Byron Anderson, compiler of Alternative Publishers of Books in North America, does an annual update to his “Bibliographic and Web Tools for Alternative Publications,” a helpful resource also published in print in the alternative review journal Counterpoise. This five-page document has listings of review sources from many areas of alternative publishing, including zines and small book publishers. It also covers distributors, awards, reference books, websites, and other tools. It’s handy and succinct and you should download the new update and print it out.
Regarding the Facebook group, No, I don’t look like a librarian!…. Yes, you do look like a librarian! I am not joining the group – because I think really I do not look unlike a librarian, and I think most of the people who joined that group look like the librarians that they are. And there is nothing wrong with that! We look smart! We are smart! We look approachable and helpful! We are approachable and helpful!
Don’t be ashamed of what you are!! Embrace it!
This is so f-ing typical of the Bush Administration… White House staffers are using private internet domains for much of their work by email in order to avoid the accountability of a paper trail. White House correspondence is supposed to be part of the public record, eventually. Here’s a snippet:
“…[I]t is better not to put this stuff in writing in their e-mail system because it might actually limit what they can do to help us,” one lobbyist wrote Abramoff, citing advice from a White House aide, “especially since there could be lawsuits, etc.”
Thanks to Kathleen McCook for sharing this news item with the SRRT list.
I think we will be hearing this idea increasingly over the coming years, that the library listserv should go, and we should switch to web-based forums with RSS-type updates instead. That link is to a thread on the Livejournal community, “Libraries.”
Personally, I agree, but I have no problem being patient.
Michael Dowling of the ALA Chapter Relations Office has forwarded to the IFLA list a link to an audio version of a PBS interview with Saad Eskander, the new head of the Iraqi National Library and Archives. The interview is about 18 minutes long and extremely interesting.
We in the U.S. talk about running libraries under adverse conditions and praise one another for our dedication, but Eskander’s obstacles and dedication are orders of magnitude greater (and the same can be said of his 400 staff members, who risk their lives every day for the preservation of Iraq’s cultural heritage and the provision of information service).
Eskander tells stories about such things as the kidnapping of one of his librarians, the looting that took place just as the occupation was beginning, and U.S. policy errors in setting up the interim government and how they have increased Iraq’s difficulties presently.
The most interesting thing Eskander talks about, in my view, however, is the effort he has undertaken to promote democratic governance within the Iraqi National Library and Archives itself. He has apparently made radical changes to the way the place is run, including the institution of a system for the election of division heads by staff, rather than their appointment from above. Normally we do not see this kind of workplace democracy outside of socialist countries. In addition, he is also promoting women librarians as professionals in quite a high-profile way, and talks about it in relation to the need for real democracy in Iraq to come from the people.
Eskander has been keeping a diary of his experience at the National Library since last November, and it is being published on the web by the British Library. It is interesting reading that provides insights into the challenges faced by the cultural sector in Iraq.
I consider Eskander to be a true library hero, and I think he deserves to be honored by the American library community in some way.
The justice department has been abusing a provision in the PATRIOT Act allowing them to issue “national security letters” to obtain information on citizens (140,000 so far) without a court order and with the famous gag order imposed.
The Washington Post has published a revealing article by one of these recipients of a National Security Letter (identity withhheld).
I am going to take another stab at outlining my views on “library and non-library issues.” Last time I did it I was sloppy in the way that I stated my views, and I surprised and disappointed some people who I think would not have been so surprised and disappointed if I had been clearer and more thorough in explaining what I actually think. It is a core issue for the profession that gets discussed only at a shallow level most of the time. I’m not claiming to give a really deep philosophical analysis of it here, but I do think I have a few points to touch on that I hope will change at least a few people’s thinking on the question.
