August 28, 2011

My problem with Banned Books Week

Some of my colleagues in the Progressive Librarians Guild used to complain that Banned Books Week was an unfortunate distraction from the greater problem of a propagandistic media system. I shared that view and still do, but it is not the objection that I want to explain today.

My problem with Banned Books Week is one that is probably shared by some conservatives, and it has to do with the loose definition of what a “banned book” is, and what a “challenged book” is. Over time, as I have come to understand my own politics better, I have realized that what I care about is rational discourse as the basis for a democratic society. In rational discourse, as I see it, it is important to be clear about what you are actually saying, to ask critical questions with a patience for detail, and to reject strategic communication and to minimize rhetoric. The Banned Books Week project, well-intended as it may be, is a propaganda exercise that fails to model good standards for democratic communication.

Here is what I mean.

The history of book banning is a history of inspiring stories, stories of mass suppression of ideas, copies of books collected so that they can be burned, publishers incarcerated, often ultimately to no avail as the power of an idea proved greater than the power of the state or of a fascistic party. Book banning, good people agree, should be fought against, and is a source of inspiration to fight for what is right. Banned Books Week taps into people’s response to these historical narratives and aims to prevent the suppression of ideas from recurring. A noble intention and a narrative resource.

The problem that I see with Banned Books Week is that what counts as a “banned book” is actually a “challenged book,” and what counts as a challenged book is something quite different from an effort to prevent a book from being published, sold, or even made available in a library. Most of the cases of challenged books that are reported as a part of Banned Books Week are cases where a parent of a child objects to a book being a part of their child’s school curriculum, or at other times in the school’s library, on the grounds of “age appropriateness.” Defenders of intellectual freedom, to my dismay, have an unwritten policy of never addressing the question of age appropriateness, leaving it as an unstated assumption that anything selected for the curriculum by educators as opposed to by parents is automatically age-appropriate, as though educators are incapable of error.

School districts have policies in place for reviewing challenges to books on the basis of age-appropriateness. Challenged books are reviewed and evaluated by committees that are charged with that responsibility, and then the school district makes an official decision regarding the book. Regardless of what the school’s decision turns out to be, regardless of its reasonableness or unreasonableness, and regardless of the objectivity or bias within the decision-making process in a specific case, all challenges to a book by a parent get counted as an attempt at book banning.

Personally, I agree with intellectual freedom orthodoxy that says that one family should not have the right to determine what other students are taught, and this is part of what public education is. But when a book is challenged and reviewed on the grounds of age-appropriateness, it is ultimately not the family that brought the challenge that makes the decision. The decision is made by the educational institution itself. We can hope that more often than not these decisions are well-informed and based more on educational psychology than they are on pressure from an ideological community group. They may not always be. But the decision about whether a book should remain a part of the curriculum or not is ultimately made by the public institution that put the book in the curriculum in the first place, which means that book challenges happen as a part of a process that the institution puts in place in order to get feedback from the community on the curriculum. (In some other areas, we on the left are fighting for more opportunities to influence local policies to meet local needs.)

What I want to emphasize about this is that the “book banning” that is the subject of Banned Books Week is not book banning as we understand it historically but part of the cultural fight over the school curriculum. Now, I am prepared to fight hard to keep rationality and science and humanism in the school curriculum, against the theocrats who seem to be making incredible progress in rolling back not only 20th century liberalism but the values behind the Constitution itself (i.e. secular democracy). But in fighting that fight over the curriculum, what I am ultimately fighting for is rational discourse as opposed to irrationality. If I give up basic standards of rational discourse and resort to strategic communication and propaganda… well, as we said about Al Qaida during the debate over the PATRIOT Act: “They have won.”

July 15, 2011

Alison M. Lewis new Chief Acquisitions Editor for Library Juice Press

Litwin Books
PO Box 3320
Duluth, MN 55803

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Subject: Library Juice Press announces appointment of Alison M. Lewis, Ph.D. as Chief Acquisitions Editor.

Duluth, MN — July 15, 2011.

Library Juice Press, publisher of “books for librarians with a critical edge,” is proud to announce the recruitment of Alison M. Lewis, a library science professor and academic librarian, as Chief Acquisitions Editor for the imprint.

Dr. Lewis has her doctorate in English Literature from Temple University, and M.L.S. and M.A. degrees from Florida State University. She has been teaching courses in Drexel University’s Library and Information Science program since 2004. She worked as a professional librarian in academic and specialized/research settings from 1984 until 2007, when she was hired as a full-time faculty member in the iSchool at Drexel. Further qualifying her for her new role at Library Juice Press is her professional service to the library community, which has included leadership roles on the Progressive Librarians Guild’s Coordinating Committee, the Social Responsibilities Round Table’s Action Council, and various local and regional library and archival groups. In the background of these contributions has been her long experience in the Quaker community and the application of its ideals. Dr. Lewis is the editor of the 2008 book from Library Juice Press, Questioning Library Neutrality: Essays from Progressive Librarian.

