October 25, 2009

Two sets of priorities

This post is a presentation of two lists of priorities – first, priorities of the Social Responsibilities Round Table (SRRT), and second, a list of the kind of issue that I think SRRT ought to emphasize instead. The first list is as complete a list as I was able to compile of the subjects of SRRT’s official resolutions from mid-2002 to mid-2005 (the time during which I was SRRT Action Council Coordinator). The second is a list of many of the important progressive issues in librarianship according to the way I personally see things. They are the issue areas that have given me my motivation as an activist and now a publisher in librarianship. Because those issues have been my priorities but not always SRRT’s or the Progressive Librarians’ Guild’s, I often felt out of place in those groups even as an insider.

First, the list of topics addressed by SRRT’s official resolutions between mid-2002 and mid-2005 (at least the ones I was able to find):

  • Torture
  • Health insurance
  • The Iraq war (a number of these)
  • The war in Afghanistan
  • Freedom to travel to Cuba
  • Workplace speech
  • Disinformation in the public sphere (this one was actually initiated by me)
  • Cultural democracy as a core value
  • Racist training materials used by the U.S. Military
  • ALA partnerships and sponsorships

This is a very partial list, but based on my own memory I think it gives a fair representation of the scope and proportion of SRRT’s resolutions. I personally agreed with a lot of these resolutions.

The resolution on disinformation, which had to do with Bush administration tactics, arose from a discussion within Action Council in which I complained that too many of SRRT’s resolutions were not directly related to library issues or even issues of information ethics in general. In answer to the question, “What do you propose we do instead?” I drafted an earlier, unused version of that resolution. Part of the fallout of that discussion was that some members of action Council began encouraging me to try the Intellectual Freedom Round Table as a better place to pursue my priorities.

Here is my own list, not exhaustive, of the kind of issues and topics that I would like to see addressed from a progressive perspective and in an organized way. Some of them concern intellectual freedom, but most do not. They could all be said to be in the realm of information ethics, and in most cases have a political angle that can be drawn out through a bit of intellectual work.

  • Privacy (of library users, web users, and citizens)
  • Copyright and the Open Access Movement
  • Workplace speech
  • Deprofessionalization and deskilling
  • Librarians’ pay and status
  • “Next generation library catalogs”
  • Cataloging trends
  • Market effects on intellectual freedom (media monopoly)
  • Academic Freedom
  • Internet filtering
  • Net neutrality
  • Information as a public good
  • Disinformation
  • Government secrecy
  • Privatization of information and information services
  • Trends favoring casual users over researchers
  • The dumbing down of culture and of educational institutions
  • Funding crises / library closings
  • The decline of publishing / changes in the publishing industry
  • Digitization as a funding priority
  • Conflict over the foundations of the library profession
  • Education 2.0 and critical thinking
  • Critical perspectives on multiple literacies and media shift
  • The digital divide
  • The literacy divide
  • The middle class bias of public libraries
  • Serving the underserved
  • Racism and sexism and libraries
  • Capitalism and trends in the information landscape
  • Library of Congress priorities
  • American Library Association priorities
  • OCLC priorities
  • Library education and the iSchools
  • Media, information overload, and the educational psychology of reading
  • Critical pedagogy and library instruction
  • Queer theory, information access, and information organization
  • Neutrality and advocacy
  • Bias in systems of information organization
  • The crisis in journalism and its meaning for the public sphere
  • Change in the nature of the public sphere
  • The digital preservation crisis
  • The role of local perspectives and local needs
  • Commercialization of libraries
  • Corporate funding (of libraries, of ALA)
  • Indigenous knowledge and Intellectual Freedom
  • Intellectual Freedom and hate literature/hate speech
  • Research standards in the profession / bias in research
  • Googlization
  • Google Books settlement

First, to be fair to the Progressive Librarians’ Guild, I should say that they have often done a better job than SRRT of addressing many of these big-picture issues. Also, to be fair to SRRT, I should mention that many SRRT members are not interested in the resolutions that SRRT Action Council passes and do their work within the issues-based Task Forces that are a part of SRRT, and I have not represented their activities here.

To me, the issues on the second list have as much urgency as the war in Afghanistan, and are within a sphere which we can claim as our own by virtue of being librarians. I would like to see SRRT do more to address these kinds of issues and less to address issues that are not related to libraries. That is not to say that ALA has “no business” addressing non-library issues. I think ALA has a right to talk about the war in Afghanistan and may see the need to make statements on such issues from time to time. But I don’t think it should ever be our primary focus, not when there are urgent matters to address within our own sphere. And just because these issues relate to our professional qualifications does not make them apolitical. Part of the point of addressing these issues from a political angle would be to demonstrate the ways in which our profession is tied up with politics in various ways.

So is this a call for action? I suppose I could make it one:

  • More issues of information ethics and information politics in SRRT
  • More talking and thinking and writing about these issues

As always, Library Juice Press is accepting manuscripts and book proposals

John Miedema’s LoC talk

John Miedema gave his talk at the Library of Congress the other day, and has posted his text and bibliography.

John is working on an interesting follow-up project to Slow Reading