Monday, July 11, 2005

"States' Rights" and ALA Council

First, let me be clear that this is my personal opinion. Not that of the ALA Executive Board, or even of any group which I may (or may not) have represented in the past. In ALA, I spent some seven years as a Chapter Councilor, and find the "attack" on Chapter Councilors to be distressing.

The ALA Council list [if you are not registered or logged in, go here first] has been full of discussion about two of the resolutions passed at Annual. In both cases the many of the Chapter Councilors spoke against the resolutions which others on Council viewed as important.

The first was the Resolution on Threats to Library Materials Related to Sex, Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation drafted by the Intellectual Freedom Round Table Councilor Carolyn Caywood. In its first, draft it had language to send the text of the resolution to specific states. That was quickly removed. However some of the language which remained could be interpreted as gently chastising the chapters for not doing enough to guard intellectual freedom including access to certain materials.

I am writing this in several sittings, and portions of this may yet show up in a post to the Council list (once I see how they look on the page).

In the discussion of gay literature, not one of the Councilors who spoke talked about the content of the resolution (which is explicitly covered by ALA Policy 53.1.15). All talked about the practical, political implications of making the statement. I believe that the folks who were aggressively pushing the resolution passionately believe in the rightness of their cause. However, I think they underestimate the public perception of ALA, and the usefulness of this statement. For me it is a question of tactics. I want to win the war, not just win the current battle.

Early in the conference, a colleague whom I love and respect, and who served with me early in my Council career, came up to me. She and I have sparred on other issues, and sometimes sparred on the tactics as opposed to the content. However, we treat each other with respect when we disagree. She said to me: "Michael, you have to stop this resolution!" (At that time, specific states were named.) She went on, "Do you know what this would do in my state? This would be more ammunition for those who want to control the information in libraries. Furthermore, at a meeting earlier today, another colleague said 'I don't need the Great Satan ALA to come into my state and tell us what to do!'" [And yes, she said it with the vehemence of italics and capitals!] She went on further, "Do you know how much it pains me to hear my Association, for which I have worked in various ways for over 3 decades, to be referred to as the Great Satan ALA?" In some senses it was a rhetorical question. However, it serves to illustrate the depth of feeling.

I guess, I am thinking that this resolution could become a kind of Pyrrhic victory. Yes, ALA Council passed it. How many legislators care? How many reactionary legislators will use this as further ammunition in their battle to "protect the public?" My concern, and it has taken me a couple of weeks to frame it, is that while ALA Council feels better for having restating an existing policy, the publicity surrounding this will give further ammunition to legislators who will continue to paint all of ALA with a liberal bias a la Dr. Laura.

It was unfortunate that a couple of Councilors took the phrase "States' Rights" and used the imperfect analogy of the civil rights movement to sway many Councilors to vote for the resolution. The issue of gay literature was not about the need for libraries to have the literature and provide access to it. As I see it, the discussion was one of political tactics and statements. Those pushing the resolution insisted on focusing on the access to the literature, while those opposing it, focused on the political results of the tactics.

Who is right? I don't know. Does it really matter who is right? What matters is whether libraries can continue to serve the information needs of all our users. This is especially true for the needs of questioning teens who often feel repressed at home and school.

What scares me about the dialog is the direction it has taken. Jim Casey said "However, we have learned during the past four years that there is no moderation among the intollerant and little point in seeking compromise with those who look upon those on the other side of the 'culture wars' to be 'proponents of evil.'" Should we give them more ammunition.

Interestingly the discussion on the second resolution is becoming blurred with the one above, that resolution came from the Membership Meeting: Resolution to Decrease Division Dues for Retired Members. It is an issue where the ALA Membership Meeting (with a quorum of 75, and only 65 voting) sent an issue to ALA Council to deal with.

I voted against both of these. The first because I believe that its passage will delay the efforts to achieve the goals set out in ALA Policy (which were never subject to repeal), and the second because division dues are set by each division's rules. It is up to the division. A new Councilor (Heather McClure) raised an interesting point: if costs continue to rise, and you are giving a discount to the large number of retiring "baby boomer" aged librarians, who is left to bear the burden? The answer of course is the Next Gen Librarians -- who we have not successfully captured in the Association. I am worried about this one!

7/14/2005: I updates with a link from the OIF for the resolution on library materials. Jessamyn's comment has a link to a site which also has it.
Notice: This entry will be revised to include links to the exact language of the resolutions, once I find those links!



    I believe that Rory has posted the final text of the Resolution on Threats to Library Materials Related to Sex, Gender Identity, or Sexual Orientation

    Wouldn't it be nice if ALA posted these resolutions in some proximity to when they were discussed and/or passed? This was as close as I could come to finding them, not very close

  2. ALA staff work really hard to get the info on the web site correct the first time. When resolutions are ammended from the floor, the staff reviews the transcript, along with thier notes, before posting anything.

    Yes, I would like it to be faster. At Conference the staff works really, really hard. (Lois Ann is up to all hours to get those documents ready, and there is a review of the day's agenda which ends an hour before the beginning of the meeting -- so it starts at 6:30 or so -- "Oh-dark-thirty" as I call it).