Monday, December 26, 2005


the on-rushing irrelevance of the American Library Association

I am a librarian and the ALA does nothing to make my professional life better or easier. I don't think I'm the only librarian who feels this way either.

There has been a lot of news made recently about ALA's policy toward conference presenters and speakers (read a good summary here or Jessamyn West's at It would be nice ALA was just cheap and politically tone-deaf. Those are minor problems.

The American Library Association has serious and systemic problems that not only make it out of touch with its membership, but alienate the professional community and do nothing to advocate for librarians or librarianship.

In a post to the ALA listserv ( Councilor Mark Rosenzweig said: "Since I am probably not alone in not having my head well up in the self-intoxicated ether of the blogosphere, I am undoubtedly not the only one here who until this discussion had no idea who "Jenny" or "Michael" were. Imagine that! ... This discussion is ridiculous and an insult to those librarians who consider it an honor to speak to ALA at its conferences."

Rory Litwin in a post to the same list ( said "I don't know who Jenny Levine is, but my feeling is that she has found a rather selfish thing to be outraged about."

Let me respond to Rosenzweig's points first. We, as a profession, have been asked to get by on thanks, goodwill, good intentions, honor and warm fuzzies for decades. The attitude ALA displays toward presenters is one that we internalize and it infects every area of our professional world. Don't ask for more money, don't pressure the mayor / dean / library board for more money for staff. We're just librarians. We don't want to make a fuss. It's thanks enough just to work here. Can I buy some more pens out of my own money, please?

As long as ALA members and especially Councilors have this attitude we will always be at the bottom of the economic and professional food chain.

I don't really care if presenters have to pay a registration fee or what Mark Rosenzweig thinks of it. What I do care about our cumulative professional timidity, the damage it causes and our leadership's desire to perpetuate it.

And as far as Litwin's perspective, I have a question:

Why does ALA have to be a polyglot of every leftist cause, viewpoint and political issue? I say this as a lifelong liberal Democrat. I oppose the Patriot Act. I believe laws requiring Internet filters are unconstitutional. I taste bile when I think about the prospect of interlibrary loan transaction being monitored by federal law enforcement, even though it turns out they probably aren't.

I also oppose the designated hitter rule, the NBA dress code and the breakup of the Fugees. But none of that means that the ALA has to do something about it.

We have the lowest wages of nearly any professional line of work. The APA arm of ALA, that was supposed to advocate for the rank and file, has been invisible since its inception.

ALA's strength is in its numbers and its national status. They could choose to speak for us but instead they speak for causes. Worried about censorship and the freedom to read? Me too. That's why I belong to the ACLU. ALA is squandering its resources doing the work that other organizations do better.

I can think of five organizations that exist to protect the free exchange of ideas. I can't think of a single other one that is supposed to advocate for me and my profession.

"Wow. A 15 second clip on NPR about the Patriot Act. Those were membership dues well spent."

ALA speaks for honor and sacrifice for the good of the Sisterhood. They speak for free expression, Cuban librarians and the anti-war movement.

Who will speak for us?

The ALA exists for one reason only: to give librarians who don't have a life, somewhere to go every year on vacation. ALA Confrerence whores are an epidemic. They're worse than groupies! I know someone who used her vacation days for the Atlanta conference and had no paid time off when she gave birth!

With worshippers like this, what could possibly make them change their ways?
One of my favorite library exchanges:

Librarian #1: Hey, Are you going to mid-winter?

Librarian #2: No, I can make myself a name tag and get felt up by someone from EBSCO right here at work.
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