Dan Kleinman is the man behind the SafeLibraries campaign, which opposes the American Library Association’s intellectual freedom efforts regarding challenged books in school libraries and classrooms. From Dan’s point of view, as many know, ALA is responsible for exposing children to sexually inappropriate materials. Dan agreed to an interview, which we conducted on Facebook chat. The interview follows, typos included:
RL: Hi, Dan, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed.
DK: Hi Rory, thanks.
RL: Also, I’d like to thank you for sending me the powerpoint to the talk you gave recently, which was sponsored by a local Tea Party group. In your talk, you shared a quotation from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War that I found very interesting, about how the key to winning a battle is knowing your enemy. This was the reason you gave for talking so much about ALA and the ACLU. There’s something I want to ask you about regarding that.
In talking about ALA, you accuse them of a lot of pretty bad things, including advising librarians to promote inappropriate materials, plagiarizing on a regular basis, whitewashing rape and blaming the victims, aiding and abetting pedophiles, wanting children to access pornography, and I could go on. In my experience in ALA, all of this is far from the truth. But even if it were, I think that in terms of “knowing the enemy” there is something missing, which is the motivation. So I wanted to ask you, what do you think ALA’s motivation is in all of this? Do you think we are all sex perverts or something?
DK: Setting aside the ALA’s OIF, the ALA is an outstanding organization and I included that in my talk. And I’ll be happy to talk anywhere–it’s just that a tea party was the first to invite me and follow through. I was previously invited to speak at a senior citizen’s center but it never happened.
As to the OIF, it is not so much that I accuse them of that. What I am really doing is reporting what they are actually doing and linking to the sources where people can see this for themselves.
As to the “sex perverts” issue, no, I do not think the OIF is motivating in that regard in any way.
RL: In your talk you do refer to the villain as the ALA, but we can talk about the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom if you prefer. Still, I wonder what you think their motivation is in doing what you say they have done?
DK: I was asked that very question by the media. I have no response for that. I simply do not know why the OIF wants children to access inappropriate material. As Will Manley puts it,
“the library profession is the only profession in the world that wants children to have access to pornography.” http://safelibraries.blogspot.com/2011/05/will-manley-outs-library-profession-as.html
Perhaps ask Will the same question.
RL: Okay… Staying on the same theme of motivation, I am interested in knowing more about you, and how you got into this campaign. Could you talk a bit about that?
DK: I detail how I got into this here: http://safelibraries.blogspot.com/2011/07/porn-and-sex-abuse-in-our-public.html
Basically, my kindergartner got an inappropriate book that was recommended by the ALA and given her by an ALA member librarian.
I began to investigate why and I haven’t stopped since.
RL: What was the book?
DK: Mangaboom, by Charlotte Pomerantz. It won a Caldecott Award.
RL: one sec, I’d like to look it up.
DK: Okay. In the meantime, I brought the book to the principal. SHE said the book was TWICE as bad as what I reported and SHE removed it from the library. I did not ask her to remove the book. She did that on her own.
RL: I just read the descriptions on the Amazon page for the book, and it doesn’t give any warning about inappropriate material. One of the books is from School Library Journal (not a part of ALA), and the other is from Booklist (which does come from ALA). Neither of these reviews indicates that there is anythign controversial in them. Two questions. First, what about the book is bad? And second, do you have an issue with Amazon for recommending the book to Kindergarten-age kids?
(By the way, Dan, just so that there is no question of unfairness, when I publish this interview I am going to leave in all the typos and mistakes.)
DK: She went skinny dipping on a blind date with three guys. Ooh la la, she said in a lusty voice. It had text like that.
As to book reviews, they are misleading. Again, that is not an accusation, rather, that is something I am reporting merely as the messenger. In this case, a school administrator said this:
“School Excoriates Book Reviews that Fail to Disclose ‘Graphic Sexual Details’ in Books for Children; Lush by Natasha Friend is ‘Wildly Inappropriate’ for Certain Children” http://safelibraries.blogspot.com/2010/12/school-excoriates-book-reviews-that.html
RL: Do you think there is honest disagreement about what is appropriate for kids of different ages?
And if Mangaboom is so inappropriate for kids, why do you think these major reviewers would be so irresponsible as to leave out any warning? Do you think they also are intentionally trying to expose children to sexually inappropriate materials?
DK: By the way, no book is “bad.” Bad books is not the issue. I support authors writing whatever they like, and my blog evidences that. The problem is the OIF’s actions vis-a-vis certain books.