Library Juice Press is an imprint of Litwin Books, LLC specializing in theoretical and practical issues in librarianship from a critical perspective, for an audience of professional librarians and students of library science. Among the topics covered by our publications are library philosophy, information policy, library activism, biography, and critical approaches to LIS topics covered elsewhere.

Litwin Books is an independent academic publisher of books about media, communication and the cultural record. We are interdisciplinary in scope and gather together works from a range of disciplines, including media studies, communication studies, information studies, philosophy of technology, philosophy of information, archival studies, communications history, history of archives and libraries, and related fields.

Press contact:
Rory Litwin
Litwin Books
PO Box 3320
Duluth, MN 55803
http://litwinbooks.com/

March 5, 2011

Miriam Braverman Memorial Prize – Call for Submissions (student paper contest)

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS

Are you an LIS student interested in activism and the struggle for social justice? Do you stay awake at night thinking about how your politics might inform your professional practice?

The MIRIAM BRAVERMAN MEMORIAL PRIZE, a presentation of the Progressive Librarians Guild (PLG), is awarded each year for the best paper about some aspect of the social responsibilities of librarians, libraries, or librarianship. Papers related to archivists, archives, and archival work are also eligible.

The winning paper will be published in the Summer 2011 issue of Progressive Librarian. The winner of the contest will also receive a $300 stipend to help offset the cost of travel to and from the 2011 American Library Association (ALA)annual conference in New Orleans, LA. The award will be presented at the annual PLG dinner at ALA.

Think you might be interested? Here’s the fine print.

1. Contestants must be library and/or information science students attending a graduate-level program in the United States or Canada.

2. Entries must be the original, unpublished work of the contestant, and must be written in English. Entries may not exceed 3,000 words, and must conform to MLA in-text citation style.

3. To facilitate the blind review process, each entry must include a cover sheet providing the contestant’s name, full contact information (address, phone number, e-mail address), name of the institution where the contestant is enrolled, and the title of the paper. No identifying information, other than the title, should appear on the paper itself.

4. Entries must be submitted electronically, in Microsoft Word or RTF format, to bravermansubmissions@gmail.com. Entries must be received no later than 5:00 p.m. CST on May 1, 2011.

5. The $300 stipend is available only to help defray the cost of ALA conference attendance in 2011; if the winner of the contest is unable to attend, the money will remain in the Braverman Prize endowment fund and may be donated to a progressive cause at the discretion of the selection committee.

Any questions regarding the contest or the selection process can be directed to the co-chair of the selection committee, Steve Lorenz at stevelorz@gmail.com or Sarah Clark at sclark@windwardschool.org. More information about Miriam Braverman and about the Progressive Librarians Guild is available at http://libr.org/plg.

June 2, 2010

2010 Braverman Prize Winner

June 1, 2010
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Miriam Braverman Memorial Prize Winner Announced

(University of Oregon, Eugene, OR) The Progressive Librarians Guild is pleased to announce the winner of the 2010 Miriam Braverman Memorial Prize. This year’s prize has been awarded to Kristen Hogan for her essay entitled ‚ “‘Breaking Secrets’ in the Catalog: Proposing the Black Queer Studies Collection at the University of Texas at Austin.” Ms. Hogan is currently enrolled in the Master of Science in Information Studies (MSIS) program at the University of Texas at Austin School of Information; she expects to graduate August 2010.

An honorable mention goes to Steven Lorenz, School of Library and Information Sciences, North Carolina Central University, for his paper, “The Finer Points of Librarianship: Does a Basic Policy Impede Library Access?.” Lorenz’s essay makes a strong argument against library fines, identifying ways in which they can serve as a barrier to library resources, even for patrons who do not currently owe any.

Essays were submitted by library and information science students from colleges and universities in the United States and Canada. Their papers considered such subjects as open access publishing and meeting the information needs of many populations including adult learners and LGBTQ teens. Ms. Hogan’s essay will be published in the forthcoming issue of Progressive Librarian, the journal published by the Progressive Librarians Guild. She will also receive a $300 stipend for attendance at the 2010 American Library Association’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C., and an award certificate at the PLG annual dinner on June 26, 2010.

The Miriam Braverman Memorial Prize is awarded annually for the best essay written by a student of library/information science on an aspect of the social responsibilities of librarians, libraries or librarianship. The prize is named in honor of Miriam Braverman (1920-2002), an activist librarian who was a longstanding member of the Progressive Librarians Guild and a founder of the American Library Association’s Social Responsibilities Round Table. She was a strong proponent of the social responsibilities perspective within librarianship and an inspiration to younger librarians entering the field.

The Progressive Librarians Guild (PLG) was founded in 1990 and is committed to supporting activist librarians and monitoring the professional ethics of librarianship from a perspective of social responsibility. For more information, visit the Guild’s website at: http://libr.org/PLG/

June 2, 2009

2009 Miriam Braverman Prize Winner Announced

Announcement that went to PLGnet-L this morning:

The Progressive Librarians Guild is pleased to announce the winner of the 2009 Miriam Braverman Memorial Prize. Sarah Clark has been awarded the prize for her essay entitled “Marketing the Library? Why Librarians Should Focus on Stewardship and Advocacy.” Ms. Clark is currently enrolled in the Department of Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles in Los Angeles, CA.

