April 30, 2007

Now that’s Library PR

Marin County’s free weekly paper, The Pacific Sun, published a feature article in its last issue about the Marin County Free Library and the broader Marin County consortium of libraries, MARINet.

The article is an overview of Marin’s public library system and the new planning process taking place there, which involves public input. I find the article worthy of note because of the unusual depth of its description of the library system and its discussion of libraries in general. It seems to me to be the kind of PR that public libraries really want. It talks about library history, about changes in libraries brought about by technology, about the community’s enduring need for traditional library services, about the organization of the library system, about how to get involved in the planning process, and about two typical users of the library. It even outlines the basic ranges in the Dewey Decimal system for people wanting to browse. The article shows an interest in public libraries that was common in general interest periodicals in the early 20th century but rare today.

Thanks to my Mom for sharing the link. 🙂

April 26, 2007

SRRT’s counterparts in education – current controversy

In the area of education research and accreditation standards for primary and secondary education, there is presently a big controversy that parallels SRRT’s fight for social responsibilities in libraries.

NCATE, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, has long had the idea of social justice embedded into its standards – the words have appeared in its standards at different levels as a way of connecting our educational system to broader humanistic goals. Also, the standards have included non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. In the last few years this social justice and sexual orientation language has been a target for conservative activists in NCATE, and recently the language was replaced with the word “fairness.”

The American Educational Research Association (AERA) has a close relationship with NCATE, as it represents scholars doing education research which ends up being used by NCATE. AERA had their annual meeting in early April, and the social justice question – the removal of the language from NCATE standards and its place in education – was the talk of the conference. Proponents of social justice and non-discrimination in education standards wore red to show their support throughout the conference.

Within AERA there is a special interests group called Critical Educators for Social Justice (CESJ) which is something like its SRRT group. I believe that SRRT and/or PLG should form an alliance with Critical Educators for Social Justice and support them in this fight.

CESJ’s Call to Action, which they put out prior to their conference, spells out the issues in much greater detail, and also makes reference to an earlier request that ALA, which is an NCATE organizational member, call on NCATE to return social justice and sexual orientation non-discrimination language to the accreditation standards.

The Chronicle of Higher Ed published an article about this on April 16th, which is only available to subscribers or at subscribing institutions. Look for it if you have access.

Education Next put out an editorial on this controversy expressing opposition to social justice standards in teacher accreditation as “mental hygiene” and the job of thought police.

This is an important issue in an allied field and we should be paying attention to it.


NCATE’s Unit Assessment Board has just voted to reinstate social justice language into its nomenclature, as well as voting to add the statement: “Candidates should demonstrate knowledge of the effects of discrimination based on race, class, gender, and sexual orientation on students’ performance.” This decision was largely in response to letters from individuals and allied groups. Much of that response was due to CESJ’s work in bringing attention to the issue. The SRRT Action Council Coordinator, Elaine Harger, is now exploring a SRRT alliance with CESJ.

Thanks to Elaine for providing this news.

April 25, 2007

Hameeda Al-Bassam

Hameeda Al-Bassam is an Iraqi librarian, a woman who is physically disabled as a result of the violence in Iraq. She operates a small, private library in service to intellectuals and academics. The Alive in Baghdad video blog has an interesting video interview with her, where she talks about working as a librarian under the current conditions and about her intellectual life.

Thanks to Susan Maret for sharing this link with the PLG list.

April 24, 2007

Amusing correspondence

The following is a brief email correspondence that I found amusing. I’m withholding the name and email address of the person who contacted me at Library Juice Press….

I recently borrowed a copy of one of the books you published, Barbarians at the gates of the public library. Preparing the book for Interlibrary Loan distribution, I noticed in the preface an error on page xiii, second paragraph, which reads, “Since the appointment of George W. Bush to the presidency of the United States…” Perhaps your editor did not catch this error and you will correct it to read “Since the election of George W. Bush…” in future printings.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

My response:

Hi, xxx

The author of the preface used the word “appointment” deliberately. It is her opinion that President Bush was not elected by U.S. voters but appointed by the U.S. Supreme Court. It was a subtle statement, and one that perhaps most would disagree with, but not an error.

Thanks for writing to us about it nevertheless.

Kathleen de la Peña McCook is the author of the preface to the book.

April 20, 2007

Radical and Progressive Library and Information Site Search

Paul Catherall of Information for Social Change has created a Google-based web search that searches websites from the international library left. Try the Radical and Progressive Library and Information Site Search and leave feedback here if you like.