First of all, we need to start from facts, and one good place to go for these is the record of Council actions since 1997 on the ALA website. If you spend a little time reading through these, you will notice immediately that it is a very small proportion of ALA Council business that has been about “non library issues.” You may also notice that of the business that some conservatives might call “non-library issues,” most items are about things that are directly related to both library and non-library issues at the same time – these are things like the representation of the library community in international trade agreements and policies on contracting with hotels in conference cities that are engaged in labor disputes, etc. These are things which directly relate to either the Association or the library community but would not be addressed at all if it weren’t for the social concerns of ALA Councilors. ALA and the library community benefit greatly from Council’s attention to issues like this, which connect libraries to their social context. Council largely has the Social Responsibilities Round Table to thank for bringing this type of issue to its attention. Without paying attention to this type of question, we would simply be isolating ourselves artificially from the social context in which we really function. These, to me, are clearly library issues.
There are a smaller number of resolutions, which altogether comprise a very small proportion of Council actions but a rather large proportion of Council’s emotional energy, that are about issues with a more indirect connection to libraries, such as the war in Iraq or the genocide in Darfur. I will call these “non-library issues” without intending to indicate that I am categorically opposed to dealing with them. This type of resolution usually comes from one Task Force within SRRT – the International Responsibilities Task Force. Usually at least one resolution originating with this Task Force reaches Council at each conference. The arguments in favor of these resolutions have two general forms, both of which I think can be valid. The first is that the issue is actually a library issue, because libraries are affected by it in ways that though they may not be obvious are definite and real, or more indirectly, that the issue is an obstacle to the ultimate aims of libraries, which may be shared by other institutions (literacy, political enfranchisement, a good society, etc.). The second form of argument in favor of this type of resolution is that the issue is of such significance from a humanitarian point of view that it would simply be irresponsible and unethical not to use our collective voice as a profession to speak out about it. I think that both of these forms of argument for this type of resolution can be very persuasive and often really do justify Council’s choice to support them. It should be remembered that it is Council, not SRRT, that has passed a number of “non library issue” resolutions over the years, and that Council’s political makeup is far to the right of SRRT. In each case, the process of deliberating the question on the Council floor was difficult and serious, and the decisions were not taken lightly.
I have been saying privately to progressive Councilors and to people in SRRT for quite a while that I would like to see a shift in how we handle the “bleeding edge” issues that constantly challenge Councilors to commit ALA to political positions. My thinking on it is mainly strategic, and for this reason I haven’t wanted to share it publicly, but I now feel that enough people will agree with me that I should come out with it.
My view relates to what I feel are the costs of addressing those “non library issues” and the great potential, as I see it, to inspire Councilors about a set of progressive issues that are equally challenging in the context of the public sphere but potential grand slams within the library world.
Not everybody in the library left agrees with me about the cost of addressing non-library issues, such as the genocide in Darfur. (Apologies to those who object to the expression “non-library issues” – I recognize that they can be connected to libraries, but I think honesty demands recognition that those connections are often quite remote.) The cost, as I perceive it, is an emotional cost. These are issues which place serious demands on Councilors emotionally, and these demands create emotional fatigue. The hostility toward this type of issue on Council at the Midwinter Meeting in Seattle was due, I feel, to an emotional fatigue that was predictable and unavoidable given the attention to similar issues at recent conferences. To me this means that progressive Councilors’ choice to address an issue such as this should involve a weighing of the emotional cost. One aspect of this concerns the second form of argument in favor of this type of issue – that the issue is of such pressing humanitarian concern that not to speak out about it would be irresponsible. For most people, that argument is an argument in favor of making an exception from business as usual. In fact, from the point of view of the public outside of ALA, the weight that a public statement from us on such as issue has comes in part from the sense that it is an exception to business as usual, and that therefore the issue being addressed is of great significance. (For the record, I think the war in Iraq and the Darfur genocide both qualify as issues of that significance.)