Clark’s essay was one of many submitted by library and information science students from colleges and universities throughout the United States and Canada. Their papers considered such subjects as the alternative press, U.S. government secrecy, and women’s compositions in digital libraries. Ms. Clark’s essay will be published in the forthcoming issue of Progressive Librarian, the biannual journal published by the Progressive Librarians Guild (PLG). Clark will also receive a $300 stipend to offset the cost of travel to the American Library Association’s annual conference in Chicago, IL, and an award certificate at the PLG annual dinner.

“When researching this paper,” said Clark, “it dawned on me that public libraries are unique precisely because of their public status. The fact that these libraries are publicly owned and funded reflects their democratic foundations, which are too often overlooked.”

The Miriam Braverman Memorial Prize is awarded annually for the best essay written by a student of library and information science on an aspect of the social responsibilities of librarians, libraries or librarianship. The prize is named in honor of Miriam Braverman (1920-2002), an activist librarian who was a longstanding member of the Progressive Librarians Guild and a founder of the American Library Association’s Social Responsibilities Round Table. She was a strong proponent of the social responsibilities perspective within librarianship and an inspiration to younger librarians entering the field.

The Progressive Librarians Guild was founded in 1990 and is committed to supporting activist librarians and monitoring the professional ethics of librarianship from a perspective of social responsibility. For more information, visit the PLG website at http://libr.org/plg.

May 12, 2009

PLG statement on Elsevier’s fake journals

Progressive Librarians Guild Calls for Elsevier to End Corrupt Publishing Practices and for Library Associations to Take Advocacy Role on Behalf of Scientific Integrity

http://libr.org/plg/elsevier.php

Progressive Librarians Guild. May 12, 2009.

Elsevier, which describes itself as the “world’s leading publisher of scientific and health information,” was partner to the efforts of Merck & Co. to promote a hazardous drug that caused harm to the health of many unwitting victims and compromised the medical judgment of physicians worldwide. (1)

The scandal involving Elsevier (2) has surfaced in the course of a class-action suit against pharmaceutical giant, Merck & Co, Inc., for continuing to sell its anti-inflammatory drug, Vioxx, after it became aware of the drug’s potential cardiovascular risks. Merck paid Excerpta Medica, a division of Elsevier, to publish a compilation of reprinted articles as a fake journal, the Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine (AJBJM), to appear as a legitimate, scholarly peer reviewed medical journal, the type that Elsevier publishes. AJBJM carried articles about Vioxx without disclosure that the publication was sponsored by Merck itself as part of its efforts to continue to promote its very profitable but increasingly questionable and dangerous anti-inflammatory. Elsevier, in publishing and distributing this bogus journal, was partner to the efforts of Merck to promote a hazardous drug that caused harm to the health of many unwitting victims and compromised the medical judgment of physicians worldwide.

Elsevier has apologized for its publication of AJBJM, stating that in publishing the fake journal it did not meet its own criteria for “high standards for disclosure.” PLG asserts that the matter of AJBJM was not just an accidental editorial error on the part of Elsevier. It was a money-making business using the reputation of Elsevier to leverage deceptive pharmaceutical industry marketing of a harmful product. In fact a total of six titles in a “series of sponsored article publications” were put out by their Australia office and bore the Excerpta Medica imprint from 2000 to 2005. (3).

The Progressive Librarians Guild believes it is the responsibility of librarians and their organizations to expose the conspiracy between Merck and Elsevier to distort medical research and subvert the peer review process. If it is not the responsibility of information professionals, what does it mean to say that we are advocates for our user-communities? This type of corporate PR packaged and distributed as scientific research must be denounced as deceptive, destructive and dangerous, in spite of our profession’s intimate and unavoidable connections with Elsevier, one of the library world’s biggest vendors and a major corporate supporter of the American Library Association and the Medical Library Association. Can librarians responsibly turn a blind eye to the company’s betrayal of the trust of those whose interests we help safeguard?

The American Library Association, specifically the Social Responsibilities Round Table (SRRT), must demand that Elsevier be transparent about its editorial policies and practices that corrupt the research process and the information environment. ALA and other library organizations, such as the Medical Library Association, must insist that Elsevier and its divisions reveal all covert corporate involvements in sponsored pseudo-scholarship, especially the role of MECCs (medical education and communication companies), which are paid to “ghostwrite” disingenuous articles. Elsevier must commit itself to ending such activity and must apply consistent standards of research integrity and transparency commensurate to the key role many of its fields of publication play in spheres affecting the public interest.

