Friday, February 08, 2013

ALA's Core Values

Rick Anderson has a column/post on the Library Journal web site about the American Library Association's statement of Core Values. I thought about making a comment, but, especially after some comments from Facebook  friends (well, those who commented are all IRL [In Real Life] friends), I decided to write a longer piece.

What happened as part of the process for adopting Core Values for the association happened before the days of blogging. Therefore, I can't link back to contemporaneous posts about the whole process. The officially adopted statement of Core Values appears in the ALA Policy Manual as Section 40.1. Here is the full text:
Core Values of Librarianship
The foundation of modern librarianship rests on an essential set of core values, which define, inform, and guide all professional practice. These values reflect the history and ongoing development of the profession and have been advanced, expanded, and refined by numerous policy statements of the American Library Association. Among these are:
  • Access
  • Confidentiality/Privacy
  • Democracy
  • Diversity
  • Education and Lifelong Learning
  • Intellectual Freedom
  • Preservation
  • The Public Good
  • Professionalism
  • Service
  • Social Responsibility
It would be difficult, if not impossible, to express our values more eloquently than ALA already has in the Freedom to Read statement, the Library Bill of Rights, the ALA Mission Statement, Libraries: an American Value and other documents. These policies have been carefully thought out, articulated, debated, and approved by the ALA Council. They are interpreted, revised, or expanded when necessary. Over time, the values embodied in these statements have been embraced by the majority of librarians as the foundations of their practice. Adopted, 2004. ( See “Policy Reference File”: Core Values Task Force II Report: 2003-04, CD #7.2 - PDF, 5 pgs)
Note the link at the end. That will take you to the final report of the task force with excerpts from then current ALA policy and documents on each of the core values. (Note that there are 11 -- not 10 like the commandments nor 12 like for the Scout Law or recovery programs.)

In his analysis, Rick posits some interesting characterizations and groupings of the values. In the first Core Values Task Force, there had been discussion about making the core values statement short enough to fit on a poker chip. Rick groups Access, Intellectual Freedom, and Service as part of a group he calls "Fundamental Principals."

Let me digress for a moment to share some history (well, from my perspective) and thoughts on the process.

I first joined ALA Council, as the Connecticut Chapter Councilor with the adjournment of the Conference in 1996 (in New York). In the fall of that year, the state library in Hawaii, which runs the public library system for the state/islands, planned to outsource all collection development for the public libraries. There was much discussion. I (with much trepidation and hubris) drafted a resolution condemning the action, and asking ALA to take a stand. How naive I was! As part of the discussion of my resolution, I made the statement that this kind of action violated the core values of the profession. I was quickly corrected. In my memory it was Bernie Margolis who came to a microphone and pointedly noted that ALA did not have core values. After my motion was disposed of -- my recollection is hazy, and I think it was referred to ALCTS (the ALA Division dealing with technical services issues), a motion was made to appoint a task force to work on core values for the Association.

Minutes and actions of Council are not on the ALA web site that far back, so I have to rely on memory. I found one item which reminded me that Don Sager chaired the Task Force (CVTF) and I know that its membership included my friends Karen Schneider, GraceAnne deCandido, and Janet Swan Hill.

When  CVTF reported to ALA Council, there was much debate. While the debate and conversation was spirited and focused on content, it was not a shining hour for Council. The Task Force recommended wording was hashed and re-hashed, had several amendments made, and even a motion to amend by substitution (from Bernie Margolis). The final report was "received" by Council, and the President was asked to appoint a new task force with part of its charge to solicit input on values statements from across the Association.

Former ALA President Pat Schumann chaired the new task force (CVRF2). I was offered and accepted the opportunity to serve on the task force. From my perspective, one of the other propitious choices was to ask Maureen Sullivan to serve. Among her other skills, Maureen has had experience in managing discussions in large groups. I do remember working with her, and ALA Council to have a facilitated discussion at the conference before submitting the final report.

Let me also observe that the final report was the result of a wide-ranging consultative process. Many folks involved in the Association were "invested" in the statement as developed. As the result, the statement has a little something that bothers everyone. (But what bothers me, may not bother you, as well as the reverse.) It is kind of like a library collection -- with something to represent every viewpoint.

One of the recurring conversations I have had over the years with my friend Janet Swan Hill has been about her statement (which she reiterated recently on my Facebook wall) "I thought we only had one overarching core value ......equity of access. and the first core values committee thought it had a brief set that could fit on a poker chip. I wish we could have stuck to the briefer more pithy fundamentals."

Which goes to my observation that getting anything adopted requires proceeding through the political process. In this case, many were involved and had sometimes competing opinions and values. Part of why some of the values are there have to do with that process. There is no way that a statement of values for the profession or association would have been passed without including some of the "subordinate principles" as identified by Rick. Among those are diversity, privacy, and preservation. I would make the argument that all three of those can be included under the concept of ACCESS

As to the "Questionable" ones, I can absolutely guarantee that no statement would pass ALA Council without some reference to Social Responsibility. Now, you can argue about the rightness or wrongness of that value, but the political process of ALA means that social responsibility will be included. Council includes a large number of members (and leaders - past and present) for whom social responsibility is critical. Education, democracy, and the public good are important to other parts of the association, and were therefore included as a part of the whole political process.

Would I support a re-examination of the statement? Absolutely. My hope would be that such an examination would result in a more succinct statement. We are getting to be close to a decade from its original adoption. That is not a bad time for such a reconsideration. Perhaps we can meet the goal of fitting the statement on a poker chip (i.e., a short, pithy, memorable statement). It would be my argument that the statement could be as simple as:
Equity of Access
Something to ponder.

1 comment:

  1. Has it been ten years? Time does indeed fly.

    We worked so hard not only to make it right, but to make the words "sound like a prayer, and open like a flower." And fit on a poker chip. And not be full of jargon. Sad to say, I think "intellectual freedom" is jargon to the outside world, and we wanted the outside world to understand what we were saying.
    "Equity of Access" as you say, as Janet says, really does cover it all.