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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Another Failed Coup

There was some excitement during an ALA Council meeting in Seattle, where the Socially Responsible Round Table librarians were once again thwarted in their desire to turn the ALA into their political mouthpiece.

This time one resolution was thwarted on a technicality that it hadn’t been reviewed by BARC, which I think gets it’s name because it’s a group of watchdogs the ALA lets loose on unsuspecting councilors. Or maybe it’s the Budget Analysis and Review Committee. I can’t remember which.

It’s hardly surprising given the way SRRT operates regarding its resolutions. They like to create politically controversial resolutions, typically having nothing to do with libraries, do so without consulting any other groups of librarians, cobble together some dubious “whereas”s to support their “resolved”s, spring them on the ALA Council at the last minute, and fight any and all changes to the language that might make them more palatable to the majority.

Some people claim that thwarting SRRT resolutions on technicalities is thwarting democracy, but that’s not true. SRRT doesn’t operate in a democratic fashion, at least not outside their own discussions. SRRT acts more like a Leninist vanguard party trying to take over the ALA.

Democratic policies typically have the backing of a the majority of the entire organization or society or country before they’re enacted into rules, regulations, or resolutions. Springing controversial resolutions on the ALA Council and then expecting an immediate vote isn’t an exercise in democracy. It’s more like an attempted coup.

That makes sense if you think of broad-based support of something as bourgeois democracy, while real democracy can only take place once the vanguard has control. Reading some Marx or Lenin will let you understand that kind of thinking.

There were two resolutions in question, one on ALA divesting from fossil fuel investments and another on whistleblowers. Divesting from fossil fuel investments in the U.S. seems like a good way to lose money. I invest half my money into fossil fuel stocks and plan to retire early. I invest the other half into arms manufacturing, so I’m pretty much guaranteed a generous return for life.

The whistleblower resolution is probably the most controversial, because it gets very specific. It’s not just enough to show the ALA support for whistleblowers. Everyone also has to agree that Bradley Manning is a whistleblower.

The entire resolution should be controversial because none of the whistleblowers being prosecuted by the government blew whistles about American libraries. This is another perfect example of some politically motivated librarians who want to do something, and instead of protesting or giving money to organizations actually defending whistleblowers, they prefer the least effective and most irrelevant political weapon of all: the ALA Council resolution.

Supposedly, the resolution is justified because the ALA “opposes any use of governmental power to suppress the free and open exchange of knowledge and information or to intimidate individuals exercising free inquiry.” Oh my. That’s pretty strong.

Based on that statement, should the ALA support people who would release the names of people in the Witness Protection Program? What if someone hacked, stole everyone’s personal information, including their credit card info, and then posted it online? Surely all of those are examples of “free and open exchange of knowledge and information.” Come on, SRRT, would you support those people, or would you want them prosecuted?

But wait, they say, we meant for whistleblowers! That’s better, except it’s not always clear who is a whistleblower, and people don’t just prostrate themselves before your definition and then vote your way. That’s not how democracies work. Insisting repeatedly that something is true isn’t an argument. You have to persuade people in a democratic organization, and springing controversial resolutions on them at the last minute isn’t a good way to do that.

Thus, by insisting in the title and body of the resolution that Manning is a whistleblower, as the SRRT resolution does, and by refusing to compromise on the language, SRRT deliberately undermines itself.

That’s actually a good thing, since few of their resolutions have anything to do with libraries. My advice to them: keep ignoring everyone else and trying to force irrelevant resolutions through the Council in your normal bullheaded style. It wastes the time of the Councilors, but they know their time is wasted as soon as they win the election.

It saves everyone else from having the ALA look ridiculous making statements about things having nothing to do with libraries. It’s already bad enough the the library-related statements are ignored. Don’t add to the problem.



  1. oooh, where is my checkbook? that’s “ALA,” right? or do I need to write the whole thing out before they will cash my check and grant me membership? darn. I had a lame joke to make about the SRRT and the whistleblowing Rosenbergs (yes, those Rosenbergs), but it just got less and less funny the more I thought about it. but I guess the whole point of these resolutions is to appear relevant: it’s a great tactic, if that’s the intent. you push something at the last minute and eveyone goes, “ooh, ahh” and it gains friction. and then the AL talks about it. which, I guess, is their ultimate goal? (you pawn, you didn’t see that coming)

  2. Anon E-mouse says:

    Very interesting post. I am a leftist sympathizer, but I found SRRT’s antics ridiculous ten years ago, which was the last time I paid attention. I’m surprised to hear that they are still around, but I guess ALA as a whole has slid into irrelevance.

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