The Progressive Librarians Guild decries the distortion and abuse of research and science by corporate greed exemplified by Elsevier and Merck, and calls upon librarians to educate the public and researchers about all instances of collusion of academic and scholarly publishing with profit-making business entities in palming-off corporate propaganda through deceptive publishing practices, which debase scholarship and science, conspire against the public interest, and pollute the well of genuine scholarly information and communication.

(1) Bob Grant, “Merck published fake journal,” The Scientist 30th April 2009.

(2) *Elsevier, which describes itself as the “world’s leading publisher of scientific and health information,” is a division of Reed-Elsevier, a major global publisher of scientific, professional, and business journals (the parent company includes RBI-US which owns Library Journal, one of the foremost professional journals in the field of librarianship). Recently, the company’s involvement in the global arms trade as a major organizer of international arms fairs made it the target of a successful international corporate campaign – the firm reluctantly divested itself of the business – which called into question Elsevier’s corporate ethics. See “Reed Elsevier and the arms trade revisited.” By Pelly M, Gilmore I. Lancet. 2007 Mar 24; 369 (9566):987; discussion 989-90.

(3) Bob Grant, “Elsevier Published 6 Fake Journals.” The Scientist, May 7, 2009.

April 15, 2009

Franklin Rosemont has passed on

The following obituary for Franklin Rosemont was written by Séamas Cain, a writer I know here in the Duluth, Minnesota area.

Franklin Rosemont, surrealist poet, artist, historian, street speaker, & labor activist, died of an aneurysm on Sunday, April 12th in Chicago, Illinois. He was 65 years old. With his partner & comrade, Penelope Rosemont, & lifelong friend Paul Garon, he co-founded the Chicago Surrealist Group, a remarkable presence in the art & activism landscape of Chicago for forty years.

Rosemont did not separate scholarship from art, or art from political & social revolt. His books of poetry include “The morning of a machine gun” (Chicago : Surrealist Editions, 1968); “The apple of the automatic zebra’s eye” (Cambridge, Massachusetts : Radical America, 1971); “Lamps hurled at the stunning algebra of ants” (Chicago : Surrealist Editions & Black Swan Press, 1990); & “Penelope” (Chicago : Surrealist Editions, 1997).

Rosemont was a leading figure in the reorganization of America’s oldest labor press, the Charles H. Kerr Company. Under the mantle of the Kerr Company, Franklin edited & printed the work of some of the most interesting & important figures in the development of the political left: C.L.R. James, Martin Glaberman, Staughton Lynd, David Dellinger, Cornelius Castoriadis, Sam Dolgoff, Paul Goodman, Grace Lee Boggs, Paul Avrich, Augustin Souchy, Mother Jones, Lucy Parsons, Benjamin Péret, Utah Phillips, Paul Buhle, T-Bone Slim, George Woodcock, and, in a new book released just days before Franklin’s death, Carl Sandburg. In later years, Franklin Rosemont created & edited the Surrealist Histories series at the University of Texas Press, in addition to continuing his work with the Kerr Company & Black Swan Press.

Franklin Rosemont was a friend & valued colleague of such persons as Studs Terkel, Mary Low, the poets Philip Lamantia, Diane di Prima, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Dennis Brutus, the painter Leonora Carrington, & the historians David Roediger, John Bracey, & Robin D.G. Kelley.

I first encountered Franklin Rosemont face-to-face during the Chicago protests of August 1968. Then & since, I found him to be an amazing blend of contradictions, at once cordial yet cantankerous, amiable yet dismissive, spontaneous & enthusiastic yet grim, social yet unmistakably self-absorbed, creative yet singularly overpowering. Indeed, he was a unique personality.

My condolences & solidarity to Penelope Rosemont, the Chicago group & its affiliates.

Séamas Cain
http://alazanto.org/seamascain
http://seamascain.writernetwork.com
http://www.mnartists.org/Seamas_Cain


Elaine Harger, co-founder of the Progressive Librarians Guild, had this to add on the PLG listserv:

Franklin and Penelope Rosemont are tied to PLG’s story in that they organized PLG’s first outing at an ALA conference. They gave us a tour of the Waldheim Cemetary in Chicago, burial place of many leftists. We have a photo of PLGers with the Rosemonts standing in front of the monument erected to the Haymarket Martyrs. Here is a picture of the monument:
http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/6380.html

The Alternative Press Center is organizing a presentation by Paul Buhle, a friend of Franklins, for this summer’s ALA conference. Perhaps PLG can do something to remember Franklin. He and Kerr publishers have “kept the flame alive” for many years.

February 16, 2009

Braverman Prize – Call for Papers

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS

Are you an LIS student interested in activism and the struggle for social justice? Do you stay awake at night thinking about how your politics might inform your professional practice?

The MIRIAM BRAVERMAN MEMORIAL PRIZE, a presentation of the Progressive Librarians Guild (PLG), is awarded each year for the best paper about some aspect of the social responsibilities of librarians, libraries, or librarianship. Papers related to archivists, archives, and archival work are also eligible.