I would not argue that Council should stay away from non-library issues altogether, but that from a strategic point of view, especially at the present historical moment, there is another direction that we should be going most of the time, another progressive direction. I feel this way because during the Bush era in particular, there are certain solid information issues that go to the heart of librarians’ passions and which also happen to be an important key to our great political problems. The Bush administration has been marked by information policy changes that are outrageous from an ethical standpoint, changes that indeed led us into the war that is our primary problem today as a nation. The Bush administration has taken government secrecy, propaganda, and disinformation to levels perhaps not previously seen in this country. (I wrote an editorial about this in Library Juice right before the Annual Conference in 2005.) Government secrecy, propaganda, and disinformation are issues that are just as significant from a progressive standpoint as the issues that are regularly brought forward by the International Responsibilities Task Force, and just as challenging for the public, but in terms of Council strategy they are potentially more generative than costly in emotional terms, because of having their basis solidly in the core values of librarians.
How would I like to see these issues addressed? Well, I think they create an occasion to be creative and dream up a way of doing something that is more publicly visible than what we normally do. There are specific issues in these areas to address one by one, such as supporting the bill now in Congress that would overturn Bush’s executive order making Presidential papers secret, or making a public statement deploring the Bush administration’s hiring of a PR firm to promote the case for going to war. There are many potential resolutions in this general issue area that I think would be extremely productive to address (productive from a number of points of view).
Additionally, however, I would like to see ALA do something larger on the general theme.
I am familiar with the way policy studies by think tanks and advocacy groups are digested by journalists as a source of news. A journalist will pick up on a major conclusion, spinning it in a certain way, and write an article that uses the study as a source. Often these reports are written by independent researchers whose work is commissioned by the organization that publishes it (and those researchers are credited). I would like to see ALA commission a study on government secrecy, disinformation, and propaganda in the Bush era, and for it to be published with a major media release. Doing this would have a double benefit, because it would give publicity to this issue area, which is grossly underreported in the news media, and it would also help to clarify for Americans a few things about the values on which their libraries are based.
Without blaming a “60s mentality,” I will just note that changing contexts require new strategies, and it seems to me that the people who have been in SRRT from the beginning, who are still really in control of it, tend to approach the work of SRRT in a way that is similar to what they have always done. But things don’t work the same way now. I hope my suggestions will be taken without offense and I hope people will listen.
The Communist Party of the United States is presently in the news for donating its archive to the Tamiment Library at NYU. As many are aware, this archive was part of the Reference Center for Marxist Studies, the library located in the CPUSA building in New York, which was run by ALA Councilor Mark Rosenzweig until its recent closure. Mark made important discoveries in the holdings of the archive over the years, organized them, maintained them, shared them with researchers, and, finally, spent weeks overseeing the transfer of the archive to NYU to ensure that its value would be understood and it’s ins and outs known, as much as possible, to its new custodians.
For anyone who is familiar with the Reference Center or knows about Mark’s work, or for that matter for anyone who knows about the CPUSA as a still-active political party with standards of openness that are the same as other parties’, the news coverage of the transfer of the archive provides a good illustration of the typical shallowness of American journalism.
First, these links, and then Mark Rosenzweig’s commentary:
Mark Rosenzwieg has a complaint about the New York Times coverage of the transfer, and has agreed to let me post the message he sent to PLG member, below:
I must confess to being more than a bit upset about the way Michael Nash of Tamiment library at New York University has spun the story for the New York Times of the transfer of materials from the CPUSA and (altogether unacknowledged) the Reference Center for Marxist Studies (RCMS) to the Tamiment.
First of all, it is a entirely untrue that he was “actually” unaware, as he claims to the Times, of even the continued existence of the CPUSA when he was contacted by Sam Webb, the party’s National Chair. Not at all a trivial thing, it is, I’m sorry to say, a conscious and contrived pose which he knows demeans the very benefactor he is celebrating, and is a bit of conventional and, I daresay, anti-Communist repartee intended, apparently, to delight his Establishment audience at the expense of his donors.
Of course, he knew very well of the organizational existence and ongoing political work of the CPUSA.
And he knew, as well, of the fact that the material had been in the custodianship first of the Historical Commission of the Party and then of the Reference Center for Marxist Studies, which had assumed responsibility for providing public access to these resources. The Reference Center was an institution which had been in existence for the last 26 years, the last 6 under my direction.