April 19, 2007

Rory Litwin joins ISC editorial board

Continuing in a self-congratulatory mode, I am proud to announce that I have joined the editorial board of Information for Social Change, the UK-based collective and semi-annual journal. ISC is an organization of the Left, but is extremely diverse politically and intellectually, and handles this diversity in an interesting way. I have followed their work for years (and even have a stack of all of the back issues of the journal) and I am very pleased and proud to be a part of their group.

Guantanamo secrecy through plea-bargains

Another example of the Bush Administration’s information evil. Marjorie Heins has some commentary on the Free Expression Policy Project’s website about Guantanamo prisoners’ recantations of abuse charges in exchange for release from custody. The government knows they got the wrong guy, but won’t release him unless he signs off on a promise to back off on his torture accusations. The administration’s response when things like this are revealed is typically, “We do what we have to do to protect our beloved democracy.” Doublespeak.

April 18, 2007

LJP books at Powell’s

I am very proud to report that all four books presently in print from Library Juice Press are on sale at Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon, and through the Powells.com website. You will pay a little more there, but if you buy from Powell’s, you will be supporting the only all-union bookstore in the country. Powell’s is a fantastic brick-and-mortar bookstore, in addition to being an online bookseller. The total operation employs more than 400 people, all represented by ILWU Local No. 5.

When I lived in Portland I spent many hours getting lost in the “stacks” at Powell’s (and now LJP’s books are lost somewhere in there as well!).

Reed Elsevier and arms trade

There is unavoidably a moral dimension to business decisions. To make decisions that work from a practical standpoint we constantly make compromises with humanistic and environmental ideals. It is difficult if not impossible for a person to live in the modern world, even as an anarchist on a commune, without making compromises with the system at some level. On an everyday basis though, most of us are influenced by the moral dimension of a business decision only occasionally, when the moral wrong involved jumps out as something extreme and out of the ordinary. As progressive librarians, we are usually the ones who raise awareness of a moral problem with a vendor or a publisher or another entity, whether it has to do with unfair labor practices or a conflict of interest.

Right now we have a deusy of a moral issue with a vendor to deal with, and that is Reed Elsevier’s involvement in the arms trade. Elsevier’s primary involvement in the arms trade is in organizing weapons trade shows attended by representatives of the world’s militaries.

Today’s Independent (UK) has an article about a protest at a Reed Elsevier shareholder’s meeting.

There is a web based petition that you can sign, which says simply, “We, the undersigned, request that Reed Elsevier and their subsidaries stop organising arms fairs.”

April 17, 2007

Postal Rate Hike would hurt independent publishers

Media critic and theorist Robert McChesney is spearheading the campaign against the postal rate hike, which has Time Warner and other major magazine publishers’ money behind it.

This is from the campaign website:

Postal regulators have accepted a proposal from media giant Time Warner that would stifle small and independent publishers in America. The plan unfairly burdens smaller publishers with higher postage rates while locking in special privileges for bigger media companies.

In establishing the U.S. postal system, the nation’s founders wanted to ensure that a diversity of viewpoints were available to “the whole mass of the people.” Time Warner’s rate increase reverses this egalitarian ideal and threatens the marketplace of ideas on which our democracy depends.

It’s time stand up for independent media. Demand that Congress step in to stop the unfair rate hikes. The deadline for comments to the Postal Service is fast approaching.

Sign the letter before April 23 to alert Congress and put the Postal Board of Governors on notice.

Al Kagan, letter to IFLA Journal on Freedom of the Press, Social Responsibility and the Danish Cartoons

From Al Kagan:

One of my colleagues here has encouraged me to distribute this letter more widely, so here it is. It appears in the latest issue of the IFLA Journal 33, 1 (2007): 5-6.

Letter to the Editor

Freedom of the Press, Social Responsibility and the Danish Cartoons

I would like to comment on the IFLA FAIFE program concerning the Danish cartoons and the recent follow-up article in the IFLA Journal.1 The program and article are a welcome and timely overview of the theoretical issues, history, and legal framework regarding freedom of expression and free access to information. They help us understand our role as librarians in a general way when confronted with tricky collection development and access issues. They do not, however, delve into the even thornier issues of social responsibility around the context of this particular case.