The winning paper will be published in the Summer 2009 issue of Progressive Librarian. The winner of the contest will also receive a $300 stipend to help offset the cost of travel to and from the 2009 American Library Association annual conference in Chicago, IL. The award will be presented at the annual PLG dinner.

Think you might be interested? Here’s the fine print.

1. Contestants must be library and/or information science students attending a graduate-level program in the United States or Canada.

2. Entries must be the original, unpublished work of the contestant, and must be written in English. Entries may not exceed 3,000 words, and must conform to MLA in-text citation style.

3. To facilitate the blind review process, each entry must include a cover sheet providing the contestant’s name, full contact information (address, phone number, e-mail address), name of the institution where the contestant is enrolled, and the title of the paper. No identifying information, other than the title, should appear on the paper itself.

4. Entries must be submitted electronically, in Microsoft Word or RTF format, to bravermansubmissions@gmail.com. Entries must be received no later than 5:00 p.m. CST on May 1, 2009.

5. The $300 stipend is available only to help defray the cost of ALA conference attendance; if the winner of the contest is unable to attend, the money will remain in the Braverman Prize endowment fund and may be donated to a progressive cause at the discretion of the selection committee.

Any questions regarding the contest or the selection process can be directed to the chair of the selection committee, Marcel LaFlamme, at mlaflamme@indycc.edu. More information about Miriam Braverman and about the Progressive Librarians Guild is available at http://libr.org/plg .

July 27, 2008

On the past, present, and future of PLG

This is a very long post and one that I think some people will wish I had simply sent to the PLG listserv instead of putting it here before the world. I have chosen to post it here because 1) I think that it is a more effective way of getting the issues that I am addressing to actually be dealt with; 2) discussion in the comments on a blog tends to be a lot more civil than on our listserv, because of its public nature; and 3) because as a blog posting it will have surer footing in the historical record than would an email message.

So here we go…

The Progressive Librarians Guild (PLG) has been in existence as an activist organization in librarianship since the early 1990s. Most librarians who know of it know certain things about it: it is associated with certain individuals who are its founders and spokespeople; it publishes the journal Progressive Librarian; it is the sponsor of a number of student chapters at library schools that are doing some exciting activist and educational projects; it periodically makes official statements of the organization’s positions; it has a meeting and a dinner at ALA conferences; it has a socialist perspective, making it ideologically stronger and more specific than ALA/SRRT on many library issues; and membership in the organization is the basically the same as being a subscriber to the journal. Many also know that for the past few years PLG has attempted to formalize its structure in a way that provides for some democratic control by members and some transparency. A Coordinating Committee now exists that has PLG members on it as well as the founders and other editors of the journal, and official guidelines exist for the organization, centering on this committee.

This post will take you beyond these basic facts into some hot territory regarding the tension within PLG between two imperatives: the need to be a democratic organization with member representation in decision making, and the need to maintain the group’s original, specific socialist orientation and purposive nature (referred to at the end of the page giving the composition of the Coordinating Committee as the “original programmatic compact,” but not recorded anywhere so much as understood).

Stated in these terms, the conflict between these two imperatives in PLG sounds abstract, like it might manifest primarily in furrowed brows as the leadership ruminates on how to balance them. In fact, the way the tension has come to the surface within the Coordinating Committee and at membership meetings has been anything but calm and thoughtful; it has manifested in the form of conflicts between people in different ways, sometimes very heated and painful, and sometimes bound up in ego, as the imperative of protecting the group’s political purity is held important by people who think they are right and others wrong, and is pursued in practice through individuals’ efforts to maintain control. A half a dozen people (including myself) have resigned from the Coordinating Committee as a result of the frustration created by the conflicts stemming from this situation. (They were replaced quietly, with an invitation for volunteers that went under the radar of most people and did not result in an election.)

This post is my attempt, as a former member of the Coordinating Committee and journal editorial board, and a present member of PLG and subscriber to the journal, to lay out some of the details and history of this situation from my own perspective, and to say a bit about what I think should happen. I will be talking about specific individuals in the course of it. This will not go over well with them, although I hope it will be clear to readers that I am attempting to be fair and accurate.

While at times I may highlight the issue of the leadership’s desire to maintain personal control of the organization, I want to be clear from the outset that I believe that they have a legitimate and compelling interest in preserving the socialist, activist character of the organization. PLG was founded for certain specific reasons and based on certain ideas, and the specific character of PLG is, in my mind, what has made it so valuable over the years. It is an organization that has managed to maintain a lot of consistency, and is a force that pushes in a specific direction. The founders may appear to have too much of a sense of ownership to members who join the Coordinating Committee with an assumption of democratic decision making, but what looks from the outside like simply a desire to control is felt by the longtime leadership as intense caring and concern for the organization and an intense desire for it to continue to exist and be effective as the socialist force that they originally intended. While the ethic of democracy says that multiple perspectives should be included, the major source of PLG’s value has been that it has a perspective. (Here I should admit that PLG has always considered itself to be non-doctrinal and non-sectarian, but within certain socialist bounds.)