Indeed, he must have known, because, not that long before being contacted by Sam Webb, a contractual agreement with the Reference Center for Marxist Studies on behalf of the CPUSA for the joint rights in additional papers of the famed Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, published in microfilm by Gale Publications, had been negotiated by me, through the Refence Center, on behalf the CPUSA, with Tamiment, and that was not the first, by any means, of such relations which presumed recognition and prior knowledge of the continued existence of the CPUSA and of the role, until just before the transfer, of the RCMS.
Mr. Nash I’m afraid to say, led the NYT to ignore the fact that the Reference Center for Marxist Studies, housed at the CPUSA headquarters in NYC, with only a short break in the course of transition to a new home for the collection, made as much of this material discussed by the NYT as accessible as possible to scholars and the general public, to the best of its ability, providing services and materials for all inquirers who didn’t mind contacting an organization physically located on the premises of the Party, quite different, as you might imagine from the more posh provinmces of NYU’s Bobst Library at Washington Square.
As the professional librarian who was the director of the RCMS for the last 6 of those 26 years, I object to his disregard of the work of half a dozen librarians over that period and of the long stewardship of the RCMS, until the time of her death, by Lottie Gordon, a life-long member of the CPUSA who was entirely devoted to making the Party’s resources accessible through the Reference Center.
Quite disappointing to me personally, Mr. Nash — I got to know him rather well, since I worked with him for several months on the transfer of the materials from the Reference Center for Marxist Studies, and rather like him — oonspicuously, in the NYT article, tries to take credit for things like rescuing the historically important Joe Hill papers which I myself had carefully preserved, processed and whose discovery I had long ago publicly announced for the Reference Center on the Web and in print. The implication of this posturing on his part is that the CPUSA (and the unacknowkedged RCMS) was unaware of the significance if not the existence of the materials in itrs own collections. This is not just an erasure from history of the role of the RCMS, an important institution in the history of radical librarianship, but an attempt to to try to assert, more significantly, the complete disontinuity and disorganization of the CPUSA, as if in implicit compact with anti-Communists to not ever grant status to the CPUSA as anything but the subject of historical research or worse, radical nostalgia, rather than as an on-going, continuous, if struggling, enterprise and a legitimate political party in the USA.
Sam Webb (see link above) has replied very well to the not unexpected political angle of the NYT article. I just wanted to point out the less momentous, but not insignificant, distortion involved in Mr Nash’s diminishing the role of the RCMS in preserving the CPUSA legacy, a legacy that Mr. Nash now celebrates having had donated to his institution. This is a misrepresentation of history which, to me, is a great disservice to all involved and not a good basis on which to inaugurate new home of this great collection to the Tamiment.
I hope that at the opening event someone will speak for the work of the RCMS — I can’t myself, as I am presently in China — in preserving the continuity of the records of the CPUSA, if not for the memory of Lottie Gordon and her librarian colleagues and all their work, at least to counter the preposterous implication that the party disrergarded its historical legacy until NYU and Mr. Nash came along to recover it.
Mark C. Rosenzweig
former dir. RCMS
From PLG’s Braverman Prize committee:
We’re pleased to announce the fourth annual Miriam Braverman prize, sponsored by the Progressive Librarians Guild, for the best student paper on progressive library issues. Below are the guidelines for the prize. If anyone would like an announcement flyer, please contact me directly. Feel free to pass this announcement on to other listservs or groups that may be interested.
Braverman Prize Guidelines for PLG
1. Entrants must be Library/Information Science students attending a graduate level program in the United States or Canada.
2. Entries must be the original, unpublished work of the entrant, in English, and must not exceed 3,000 words.
3. The topic of the paper should concern an aspect of the social responsibilities of librarians, libraries, or librarianship. Papers related to archivists, archives, or archival work are also acceptable. Topics could include, but are not limited to, such concerns as professional ethics in the age of the USA PATRIOT Act; the commodification of information; the political value choices of cataloging and indexing; the role of libraries in bridging the information gap; democratic management systems within libraries, etc.