As to whether there is honest disagreement, one merely needs look at the ALA to say yes. Regarding the book Push, by Sapphire, the ALA said the book was right for all ages on one ALA page (Teen Hoopla), and said the book was only for 11th graders and up on another ALA page. So the ALA disagrees with itself, and the ALA is in favor of “banning” the book from kids in 10th grade and below.
Would you like me to get the ala pages for you to prove this?
As to the Mangaboom issue you raise, it never even occurred to me what you are suggesting regarding publishers and/or major reviewers. Now that you are asking, no, they are not intentionally trying to expose children to sexually inappropriate materials.
RL: Okay, so then, why do you think they are so much less concerned about this issue than you are?
DK: Publishers? Reviewers? Why are they less concerned than me? I don’t know. They are not the problem.
RL: Okay, I’ll ask the same question regarding librarians (ALA member-librarians). Why do you think we are so much less concerned?
DK: Again, ALA member librarians are not the problem. The OIF is the problem. And the way the OIF enforces its diktat is the problem. See, for example, “3 Ways to Get Blackballed in the Library Profession,” by Will Manley, Will Unwound, #428, 26 April 2011. http://willmanley.com/2011/04/26/will-unwound-428-3-ways-to-get-blackballed-in-the-library-profession/
“Perhaps the most career limiting move that you could make in the library profession is to refuse to toe the line with the anything goes philosophy of the ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom.”
Again, Rory, I’m not accusing. I’m merely the messenger pointing out what others are saying. Then I have the nerve to speak about it.
By the way, I used to be an ALA member and only dropped out simply because I could no longer afford to remain a member.
RL: I find it curious that you should say that the publishers and reviewers of these books are not the problem, when these books are published for kids.
Authors, too, of course.
And I will just add as a bit of information – in my experience in ALA, the vast majority of members support what the Office for Intellectual Freedom does. In fact, if they didn’t support it, they would change it, since it is a member-controlled organization.
But there is genuine disagreement about these books, including within ALA, certainly.
As for pointing out what others are saying, I have not heard anyone else say that ALA OIF is guilty of “advising librarians to promote inappropriate materials,” “plagiarizing on a regular basis,” “whitewashing rape and blaming the child victim,” “aiding and abetting pedophiles,” etc.
DK: As to authors? They can and should write whatever they like without any limitation at all.
Publishers and reviewers can do a better job in providing such information, true, but their job is to sell books, and they are selling books, and salesmen generally don’t announce the warts, so I see no problem with salesman selling books.
The problem is the OIF. It advises, correctly, that parents are responsible for book selection. At the same time, it makes recommendations for parents that do not provide accurate information. So when those parents actually do get involved, and when they trust the ALA for a list of reading material, they end up being misled, and, for example, their 12 year old ends up reading a graphic description of oral sex.
RL: Did your 12 year old read a graphic description of oral sex?
Sorry, that is was an unfair question.
Of course not – you are very careful about what your child is exposed to. That is very clear.
DK: If others are not reporting on the ALA’s misdeeds, that is not my fault. I admit I am on the leading edge in this regard.
Sometimes, however, people do finally say what I have been noting. I have been noting, for example, that Banned Books Week is propaganda. Recently, you yourself made the same observation, likely for a different reason, but the same observation nevertheless. http://libraryjuicepress.com/blog/?p=3019
RL: I do have a problem with Banned Books Week, but you’re right, it’s for a different kind of reason.
I don’t have quite the same problem with children and teens being exposed to books that have sexual subject matter, when it is presented at a level that is appropriate.
I’m really interested in the fact that people have such different ideas about what is appropriate for kids.
DK: “[W]hen it is presented at a level that is appropriate.” Bingo!
RL: People clearly disagree about what is appropriate. Right?
So I’m interested in why you are so concerned about this, why you have made this issue the focus of your life, where others are less concerned or have much more liberal ideas about what is appropriate.
DK: The issue is NOT what is appropriate. The issue is how and why the OIF misleads local communities on a number of issues, and as a result people are being harmed in a manner that would not have occurred but for the OIF’s intervention.
RL: The fact that your child was exposed to Mangaboom doesn’t seem like a complete explanation, because many parents saw that book and didn’t worry about the way you did. For you it was an outrage that your child would be exposed to it at school. Right?
DK: No. At first it was surprise. I brought it to the principal. She said it was twice what I reported. She removed it. Not me. I did not ask her to do that. That is what started me on this issue. Similar incidents is what starts other people similarly.
