There has been a discussion lately about the ALA Motto on the Facebook group ALA Think Tank. The discussion of the motto is not new. It took me a bit to finally ask the ALA offices for information on our discussion, since it was long enough ago that it is not easily findable on the ALA web site with the ALA Council documents. The resolution to abandon the motto took place at the ALA Midwinter Meeting of 2004 in San Diego. (It was my first Midwinter on the ALA Executive Board.)
Below is from the transcript of the ALA Council meeting. It is taken from a DOS based system, so some of the spacing may be "funky" even though I tried to strip all the formatting......otherwise here is what Lois Ann Gregory-Wood sent me. [I did correct a couple of misspellings/transcription errors. MAG]
For me, re-reading the debate/comments, it is interesting to see the combinations of folks on the two sides. For many of us, it was an unusual occurrence to be in agreement.
2003-2004 CD#57, Rescinding the ALA Motto (discussion at 04 Midwinter)
Whereas, the motto of the American Library Association, “The best reading, for the largest number, at the least cost,” was originally formulated in 1892, and is no longer adequately reflective of the aims, mission, and activities of the association; now, therefore, be it
Resolved, that the current ALA motto be removed from the ALA Handbook of Organization and from any other print or electronic documents in which it may be used, when those documents are next revised or reprinted.
Moved by Janet Swan Hill, Councilor-at-Large
Seconded by Michael Golrick, Executive Board Member
Here the captioned text from that discussion:
We will now take up new business, and they are taken in the order in which they were submitted. So I now refer you to ALA Council Document number 57. Resolution on rescinding the ALA motto. And would Janet Swan Hill go to the microphone and read only the resolved clause of document number 57.
Microphone number 3.
>> JANET SWAN HILL: Councilor-at-Large. Be it resolved that the American Library Association rescind its current motto. And be it further resolved that the current ALA motto be removed from the ALA handbook of organization and from any other print or electronic documents in which it may be used, when those documents are next revised or reprinted.
I hasten to say that this is not something that I consider as a passionate burning issue. I regard it more as housekeeping. When we were in the midst of discussing core values at some point recently, I was looking through the handbook and lo, on page 10, in our ALA handbook appears a motto that I have never ever ever seen used anywhere. Not only have I never seen it used anywhere, but the motto, "the best reading for the largest number at the least cost" seems to me to be not only seriously outdated and incomplete, but also paternalistic and condescending. It's my belief that after we finally finish the core values 2 task force and we come up with a statement of core values, we will be able to see a motto, should we think that one is necessary for the association, will grow out of that effort.
And I would like to have an empty space in which we can put that motto. And in the meantime. Not have ALA believe that its primary vision in this century is the best reading for the largest number at the least cost.
The reason I phrased the last resolved as I did was in order to decrease any financial impact this might possibly have. I did ask Lois Ann if she could think of anywhere it ever had been used and she could not. But on the possibility that it does appear somewhere on an ancient pile of stationery or something, that I wouldn't want us to go searching for it, but instead when we need to replenish that stationery or those cards or whatever, that at that point we make the revision to take the motto off. And this is seconded by Michael Golrick.
>> PRESIDENT CARLA HAYDEN: Discussion? Microphone number 1.
>> MICHAEL GOLRICK: Member of the Executive Board.
And I agree with everything that Janet said. I do want to point out a couple of historical tidbits of interest that were brought to my attention by ALA's newest honorary member, the esteemed Norman Horrocks, who noted that it was his action at the ALA Council in 1988 that restored its use, because it had disappeared even though it had never been officially undone. So, I think that in the interest of, as a charter member of the grammar caucus, and in the interest of accuracy, I support everything that Janet said, which is why I was more than happy.
As she noted, it appears on page 10 of your handbook. So far that is the only discernible place that we have been able to locate it. And I ask that you support this, with the idea that yes, when we get done with, and I dread mentioning those two words -- that two word phrase, core values, we will be able to write a motto that will be short, snappy, catchy and really reflect what the association stands for.
>> PRESIDENT CARLA HAYDEN: Microphone number 1.
>> NANN BLAINE HILYARD: Councilor-at-Large. I do remember an ALA annual meeting in 1988 when this was brought up and I remember that Marvin Scilken spoke to this eloquently. I don't know that ALA needs a motto. We have lots of short Pithy statements for our myriad public relations campaigns. I referred to one yesterday that you may or may not remember: What in the world does a librarian do? It's up to you. We have a lot of great snappy things in our arsenal and probably we don't need to have an official motto, as nice as this old one might be.
>> ELAINE HARGER: Councilor-at-Large. I also support this resolution. However, I do think that it's very important and given that, you know, many of us here have a great deal of appreciation for history and for what it tells us, even though this is a very quaint, outdated motto, it still embodies something that is still very important to this association and to every library. That we provide the best reading to the largest number of people at the least cost. And I think that that is something that, if we get rid of the motto, you know, that is fine with me. But I think that quaint and old as it is, it does remind us of something that we do value, that I think is still at the heart of our association.