4. Each entry should include a cover sheet containing the entrant’s name, full contact information (address, phone number, e-mail address), name of the institution where the entrant is enrolled, and the title of the paper. No identifying information, other than the title, should appear on the paper itself.
5. Entries must be submitted electronically, in MS Word or RTF format, to BOTH email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
6. Entries must be received no later than 6pm on, April 30, 2007.
7. The winning entry will be published in Progressive Librarian and must conform to MLA in-text citation style. The winning entrant will also receive a $300 stipend toward attendance at the 2007 American Library Association annual conference in Washington, D.C., and an award at the annual PLG dinner. Award money is available only for ALA conference attendance; if the winner is unable to attend, the money will remain in the Braverman Award fund account or be donated at the discretion of the committee.
8. The judges’ decision is final. The act of submission implies the unqualified acceptance of the conditions of entry by the entrant.
I appreciate John Pateman’s efforts in writing a review of my book, “Barbarians at the Gates of the Public Library,” and I think that ultimately our underlying motives are similar. But there are real disagreements, too, as well as misunderstandings that I would like to address. The most important real difference of opinion is found in his assertion that “by supporting democracy and civil education, Public Libraries are supporting capitalism.” I agree that the US and the UK are poor examples of democracy– and I say so in my book–but I do not believe that by supporting democracy one is supporting capitalism. I believe that the values of democracy are different if not opposed to those of capitalism, and that democracy, when pushed far enough and extended into the workplace, is socialism. Curiously, the argument that capitalism and democracy are somehow related to one another, or even identical, can be found on both extremes of the political spectrum. On the right, neoliberals and market fundamentalists equate democracy with capitalism in order to ideologically support capitalism. Thomas Frank does an excellent job of analyzing and indeed mocking this ideology under the name of “market populism” in his book One Market Under God. At the other end of the political spectrum, authoritarian socialists equate democracy with capitalism in order to discredit democracy. But among more moderate socialists, such as members of the Frankfurt School, some of whose arguments I draw upon in my book, democracy and socialism are viewed as entirely compatible. Anarchism, in my view, is a radical form of democracy that relies on direct, participatory democracy and consensus decision making at the local level, and federation at higher levels of complexity.
Pateman claims to be writing from a Marxist perspective, but he embraces neoliberalism and the Harvard Business School. It is true that according to Marx capitalism must sweep the world before communism can exist. This put Marx in the odd position of sometimes supporting capitalism as a necessary stage of history while resisting contemporary socialism. This was one of the sources of disagreement between Marx and Bakunin in the First International. Bakunin believed that socialism could be achieved through many historical routes that didn’t necessarily pass through capitalism. Anarchism is primarily a moral ideology. From an anarchist perspective, the Marxist doctrine of the dictatorship of the proletariat, as well as the Marxist theory of history that requires a stage of capitalist development prior to communism, are immoral on Kantian grounds. They are immoral because they treat people as a means to an end. In either case the current generation of workers is exploited for the sake of a future communist society. But even Marx would not endorse becoming a capitalist exploiter (or corporate style manager, etc.) in order to bring about socialism. Marx simply meant that one should not attempt to bring about socialism until the time is ripe. Furthermore, our historical situation is very different than Marx’s. We now know with the benefit of hindsight that history has not proceeded in the way that Marx anticipated, and that history does not proceed according to some tidy Hegelian logic.
Pateman states that “Education and Public Libraries were invented by capitalists (such as Andrew Carnegie) to take the pressure out of the capitalist system, to prevent revolution.” He goes on to say that public libraries are capitalist institutions just like corporate chain bookstores. Public libraries cannot successfully compete in the capitalist marketplace with bookstores for the same middle class customers so, Pateman concludes, public libraries should compete instead for working class customers, using the same corporate capitalist strategies that the corporate chain bookstores use to attract middle class customers. De-professionalize librarians, take away their “gatekeeper role,” stock the libraries with entertainment, and give the customers what they want, since what they want is what they need. “We should employ staff for their Customer Service skills first and foremost, and then teach them any technical skills which they require to carry out their jobs. Under capitalism the citizen is the customer, the customer is always right, and if we don’t give the customer what s/he needs, we will become irrelevant and people will stop using us.” Pateman says that the working class “should be involved in every aspect of public library operations, including book selection” (as long as they are not actually employed by the library), but then he turns around and quotes a corporate management guru who says “that it takes only a few people (who Gladwell characterises as Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen) to spread a good idea or product.” But who are the “Connectors” but the top level executives with political connections? Who are the “Mavens” but the engineers and technicians? And who are the “Salesmen” but the marketing managers of a typical corporation? This is simply market populism, the idea that the market expresses the true interests of the people, and that the corporate ruling class, as the most powerful players in this market, are their true guardians.