Was I outraged later, after learning it was a book recommended by the ALA? Perhaps, depending on the meaning of outrage.
RL: What I’m trying to get at is the fact that you are especially sensitive to the problem of children being exposed to sexually oriented materials. I doubt that Mangaboom has been removed from most school libraries, because most parents don’t have a problem with it. You may have an insight into the effects of exposure to sex-related material on children that most people lack. I don’t know. But I can’t let it go without remarking on it that you are very sensitive to this issue, and that your campaign, your life’s work, is based on this concern you have. At the same time, developmental psychologists are hardly at the forefront of your campaign; on the contrary, they are often authors or advisors to authors of books for young people that address sexual subjects.
So I wonder, how do you define what is appropriate?
DK: What I define as appropriate is irrelevant, except as it pertains to my own local issues. As I said before regarding Push, even the ALA has divergent views on what is appropriate.
Now If I seem unusually sensitive to the issue, that is simply because it became clear to me that children hurt by the ALA cannot fight back themselves and are not even aware of the problem. As a result, the negative effects of the OIF spread without so much as a whimper. So I am standing up for the most innocent in our society. I don’t see a problem in that. I am asking why it has to be this way that the OIF acts the way it does. It doesn’t. And I’m doing something about it. And I am showing others what they can do about it. But the first step is to become aware that it is even an issue in the first place.
RL: It is an issue to you, that is clear. But to take the case of Mangaboom, which is the book that you say got you started, I think most parents would not see an issue. So do you think most parents don’t understand something about kids that you understand?
Sorry, I can see that that is an unfair question.
Clearly, as you see it, ALA is out-of-step with most parents. Is that right?
DK: No. Again that is not the issue. I am not the issue. I have no special “insight into the effects of exposure to sex-related material on children that most people lack.”
I simply saw something wrong in some out of state organization pushing material on my child that the principal removed from the library for being inappropriate. Then I simply acted on that. Had the OIF not acted in a manner that put that book in my child’s hands, we would not even be having this conversation. I am not the issue. The OIF is.
Ah! After I answered that I see you added a few sentences. So yes, it is the ALA, really the OIF, that is out of step, and I can link to a number of librarians saying exactly that.
Dean Marney, for example, talks about ALA “dogma.” http://tinyurl.com/ALADogma
RL: So, that would prove that they are out of step with a number of librarians. It can be really hard to know what the majority of Americans think, even with well-designed polls. But let’s say that ALA had not been involved and these books had ended up in the library, what then? It seems likely enough, given that publishers, reviewers, authors, and parents who buy the book support them in the marketplace.
What would be the focus of your campaign then?
DK: “It can be really hard to know what the majority of Americans think, even with well-designed polls.”
Well, the OIF says anything goes in public schools.
In contrast, a recent Harris Poll says the exact opposite: “Most Oppose Explicit Books in Public Schools Says Harris Poll” http://tinyurl.com/MostOpposeExplicitBooks
That’s pretty clear evidence the OIF is out of step with the public.
If the OIF were not involved, and this were happening merely as a matter of market forces, then I would not have the concerns I do now. SafeLibraries addresses the OIF, not market forces.
RL: Again, at issue is the definition of what is explicit, what is appropriate or not. The Harris Poll might not apply to many of the books you object to, like Mangaboom for example. And unfortunately it does seem to be very difficult to discuss where the lines should be drawn, and for what developmental reasons.
Ok, thanks for your explanation regarding market forces.
This interview has gotten to be long, and I’m not sure there is more ground that we are going to be successful in covering.
DK: That may be your issue, namely the definition of appropriate reading material, but it is not mine. You see, that decision gets to be made by local communities, not by me.
I address the OIF and the harm it may be doing in local communities. Like the library employees being harassed in Birmingham, AL. Like the toddler raped in a public library bathroom in Des Moines, IA, as a result of ALA policy, something that did not come to light until I got directly involved. Please consider asking me questions along those lines.
Okay, then thank you for this opportunity to speak with you on these important issues. I will be happy to speak with you again in the future. And hello to Library Juice readers!
RL: Thanks very much, Dan! I think this was an enlightening interview.
DK: Yes, thank you.
Not to start grandiosely or anything, but I’ve been thinking about philosophies of librarianship as well the current state of the profession.