Library science students are usually taught and our literature is full of the misconception that our work should be “neutral.” This usually means that we must treat all library users equally, take care to balance our collections with materials on all points-of-view, and refrain from taking social and political stands. Advocates of progressive and explicitly socially responsible library organizations2 generally debunk this myth of neutrality. They argue that while we should of course treat all library users with equal respect, we often fail in balancing our collections and our actions are certainly not neutral. These advocates note that library collections often pay little attention to alternative viewpoints outside the mainstream discourse and that we often self-censor ourselves when considering the purchase of materials that may offend some library users for whatever reasons. Even so, many librarians who self-censor themselves will probably agree with the theory even if they find it difficult or impossible to carry it out.

However the point of real controversy is often the idea that librarians and their associations must remain politically neutral. But even a glance at what we do disproves this assertion. We regularly oppose censorship and support freedom of expression. We advocate for empowering our library users through access to information, provide literacy training, sponsor interesting programs and exhibits on controversial issues, advocate privacy for our users, and even challenge national security legislation like the USA PATRIOT Act. In all of these areas we advance our social responsibility agenda.

Coming back to the Danish cartoons, one should ask why they were published at this time, what the publisher hoped to gain, and why there was such a strong reaction. The answers to these questions are political. The Middle East is in flames because the current U.S. Administration is crusading to remake those countries into nominally democratic client states while grabbing control of the oil. Given that the US Government has overthrown the secular government of Iraq, the religious extremists have filled a power vacuum. All Muslims have been demonized in the West for the brutal actions of the groups that have used horrific tactics against the US Occupation of Iraq and the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. The backlash against the large number of immigrant Muslim workers in Europe is part of this picture. The Danish newspaper that published these cartoons has been drawn into this nightmare political situation. Whether or not the editors of Jyllands Posten understood the likely reaction to their publication of the cartoons, the seeds of this reaction were firmly in place.

We need to address the collection development and access issues around this affair, but we also need to reflect on what else we might do as actors in civil society. The American Library Association Council has passed resolutions to lobby against torture and for withdrawing troops from Iraq. If we take our social responsibility seriously, we must act in civil society to try to counter the situations that give rise to events such as the Danish cartoons affair. Our commitment to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has little meaning for the people who have been killed, maimed, or exiled by the US war against Iraq. I would like to challenge IFLA to follow ALA in taking a stand. Furthermore other national library associations can act in the same way as ALA to lobby for peace in their respective countries. The UK is the United States’ junior partner in the occupation of Iraq. It would therefore be most appropriate and helpful for CILIP3 to get involved.

The access and collection issues around the Danish cartoons are only part of the story. We need to lobby for peace as the basic foundation for all the rest of our work.

Al Kagan
ALA Councilor representing the ALA Social Responsibilities Round Table

  1. See the description of the FAIFE debate in the conference program, and Paul Sturges, “Limits to Freedom of Expression? Considerations Arising from the Danish Cartoons Affair,” IFLA Journal 32 (3): 181-188.
  2. For example, the ALA Social Responsibilities Round Table, Progressive Librarians Guild (US), Information for Social Change (UK), Arbeitskreis Kritischer Bibliothekarinnen und Bibliothekare (Germany), Arbeitskreis Kritischer Bibliothekarinnen und Bibliothekare im Renner-Institut (Austria), Bibliotek i Samh?ɬ§lle (Sweden).
  3. Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (UK)
April 16, 2007

Frankentoons back online

For several years I hosted Joel Kahn’s “Frankentoons,” a fun fair-use protest site, on Libr.org, and took it down due to a change in my hosting situation.

I just received the following from Joel:

Yes, the Frankentoon project is back online!


Some things should be noted about this current incarnation:

I played no part in getting the Frankentoons onto Geocities. I have no clue as to who *is* responsible.

I did not construct the resource list page at . . .


I have made, and am making, absolutely *no* money from any of the ads on the Geocities Frankentoon pages.

The law firm of Baker Hostetler . . .


. . . has already been informed of what’s going on, so I have no idea how much longer the Frankentoons will remain online with Geocities. If you want to grab anything from the site, I suggest you do it fast.

Happy Frankentooning.

Joel Kahn

I’m happy to see it back online and getting a shot of attention…

Kathleen de la Peña McCook wins Florida Library Association Lifetime Achievement Award

Kathleen de la Peña McCook has just received the Florida Library Association Lifetime Achievement Award. This award is presented to a librarian whose distinguished record of professional achievements and accomplishments has spanned decades and advanced the stature of libraries within the State of Florida via such activities as risk taking, innovation and significant change. The winner’s contributions are so outstanding that their influence is of lasting importance to the entire spectrum of libraries and library service in Florida.