What Pateman has totally omitted are professional librarians and educators. He simply dismisses librarianship and civil education as agents of capitalism. Once he has reduced librarianship and education to capitalism, he can then reconfigure the public library in capitalist terms. Library users become “customers.” Staff are trained in “customer service” and given “technical skills.” But librarianship and civil education are not about customer service or about technical skills. They are ultimately about politics–principally, democracy and its associated moral values. Pateman can neither recognize nor accept this distinction because he reduces democracy itself to capitalism. It is true that the first public libraries, founded in the 19th century, were established by the capitalist ruling class, and I say so in my book. But to say as he does that public libraries have only served capitalism and that they offer no alternative to or resistance against capitalism is equally false. To say as he also does that democracy serves capitalism is to confuse democratic institutions with the ideal of democracy itself. If the public library has failed to measure up to its democratic ideal that is not reason to abandon the ideal but reason to defend it more ardently.
My book speaks for itself, and so I refer readers to it if they wish to further resolve this issue. But Pateman has also misrepresented or misunderstood my book on certain other issues, and that requires an additional response. The chief misrepresentation of my book in Pateman’s review is that he leaves the reader with the impression that I am supporting middle class Victorian values. I do argue that public libraries were established according to middle class Victorian values and that these values have gone into decline. But I do not argue that the public library can be revitalized by returning to Victorian values. On the contrary, I argue that 19th century Capitalism went into decline and was replaced by postmodern consumer capitalism in part because Victorian values were deficient. I cite Nietzsche who predicted a period of nihilism following the decline of Victorian Christian values (the “death of God”). What is needed is not a return to Victorian values but the creation of new values.
The most disturbing aspect of Pateman’s review is his inconsistency (if not hypocrisy) about the role of the working class in public libraries and, more broadly, in politics. Like the market populists, he claims to be a champion of the oppressed masses and of the working class, but at the same time he supports the corporate world order. He says that we should cure ourselves of “affluenza” by seeking to satisfy our needs rather than our wants, and says that public libraries should serve the “needs” of the working class rather than the “wants” of the middle class. He recognizes that wants are not the same as needs, and that people sometimes want things that are not in their best interest. But then he turns around and says that the customer is always right and that the gatekeeper role should be taken away from librarians, clearly implying that public libraries should give working class people what they want. He confuses the logic of consumer markets?¢‚Ç¨‚Äùthe principle that the “customer is always right,” giving people what they “want”?¢‚Ç¨‚Äùwith the empowerment of the masses. Conversely, he equates criticism of popular culture with the oppression of the working class. In fact, he rejects any distinction between “good” and “bad” books. In other words, he confuses a critical ranking of books with a class system. The element of truth here is that “high culture” was a product of certain privileged classes of literate people (clergy, nobility, upper bourgeoisie, etc.) during the pre-modern era, and in part it may very well reflect their class interests. But popular culture has not been produced just to give the masses what they want, let alone what they need. It has also and primarily been produced to generate a profit. And when it became necessary to change what consumers wanted, advertising was created. In other words, consumer markets express the interests of the capitalist ruling class at least as much as high culture expressed the interests of the pre-modern literate classes. Pateman says that the working class “may not be attracted to ?¢‚Ç¨Àúhigh culture’ but there is equal value in ?¢‚Ç¨Àúpopular culture’.” But it is insulting and patronizing to assume that working class people never have an interest in high culture. Pateman gets around the fact that working class people have shown an interest in high culture by arguing that working class people who show an interest in high culture are trying to adopt middle class values, hence are not authentically “working class.” But this is a circular argument. It only works if you assume beforehand that high culture is necessarily middle or upper class. It is not. Although academia has a way of absorbing them today, prior to the second half of the 20th century there were many working class intellectuals. Literacy among working class people in the early 20th century was astonishingly high, as the popularity of Will and Ariel Durants’ “high brow” history of civilization demonstrates. Nor is it true, on the other hand, that the working class has been the sole consumer of popular culture in the modern period. Popular culture cuts across class lines.