At this point I should explain that I don’t mean to say that there is an inherent conflict between socialism and democracy, because I don’t think there is. The conflict is between the desire to maintain a specific direction (it could be any specific direction) while opening up the organization through a democratic structure.

So the imperatives that are in conflict within PLG are, in my opinion, both as legitimate as can be. It is also a conflict that seems to be built into the heart of political movements in general, and has been repeated innumerable times in different contexts. (Historians of political movements are especially invited to comment.)

Some History

I’m able to tell you about what has happened in PLG from 1997, since that is the year I joined and became involved. When I joined, the leadership of PLG was equivalent to the editorial board of the journal, which was a small group consisting of most of PLG’s founding members and one or two others. I can’t give the dates or years when Henry Blanke left the board or when Lincoln Cushing or Kathleen McCook joined, or when I first officially joined the board, first as review editor and then as full editor; my memory for dates is poor. But over the years that I was involved there has been some turnover on the editorial board – never a great amount, but some. The thing I find important to point out about that is that when we added people to the editorial board it was by consensus of the group and by invitation. I see nothing wrong with that process for the purpose of constituting an editorial board, but it becomes significant in terms of the governance structure of PLG, as you will see.

During these years before we created the Coordinating Committee, PLG was completely informal as an organization; in fact, it was so informal that to apply the term “organization” to PLG was to perpetuate a fiction. But call it an organization we did, and there was a reason for it. We counted subscribers to the journal as members of the organization, and being a membership organization gave weight to our pronouncements. (I personally see great value to formal organizations and even to the bureaucratic structures that are often necessary to provide them with a democratic process; I’m a little out of step with my own generation in this.) Giving ourselves a name that implied that what we said mattered would seem a little empty if we couldn’t give an account of our membership. In practice, our members remained members based on what we offered in the journal and what we said publicly. In this sense, there has always been a degree of accountability to members; they could always cease to be members if they didn’t like what we said or did. On the other hand, we counted anyone as a member who subscribed to the journal (personal membership/subscription now requires agreement with PLG’s principles).

For most of the time period that I was actively involved in PLG, none of the leadership, and few if any of the members (or subscribers), if I’m not wrong, perceived a problem with the lack of a formal, democratic structure. While it was clear enough that it was only a few people making the decisions and using the organization as a platform for their message, things moved forward without difficulty on the basis of trust and a general agreement about the cause.

I think that if we had not made the decision to institute a formal, democratic structure PLG might have continued to exist in this informal way, as a platform for the original leadership and their trusted friends, without conflict. So why did we decide to do it?

There were a number of converging factors.

The beginnings of it, as I understand it, were in the close working relationship that I had with PLG co-founder Mark Rosenzweig and our relationship to the rest of the leadership group. My first contribution to PLG, back in 1997, was to create and maintain its website. As the years went on, there were occasions where Mark and I would add things and make other changes to the website together without consulting the other members of the PL editorial board. At one level, this was simply a product of how productive our working relationship was; it was very natural to think together and to get things done. At another level, it reflected Mark’s own sense of what PLG is and where it ought to go. Among the founders who stayed involved, he is the one whose sense of politics and the political role of organizations like PLG is the best developed and the best informed by history, and his well-founded confidence sometimes led to a desire to avoid the complications of hashing things out with people who didn’t necessarily understand things as well. That may not sound good, but I think it is an understandable fact that should simply be understood and accepted.

At a certain point, PLG co-founder John Buschman, who while not as well grounded in history and socialism as Mark, is himself quite the heavyweight in Habermasian social theory, noticed that PLG’s website, which had quietly become its primary mode of communicating the nature and positions of PLG to members and the library community, kept changing without his or the editorial board’s knowledge, and he understandably raised an objection. This began the discussion of the idea of creating a formal structure, with provisions for decision making that would be democratic and inclusive.

At the same time, the Cuba debate had heated up within the profession and had begun to come between people who considered themselves progressive. It was proving to be a divisive issue. PLG was clear about its position, but we quickly found that not everybody in PLG agreed with it, and some said so publicly. Not all of the fallout from this division was immediate or clear, but it did contribute to a sense within the leadership’s discussions that our membership was, let’s say, a bit more non-doctrinal and non-sectarian than PLG (as defined by the core leadership group).

The Cuba problem had a sudden and destructive impact on the tenor of the PLG listserv, which at that time was open to anyone who wanted to join it. One or two anti-Castro Cuban exiles joined the list and began using it to attack us for our expressed views. For a period of several weeks they bombarded our list with hostile messages, personal attacks, and propaganda, before we decided to take the step of making the list less than totally open, a decision that was difficult. We decided as a list (not as a committee of the leadership) to make posting privileges available to PLG members only, and at the same time, to require people wanting to join PLG to sign onto a brief statement of principles. The membership form still has the text that we added at this time:

Membership is open to library workers and users who are committed to the ideals of the political left, agree with PLG’s Statement of Purpose (as stated on the web site), its commitments and present activities.