So, in one sense I almost would vote against this, but I also understand that, you know, it's an old motto. We don't really need it. But we need to remember that it came from people who were working at a time when, you know, maybe providing good reading for the largest number of people at the least cost was a debate that they had. It was a debate that the association had. And somebody had to argue for it.
So, let's just remember that it is part of our core values.
>> PRESIDENT CARLA HAYDEN: Microphone number 6.
>> LORIENE ROY: Councilor-at-Large. I speak as probably the only person in the world who uses this motto.
Which was written by Melville Dewey at the establishment of our association. And I use it in the context of a fall public libraries class, where the students look at this motto and create mottoes that carry us into the future. So...
>> MICHAEL GORMAN: Councilor-at-Large. I'm probably the only person who is going to vote against this resolution.
>> MICHAEL GORMAN: Because I don't mind who needs a motto, but the implied retreat from a commitment to reading and literacy, particularly following on a resolution which I had to hold my nose to vote for, because it contained a vial phrase "21st century literacy" you know, would that we had 19th century literacy.
I believe that this association should, A, reinforce its standing commitment to true literacy; and, B, come up with another phrase entirely, not involving the use, the use of the word "Literacy" for competence in using computers.
>> SUE KAMM: Councilor-at-Large. I'd like to quote my favorite author, me. A number of years ago Pete Wilson, who was then the Governor of California, decided it would be fun to wire every single classroom in the state with Internet access.
And I said then and will say now, Internet access or any other kind of access does no good unless people can read the screen. So, I think that reading is -- that we need to keep promoting reading, and I urge the defeat of this resolution. Thank you.
>> DANIEL O'CONNOR: Councilor-at-Large. I, too, urge the defeat of this resolution. I don't want to be so presumptive as to speak for Marvin Scilken, but he was an old friend of mine. And if he were here, I know he would have reminded us that circulation continues to climb across the country in our libraries, that book sales and bookstores are still thriving, and that why would we want to abandon a statement, a motto, that began this association? There is no reason to take action at this point in time. There is no reason at all for this resolution to come before us.
So I urge its defeat.
>> PRESIDENT CARLA HAYDEN: Microphone number 3.
>> ROBERTA STEVENS: Councilor-at-Large. I speak in support of rescinding the motto and remind everyone here that we just voted for programmatic priority on 21st century literacy.
>> CAROLYN CAYWOOD: IFRT Councilor. I'm happy to keep the reading, it's the "least cost" that sticks in my craw. I would like to see our salaries go up.
>> I never noticed this motto before. But I love it.
>> PRESIDENT CARLA HAYDEN: Identify yourself.
>> ELLEN SLOTOROFF ZYROFF: Councilor-at-Large. I never noticed that we had this motto. I think it's great. I think it was great then. I think it's great now. I think best reading does not necessarily just apply to books, if it's the implication here. It can be taken as a metaphor for what we do today, including the electronic and all the values and efficiencies that we are looking for. I think it's great. It would be terrible to delete it now.
>> IMMED. PAST PRES. MAURICE FREEDMAN: I'm going to speak against it also. And in response to the fifth priority, I think we can be for literacy, even if it's not 21st century literacy. And we can be for reading books, even if it's not 21st century literacy. Or if it is part of 21st century literacy. And this is the kind of thing Marvin would have really crusaded for, because he liked the Ranganathan thing, for reading the right book. I can't do it right. Michael Gorman I'm sure will do it better. But I thank Councilor Gorman for turning the tide on this. And I urge everybody to stick with something that we did in 18 -- we, Mr. Dewey, famous sexist, anti-Semite, racist, but he did something good for us. I'd like to keep that part of Mr. Dewey's legacy. But it's a good one and we should continue it. Thank you.
>> WYMA ROGERS: Oregon Chapter Councilor. I'm speaking in favor of this. I'm just fascinated that there is such passionate support for a motto that people have forgotten all about twice.
That it had to be brought back in 1988, to be forgotten again.
Clearly it doesn't do anything for us or our association. So, I am in favor of rescinding it.
>> CAROL BARTA: Kansas Chapter Councilor. I speak against the rescinding of the motion, for the very fact that the reason that so many of us forgot this existed is because it's embedded in the very marrow of your bones. Do we not all do these exact things as we work in our libraries, promote reading, Wring that last penny out of our budgets so we can provide the best things for the patrons? This is the deepest core value of our librarians than I can imagine. And I think it's what most of us live for, whether we are conscious of it or not.
>> JAMES CASEY: Councilor-at-Large. I move to end debate.
>> PRESIDENT CARLA HAYDEN: A second?
>> PRESIDENT CARLA HAYDEN: Second over there. All in favor of ending discussion and debate? Please raise your hands.
( Showing of hands.)
(Showing of hands.)
Continue. Microphone number 3.
>> MARIO GONZALEZ: Councilor-at-Large. My Board of trustees loves the third part. My community loves the first part. And the friends of my library who own our library loves the middle part. So, I vote against this resolution. If you do rescind it, then I'll take it for my library. Thank you.