Pateman claims that “working class people are able to work out what is good for them,” and since librarians are “middle class,” they don’t need librarians. Pateman assumes that anyone who is educated must be “middle class.” But class is not about education. Class is about power, and about wealth, insofar as wealth bestows power. And in that respect librarians in the USA are hardly “middle class.” As I discuss at length in my book, since the time of Melvil Dewey librarians in the USA have been treated more or less like factory workers and subjected to the same system of “scientific” management. (The professional status of librarians may be different in the UK. And that may be a source of disagreement between Pateman and I. In that case, I recommend that Pateman disabuse himself of the idea that librarians should be deprofessionalized by finding employment at the front lines of an American library.) Pateman’s animosity towards the “middle class,” which he apparently confuses with middle income workers, is not a mark of his radicalism, but rather of the new corporate world order, in which the rich get richer and everyone else gets poorer. It is a world of the “few” corporate chieftains and legions of low paid temp workers.
Pateman says that it is “patronizing and insulting” to assume that working class people need librarians to select material for them. But it is equally insulting and disrespectful to assume that a trained and educated librarian would not be more competent than an untrained person, whatever “class” that person may belong to. Pateman insinuates that librarians would select what they think their users should read, rather than what they want to read. But any competent librarian will consider both the wants and needs of their users.
I do not argue in my book that all popular culture is without value, only that a “great deal of popular literature falls into the category of information that is neither educational nor edifying.” Indeed many of my own sources are works of popular culture that are educational or edifying.
I do not argue in my book that popular culture should be excluded from public libraries. Good librarians, like good teachers, begin where they find their readers. If that happens to be works of popular culture then they will begin by building a collection of popular works. Good librarians merely facilitate the reader’s own innate quest for truth and quality. Use of a public library is, after all, voluntary. Librarians cannot and should not coerce users to read what they deem best. They should, however, make available what their educated opinion deems best. My primary complaint about collection development in public libraries has always been about what is not available (books that meet high critical standards) rather than what is (books that the publishing industry is promoting at any given time). I am arguing for the inclusion of great works, not the exclusion of popular culture.
Pateman says that I pose “education and entertainment as if they are mutually exclusive; they are not. The best books / films / media are both entertaining and educational. If a subject is not entertaining / enjoyable, it is less likely that people will want to learn about it.” Pateman is correct that I distinguish between education and entertainment. But he is wrong to say that I exclude enjoyment from education. I state very clearly in my book that “education and edification do not necessarily exclude pleasure. Pleasure is necessarily a part of education insofar as education makes higher levels of pleasure and the pleasurable consumption of information possible. We consume education and we are pleasured by it.”
But as I go on to say, “it is possible to consume information without being educated or edified.” In fact, it is possible to consume information without being either educated or entertained. When I view a subliminal advertisement that associates sex with an expensive car, am I being educated? Have I learned some truth about the world that I did not previously understand? Or have I been manipulated and deceived into purchasing a car I cannot afford? Such a subliminal ad doesn’t even qualify as “entertainment.” I am not even conscious of it. Its purpose is neither to educate me nor to entertain me, but to change my behavior in such a way that the producers of the ad will increase their profits. Most of what we call “entertainment” in our culture functions much like an advertisement. Its purpose is not to educate, or even to entertain. Its purpose is to increase profits. It educates or entertains only as a means to produce profit. That is just the way capitalism works, and Marx would have agreed. But as it turns out, education is not as useful for the purpose of increasing profits as entertainment is. Education is dangerous. It empowers those who acquire it. Those who are educated are not so easily deceived. Those who are educated make choices in their own interests. Those who are educated are not so easily exploited. Entertainment, on the other hand, is useful to those who wish to profit from us. Entertainment keeps viewers eyes glued to the screen. It’s very “sticky,” indeed, like candy?¢‚Ç¨‚Äùor better yet, like cigarettes, one of the most heavily advertised commodities in the 20th century. By making information entertaining, the producers of information increase the likelihood that we will continue to consume it, just as nicotine in cigarettes increases the likelihood that we will continue to consume them.
