take a more activist stance. Project ARCC (Archivists Responding to Climate Change) was founded on Earth Day 2015, aiming to: protect archival collections from the impact of climate change; reduce the profession’s carbon and ecological footprint; elevate relevant collections to improve public awareness and understanding of climate change; and “preserve this epochal moment in history for future research and understanding.” Two years later, it convened Project mARCCh to ensure representation of libraries, archives, and museum professionals (LAM) at both marches, recruiting points of contact for sister marches around the country to help convene local LAM marchers and increase visibility.

“A Sea-Change”

Boston March for Science sign

ALA’s vocal support for the March for Science is part of a shift in both tone and tactics for the organization—one ALA President Julie Todaro said is driven by the current administration’s stance on issues from funding for basic research to climate change policy. When the government looks like it’s taking on data itself, it’s a call to arms for the curators of that data.

“There has been such a sea change lately that ALA is approaching what can we do to speak up and advocate nationally and locally. Part of that was joining the March for Science supporters and taking a very strong role publicly,” said Todaro.

While the marches are a particularly visible aspect of the library community’s resistance to Trump administration policies regarding science and data, they’re by no means the only game in town. Librarians across the country are also participating in efforts to archive climate change data from federal agencies like NOAA and the EPA as the administration moves to make these resources less accessible. One such program, the DataRefuge project, is being developed with the help of the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Michigan, and Temple University libraries.

Going forward, ALA is looking to increase the support it provides to members aiming to participate in projects like DataRefuge, or start their own. “ALA divisions are developing things like toolkits and webinars that not only educate people, but bring them together to talk about these topics,” Todaro told LJ.

Standing Together

ALA wasn’t alone in encouraging members to take to the streets in defense of data, and the scientific research it makes possible. ASIS&T members were also motivated to march by their professional peers.

“Members of our organization are dedicated to evidence-based decision making,” said ASIS&T spokesperson Yolande Nanayakkara. That dedication made the group’s decision to support the March for Science an easy one. It was also a popular one among members, who overwhelmingly approved of the stance—from its entire membership, ASIS&T received just one negative comment about its participation.

That unanimity made the march a sort of bonding moment for ASIS&T members, Nanayakkara said, and one she anticipates will be repeated in the future.

“People who participated came back energized and ready for more,” she told LJ. “It’s made us stronger as a community.”

Next Steps

Boston March for Science sign

In addition to standing with scientists, ALA is looking at what it can do to help members rethink information literacy, and what it means in a world with a changing information ecosystem. That means viewing information in a new light, and helping librarians teach people how to do the same. While skills like identifying fake news are important, Todaro said the problems go further than that, stretching all the way to the federal government, where it’s no longer a given that people disseminating information are qualified to do so.

“Some of the older information literacy guidelines, like for instance the CRAAP guidelines, have to be looked at differently,” says Todaro. “If we just look at credibility based on who has prepared something, that no longer works, because we need to take a close look at the credentials of some of these people at the federal level.”

Going forward, ASIS&T members can expect to see an increasing volume of content of related topics, like how members can be better science communicators, coming from the association, which president Lynn Silipigni Connaway described as “on the edge of change.” One change to expect? A lot more engagement by the group when it comes to shaping public policy.

Ian Chant About Ian Chant

Ian Chant is a former editor at LJ and a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in Scientific American and Popular Mechanics and on NPR.



  1. Thanks for an excellent article! I believe that I am the library worker and marcher who took the photo at the top of the article, and while I am happy to give permission for it to be used, I would just ask that you credit me in some way for it (perhaps this comment is enough credit, really). Thanks! Some more information: pictured in the photo are Stephanie Tournas (left) and Christopher Tremblay (right). The banner was commissioned by Stephanie from the talented artists Margot and Olga at the Emerson Umbrella.

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