>> NANCY BOLT: I vote to support this motion. I think we should label the current motto as the Marvin Scilken memorial motto and then rescind this one, with thanks to Marvin for his past comments.
I think we need to in this day and age consider what we really want our motto and our image to be. I certainly consider reading at the core of my existence. However, I'm not sure for my association that is what I want to be the be all and end all of what we are about.
And I would like us to really think about what a motto might be that says what we are. Not only what we have been in the past, but also what we are now and what we hope to be in the future. So I hope we will rescind this and try and come up with a different one.
>> TIMOTHY GRIMES: The Library Instruction Round Table Councilor. I support this resolution. I think because of the last, getting rid of the last phrase, I don't know about all of you, but it does cost a lot of money to run our library. We have had to go to the voters before and discuss with them about the cost of purchasing books. And it isn't a lot -- it isn't a less amount of money. It's very expensive. So I would like to rescind this.
>> KAREN SCHNEIDER: Councilor-at-Large. I'm speaking in favor of this motion. I'd like to suggest that some of our Councilors apparently need a bone marrow transplant.
I'm a digital library manager, and we don't have any books, we don't have a building. Last year we had over 33 million accesses for our library. We serve hundreds of thousands of people every day. And I -- the motto is old. It is Stale. Women couldn't vote when it was written. I would propose a motto task force, except you know what the punishment for that is, you get to be on it. But it's time for the motto to go and I think we do need a motto but this isn't it. Thank you.
>> MELORA RANNEY NORMAN: Maine Chapter Councilor. I'd like to keep the motto, because I think that uncensored Internet access is a big part of the best reading for the largest number at the least cost.
>> BERNIE MARGOLIS: Councilor-at-Large. I oppose the resolution but do want to suggest that if we defeat it, and I hope we do, that we might consider just changing and calling it our historic motto. So we keep it as part of the record. We permit people to use it and refer to it as they see fit. And then we also open the opportunity of a new, more modern motto, should we desire to use that as a promotional opportunity.
>> KHAFRE ABIF: Councilor-at-Large. I would oppose this rescinding of this motto myself. As a children's librarian, many of us do a lot of work with children that are sitting at computers that can't read. We need to continue promoting books.
I got to Columbus metropolitan and I'm a branch manager children's specialist. I spoke to the staff saying that this library is not going to become Blockbuster, or an Internet place. It's going to be a place where children can come and read.
>> WILLIAM PAULLIN: I'd like to see this retired and make it our founding motto.
>> DANIEL O'CONNOR: Councilor-at-Large. I will work on the bone marrow transplant, I assure you. But when Karen has these 33 million uses, Councilor Schneider, I'm sure that those people are required to read something in the process of doing whatever it is they do.
At Rutgers I teach undergraduates courses in information visualization, MLS students and doctoral students. And whatever it is that we do with the technology, we like it when our students can read.
I want to address the comments made in regard to the facts that libraries are expensive. If they were expensive, we would all make a lot more money. The public libraries in this country consume about 3 percent of their town's budget. And the academic libraries that used to get 7 percent of their institution's budget are now lucky to get 3 and a half percent of the institution's budget. These are not expensive enterprises, but they are enterprises that have a tremendous return on their investment. And that OCLC Rebsite and document that came out in November is a remarkable indication of just how cost effectstive libraries are.
I urge that you defeat this motion, that we keep this motto, and that we wear it proudly and put it on buttons and wear it in Orlando. Thank you.
>> S. MICHAEL MALINCONICO: Councilor-at-Large. I speak against this resolution. And I just want to point out that it's just another manifestation of an absurd trend in taking the word "Library" out of library schools, so that we can seem more au courant. Where will this end? Are we going to take library out of the ALA, because library derives from libros, meaning book? I mean, this is just -- the illogical consequences of this are absurd. So I strongly urge that we defeat this resolution and this absurd discussion.
>> PRESIDENT CARLA HAYDEN: Any other discussion? Number 3?
>> I get a second chance, now that nobody else has said anything. Janet Swan Hill, Councilor-at-Large. What I'm surprised at, frankly, in this discussion, is how few people see this as a terribly condescending motto. That reflecting a history in which librarians regarded themselves as the social superiors of the poor, whom they were going to satisfy with reading, that's one of the reasons I object to this motto is I see it as seriously paternalistic and reflecting an aim of libraries that we have long since abandoned, and a vision of ourselves that we no longer hold.
>> PRESIDENT CARLA HAYDEN: It's time for the vote. All those in favor of rescinding the ALA motto, please raise your hands.
( Showing of hands.)
All those opposed?
(Showing of hands.)
The motion appears to be defeated. And no one has asked for a -- microphone number 1.
>> MICHAEL GOLRICK: Member of the Executive Board. Madam President, may I ask for a standing vote, please.
>> PRESIDENT CARLA HAYDEN: All those in favor of rescinding the ALA motto, please stand.
>> PRESIDENT CARLA HAYDEN: Thank you. All those opposed, please stand.
52 in favor and 98 opposed. The motion fails.