A good model for the role public libraries could play in the lives of all people, including working class people, is Earl Shorris’ great books program at the Roberto Clemente Center in New York’s Lower East Side. I have done something similar with my philosophy discussion group in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. Earl Shorris objects to the fact that poor and working class people rarely have access to the humanities. He believes that an education in the humanities is essential for a meaningful life and for full participation in modern society. He established a great books program in the Lower East Side and found that the chronically unemployed, methadone patients, former prisoners, etc. enthusiastically identified with the prisoners in Plato’s allegory of the cave. Like the prisoners in Plato’s cave, they too had been force-fed mere shadows. With the help of an education in the humanities they gained the power to see through the lies and the shadows, and to break free.
March 2007 is Small Press Month. Especially note the ten things to do for Small Press Month for bookstores and libraries. The effort is cosponsored by a range of organizations helping small presses, and special thanks are given to Alice Walker.
I read about this on LibrarianActivist.org.
Email to lists from Mark Rosenzweig:
Dear SRRT members and other progressives in ALA,
The PLG Coordinating Committee has compiled the following short list of Council candidates (there may be one or two we missed) we believe are truly worthy of your votes.
We urge you to BULLET VOTE for the list, that is, not to vote for a bunch of other candidates just because you want to use up your allotted votes. Using all your votes that way only diminishes the chances of those you really want to see win. This is important because sometimes progressives lose by only a small number of votes.
Bullet voting (using those votes you cast only for the candidates you really want and not just using up all you allotted votes) is the best way to make your votes count for advancing a progressive and socially responsible Council agenda.
Here is the list as it stands now:
- Ismail Abdullahi
- Tiffani Conner
- Loida Garcia Febo
- Elaine Harger
- Alan Mattlage
- K.R. Roberto
- Pat Wand
Please give these candidates your full support and urge others to vote for them. Feel free to distribute this list as needed.
ALA Councilor at large
for the PLG-CC
The Presidential Records Act of 2007 is a bill presently in Congress that would overturn Bush’s Presidential Order 13233 of 2001, which was one of many outrageous secrecy measures of the Bush Administration, this one case giving former presidents the power to prevent access to their papers for many years.
Kathleen de la Peña McCook has blogged other aspects of this bill and the movement to support it.
Note from the next day, Thursday, March 15: The bill passed Congress yesterday, and, surprise surprise, Bush has promised to veto it.
At the ALA Midwinter in Seattle, two SRRT task forces were combined into one. The Alternatives In Print Task Force was one of SRRT’s original task forces, and has consistently advocated for the collection of materials from alternative publishers as a necessary part of living up to the Library Bill of Rights in collection development. It has also offered collection development and acquisitions aids to help get past the inconveniences of working with these presses. The Information Policy in the Public Interest Task Force was newer and was initiated out of an interest to study and contribute to ALA’s information policy-related activities from a progressive perspective. The two task forces had overlapping interests concerning market-based distortions in the communication cycle and the ecology of information.
The new task force combining these two is the Alternative Media Task Force. Activities include the annual Free Speech Buffet at the ALA Annual Conference (a Monday night event) and the production of the useful directory Alternative Publishers of Books in North America. Other activities have included an award to a librarian who has contributed to the promotion or use of alternative literature in libraries and programming at conferences. Contact the coordinator, Carol Gulyas, via the website if you are interested in contributing some effort.