Please sign here indicating that this describes you:

X ___________________________

This part of the solution was my idea, and I had a hand in the wording as well. Note the implicit vagueness in the reference to “(PLG’s) commitments;” it allows the signing statement to include the never-quite-stated “original programmatic compact” by implication.

With that solution in place, we closed off posting rights to our anti-Cuban interloper. Problem solved? Not quite. The toxic atmosphere of political activity in librarianship persisted as we were attacked on blogs, which frequently reposted emails that circulated on our list. We had not and still have not made the decision to close access to anyone who wants to read it. Anyone can still subscribe to the list as a reader. Because we had to assume that hostile people were reading the list, it ceased to be a place for free and open discussion, and now, unfortunately, has little traffic besides announcements. (The same “chilling” has affected the SRRT list.)

Partly as a result of the division over Cuba, partly because of our decision to restrict posting to the list, and partly over other things, some critics of PLG, notably Charles Willett and Chuck Munson, began to attack the PLG leadership as an undemocratic cabal. Both of these critics are, not incidentally, anarchists who took it for granted that they belonged in the organization and that it should have room for them. The rise of the “anarchist librarian” movement, which was thanks largely to Chuck’s focused energy but supported by many other Gen X librarians, presented an important part of the challenge. PLG had always advertised itself, as I have mentioned, as non-doctrinal and non-sectarian, and at that time even adopted the catch-phrase (still on the website) “providing a forum for the open exchange of radical views on library issues” (a somewhat phony response to the criticisms being leveled against it at that juncture).

Among the leadership group, Mark and John were most worried about the implicit inclusion of the anarchists, whose views were contrary to the “programmatic compact” as they understood it, and who, moreover, tended to support the “independent library movement” against the Cuban government, a position that was absolutely anathema to the PLG leadership (and, I am sure, most members). Elaine Harger, another co-founder, disagreed with Mark and John and argued for including the anarchists in our discussions and for making PLG more welcoming to them. Elaine has been very welcoming to new members and to members with a broader range of views, but only to a point. When it comes to sharing the governance of PLG and opening up control to the membership, she has been just as hard-lined, albeit with a soft touch. (Stay with me for more about that.)

As for myself, during this period I was firmly on the side of Mark and John that PLG had an overriding interest in maintaining its socialist character, and that we needed to draw a line. At the same time, however, without quite realizing the conflict between these imperatives, I also supported the idea of a formal, democratic structure that would take PLG to the next level, as a mature, mildly bureaucratic organization that could continue beyond the life of its leaders. Actually, all of us did; we all agreed that this was the direction we should go in. In retrospect, I believe that our interest in this idea was partly in response to the pressure from critics who called us an “undemocratic cabal,” but at the time, what we thought was simply, “The time has come for us to take the step to become more formal as an democratic organization.” I believe we all hoped it would serve to relieve us from the interpersonal tensions that were becoming steadily more difficult.

Growing Pains of a Formal Structure

I don’t remember exactly what year it was, maybe 2000, but, we began drafting a set of guidelines for the Coordinating Committee. The part of the guidelines that took most of our attention as we worked on them was how to create a process for making decisions online that would be fair but not overly cumbersome. The attention we devoted to this reflected the growing difficulty we had internally. All of the outside pressures and the emerging tension between the two imperatives had begun to result in conflicts within the leadership circle. These were conflicts that we mostly understood in personal terms, failing to analyze their structural causes.

Despite the difficulty of the job, we drafted a set of guidelines that had a process for working as a committee, and established a composition for it that included PLG members who would be elected by a direct vote of the membership. The members of the editorial board would be permanent members of the Coordinating Committee, at least until the organization were on its feet (or so it was said), while the elected members would serve in staggered terms of a few years. We went to the membership for ratification of the guidelines, which we got, and then called for volunteers for an election to the open slots on the new Coordinating Committee. This was in 2002.

It was a good effort, and resulted in what we felt was a good beginning. The Coordinating Committee was brought into existence, and began working together by email to make decisions for PLG. Membership meetings would still occur at ALA Conferences, and presumably the membership could also make decisions for PLG at these meetings. But the bulk of the work and discussion would prove to be done by the Coordinating Committee, by email.

The honeymoon period for the new Coordinating Committee was rather brief. As the page stating the composition of the Coordinating Committee explains, the members of the journal’s editorial board are permanent members of the Coordinating Committee in order to “provide core continuity with PLG/PL’s original programmatic compact.” This fine detail had the effect of creating two classes of membership on the Coordinating Committee – the leadership group whose function was to tell new members what PLG is really about and make the actual decisions, and the novitiate junior members, who knew nothing and would cycle off the committee soon anyway. This sounds very harsh, I am sure, but I found it to be the reality of the editorial board’s attitude and the reality of their power on the CC. Any suggestion of an idea that was at variance with PLG orthodoxy (which is much narrower than PLG’s promise of non-sectarianism would suggest) was be crushed by the leadership group with an intensity and anger that created a toxic environment. The atmosphere within the Coordinating Committee was one of fear and condemnation. (Disclosure: Although I was intimately involved in PLG for ten years before resigning from the Coordinating Committee, I was never able to overcome my newcomer, junior-member status in the minds of the founding group. This probably ended up being a blessing.)