Some time ago I read a little online commentary about the people who get into librarianship as a calling that happens also to be a career, versus those who just treat it as a career. I think I approach it as a calling but not a career, which I guess makes me the most annoying of all. When I first got the idea to become a librarian, it was out of a love of books and reading and the space of a library. Then, in the few years between college and library school, I started thinking about the role of libraries in civic life and how crucial a non-commercial venue for self-education and some kinds of recreation is in society. So becoming a public librarian was a political as well as a vocational choice. Now, after almost nine years on the front lines of the same urban public library system, I’m in a new grant-funded position that will end in mid-2013, and it feels (and may be) that my life – career included – will change dramatically when I fall off that particular cliff. Enough about me.
So, what is the status of the profession, at least as I see it from my little corner of public librarianship? My personal assessment has been that there are three main areas of service. First, we are an access point for books and other materials – mostly physical, though that of course is evolving. We are a repository of stuff. Second, we are a cultural and community venue. We host author talks, book discussions, art exhibits, children’s storytimes, teen gaming programs, and so on. Third, we are an educational institution. And this is the area in which I think we need the most improvement, and also where I see the most hope for the profession.
People don’t really view public librarians as educators. Can we at least claim to be some kind of information expert? Well, not necessarily. Listen to this, from an ally: “I’ve read many times that librarians know how to find the most authoritative sources. Based on my experience & observations, that claim is wearing thin. [...] Of public librarians, I’d say many, many are overwhelmed and not any more equipped to sort and sift information than an average intelligent patron.” (Hey, we can be like the “computer expert” in the great xkcd cartoon.)
So it’s not as simple as trying to be “better” than a search engine, or, oh god, being a “cybrarian” (the bus between NYC and Montreal goes through a town whose library actually has a big sign in the window advertising their helpful cybrarians). There are conversations taking place in my library about our current vision, and at the forefront of many colleagues’ minds is the concept of the public library – us! – as a space for learning. I’m happy about that, just as I really like the idea of the library as a “fourth place,” a place for social learning, that Paul Signorelli and others have been talking about lately.
“Facilitating autodidacticism” was a phrase that popped up in the live chat during Char Booth’s “Trends in Library Training and Learning” presentation, as one of the purposes of a librarian. I loved that, and I also think that we need to remember that the patron’s goal is not the finding – the part that we most obviously assist with - but the doing. We’re part of that progression to get the patron to what he or she actually wants to do or be. As one of my favorite librarian thinkers, Laura Crossett, recently put it, “People talk a great deal about how libraries are great socialist institutions, and I think that’s true. But I want them to be great anarchist institutions, too: places where we face each other not as supplicant and benefactor but as people with different skills involved in mutual aid, both trying, in our fumbling way, to build a better world.”
And the library itself needs to encourage an atmosphere of autodidacticism among its staff. We need to think critically about what we’re doing, and why, and we can’t think that more academic measures such as, say, pedagogical theories are not pertinent to our work. Part of the problem, I think, is that public libraries are so dependent on circulation and other quantitative measures to demonstrate our worth, and also legislators and other funders tend to have a pretty simplistic view of the “digital divide.” It’s easy to lose sight of the more nebulous, less numbers-friendly things, but that’s where the intellectual rigor and integrity of the profession is located.
I mean, I’ve experienced many of the hallmarks of public librarianship – having strange conversations with children, getting hit on, getting cursed at, cleaning up vomit – and depending on my mood I’m happy to share these anecdotes with you and hear about yours. But we can’t forget to also aim higher – yes, dealing with the public can be weird and frustrating and makes for good anecdotes. But let’s think too about the public sphere and the collective good and what our responsibility is here. And let’s consider the problems with an overly broad definition of “neutrality” in our field. After all, we live in a society where, as Karen Coyle observed, “The information access gap between a university researcher and the average person on the street is immense. We have an information elite that, like most elites, considers its position to be earned, just, and reasonable.” How is the public library, serving as we do “the average person on the street,” addressing this situation?
Some more inspiring philosophy, from the Library Loon: “Libraries and librarians have duties that extend beyond their local patron bases. Collectively, we are the voice of the poor, the young, and those desirous of learning, in societies that prefer to ignore or exploit those voices.” That last part is key. This isn’t an argument about how librarians need to be social workers, or whatever, in addition to everything else. It’s about acknowledging that the status quo is oppressive to many. And that being neutral supports the status quo. Despite the shifting landscape of our profession, amid the changing technology and content containers, we library workers need to believe that our role is to enable not only individual but also collective education and – why not? – a more just society.