Congratulations, Kathleen! You are most deserving of the honor.

April 15, 2007

Brief observation about anti-intellectualism

Anti-intellectualism must be at its peak. Nerdy glasses are in fashion; I hope they promise a recovery of intellectual values in the post-Bush years.

Regarding the thinking of anti-intellectuals… They think:

  • If they can’t understand it, it’s ivory tower stuff that excludes the everyday person; it’s elitist, exclusive, and probably BS. Intellectuals are irrelevant.
  • If they can understand it, then they could have thought of it, and if they could have thought of it, then so could anyone. Intellectuals are unnecessary.
  • If it contradicts their views, it is a lie. Intellectuals are a class that tries to manipulate real folk.

The consequence of this thinking is that the independence of academia is under attack and there is a loss of respect for the conclusions of real investigations and deep thought, and a boost in power for reactionaries and fundamentalists with their superstitious views.

Is it a harbinger of a new dark age, just a few terrible years, or not much different from the American norm over time?

In the about page of this blog, among the concerns I stated as a blogger was “The Decline of Civilization and the position in which it puts us as librarians.” Isabel Espinal made a valid point, quoting Gandhi’s response to the question, “What do you think of Western Civilization?”, which was “It would be a good idea.” Isabel pointed out that talk about “the decline of civilization” often accompanies racist anxiety about immigration and demographic change, and also that the kind of “civilization” I am worried about losing has always only belonged to a minority in society. I think Isabel raises a key problem there. The answer is simple to state but complex to attempt. The intellectual values that underly librarianship (or should) are values that should belong to everyone. When we talk about access, we should not only think about giving people access to what they “want” (which is a constructed thing), but giving people access to civilization, to make it their own. For many people this has meant pop culture as art and a destruction of ivory towers. I deplore this. I think it has to mean that the intellectual sphere, while it may not be a place for everyone, should belong to everyone, and it should be accessible to everyone who seeks it, while at the same time being respected as the highest social authority. Both populism and multiculturalism obviously make legitimate and important demands, but we can own and pursue those without giving quarter to anti-intellectualism, which I think sometimes happens. Anti-intellectualism is a part of Right-wing ideology, certainly, but it crops up unnoticed in our own work as well. (I don’t mean Isabel at all, btw, but I mean that our populist commitments can sometimes make room for it.)

Fighting the Bush Doctrine of Disinformation is a Librarian’s Mandate

I urge everybody to read Kathleen de la Peña McCook’s post on her main blog, Fighting the Bush Doctrine of Disinformation is a Librarian’s Mandate. She hits the nail on the head: the key to the our urgent political problems right now are in the Bush Administration’s governance by manipulation of information. She puts a number of things in this context: the White House purge of US Attorneys, the corrupting of the scientific process in agency-funded research, the lies that led to the war, the politically repression of intellectuals at universities, the planting of fake news stories on television, direct payments to media pundits to promote White House views, and more. She relates this to a statement of an important library principle from ALA that isn’t as well known as the Library Bill of Rights: the Government Documents Round Table’s Key Principles on Government Information. This statement of principles has not yet been adopted by ALA Council, but it should be, and its adoption should be publicized in relation the Bush Administration’s manipulation of information.

During the Bush Administration, these issues have been my main focus in my blogging and library activism, as I wrote about in my statement on “library and non-library issues” recently and have written about for years. Kathleen has been talking about them consistently as well. I now read on a couple of right wing blogs that Kathleen’s post was in response to a recent New York Times editorial – to me it seemed like the kind of thing she and I have been saying for a while. These right wing bloggers are even insinuating that Kathleen is reacting to the editorial as though the ideas in it are new to her. Clearly, these are not new issues; a new item on the web is an item to link to and an opportunity to return to a theme. The argument does not rest on a recent editorial, but on our own extensive past discussions and on a society-wide discussion of the Bush Administration’s use of disinformation and secrecy. It seems clear to me that these right wing bloggers are well aware of this, and are being predictably dishonest in focusing on this recent editorial as though Kathleen were relying on it in some way.

For the text of SRRT’s 2005 “Resolution on Disinformation, Media Manipulation & the Destruction of Public Information,” as well as a bibliography on government disinformation, see the December 2005 SRRT Newsletter.