The ugliness of the proceedings within the Coordinating Committee, and the lack of satisfaction in actually trying to participate, led six of us to resign. (Possibly more – I may not be remembering everyone.) While I feel fairly confident in justifying PLG’s interest in maintaining its socialist direction, it is harder to explain or justify the toxic nature of our internal politics, which at times have spilled out onto the larger list and have also usually been evident at PLG’s meetings during ALA Conferences. I can’t claim to be innocent of contributing to the ugliness that we have experienced within PLG, but I can attest to the difficulty of not contributing to it if you’ve wanted to participate in decision making during this period. It is simply an ugly process, and I think it is fairest to explain it in terms of the structural problem that stems from having these two conflicting imperatives: that of democratizing PLG and that of maintaining its socialist character, in an environment where far from all of those librarians who consider themselves progressive consider themselves socialist. The conflict between these imperatives has created a living tension within PLG that we have not always analyzed or understood.

Here it’s worth repeating that it isn’t the nature of socialism, per se, that is in tension with the democratic imperative. The conflict lies in trying to maintain a particular perspective (which could be any perspective) while making the group more democratic.

By way of contrast, I should briefly mention my recent experience with another group, Information for Social Change (ISC). This is a UK-based group with a history that I am not as familiar with, but I encountered them initially at around the same time I encountered PLG, through their print publication (now an online journal). Shortly after I resigned from the Coordinating Committee of PLG, I was invited to join the board of ISC, which I did. The journal Information for Social Change has always struck me as interestingly eclectic and diverse, as well as not guided by the same high standards as PL. The articles they publish there vary much more widely in quality and represent a more diverse range of views.

When I joined the ISC board and began to read the email discussions in their decision making process, I was astounded and amused by the contrast to the PLG process. Proposals tend to be accepted immediately without discussion, despite what seemed to me like obvious potential for problems in terms of ideological consistency. The tone of their discussions is light and friendly, and debate is as rare as it is sensitive and polite. The reason for this is not that they are a group of nicer people. They are not much different from PLG’s leaders as people. The reason for it is that their group lacks the kind of conflict between imperatives that dogs PLG. For one thing, ISC is much less guided by any particular ideology than PLG – it has no programmatic compact. Its board members include Stalinists, anarchists, liberals, and everything in between, and they don’t worry about the differences. The result of this is a journal that lacks a definite perspective but can be counted on to offer something unexpected. On the flip side, ISC has never had members. It has a board that edits and publishes a journal, and also works on statements together (interesting but true) and sometimes puts on speaking events. But without members, there is no imperative in ISC for a democratic structure. It happily exists as a non-specific, non-membership organization. As a result I think it is limited in what it can offer librarianship in ways that PLG is not, but is obviously less burdened with difficulty.

Back to PLG.

Between its initial ratification by the membership and now, the official guidelines of the Coordinating Committee have been modified twice by the committee itself, without even informing membership of the changes. Among the changes were:

  • Reduction of the length of the term for at-large members of the committee;
  • Elimination of the requirement for an election for new members of the committee. (Elections are now only be expected “in the event of high interest” in serving in an open position.);
  • Restriction of the ability of members to take action in the name of PLG at membership meetings, specifically regarding any “statement, project, or resolution.” These now must be proposed to the Coordinating Committee, which has the sole power to act on them. An exception is provided for, that 10 members of PLG may ask for a question to be voted on by the PLG membership. But, gone is the presumption that PLG members can take action for PLG at a membership meeting.

Though I was a member of the Coordinating Committee at the time it made these changes to the guidelines, I have no memory of the changes being discussed.

These changes reflect definite anxiety about allowing members to have power in PLG. Though I understand and support the imperative at the root of these anxieties, I question their proportionality to the actual danger, especially if PLG is at all as non-sectarian as it claims.

Though I have focused on the imperative of maintaining PLG’s socialist character as the driver of the effort by the editorial board to maintain its control of PLG, it is natural that more personal, psychological factors should be in play. The founders of PLG, despite their objections to the contrary, have a sense of ownership of the group, and don’t want to give that up. It is difficult to sort out the extent to which this is behind the problems we’ve been experiencing, but I feel that I must mention it for the sake of realism as well as humanism. Everyone involved is only a human being.

Elaine Harger has been particularly definite in her denial of any desire to maintain personal control of PLG, and her welcoming personality and personal warmth make it hard to be skeptical. She seems, as a person, to be untainted by the ego issues of her masculine colleagues in PLG, and she has also demonstrated, over the years, less of an attachment to a particular theoretical foundation for the group. This would lead one to expect that she would be supportive of the call to democratize the structure of the Coordinating Committee, and would act as a member of the the Coordinating Committee in a way that empowered newer members. But this has not been the case.

At the organizational level, whenever the idea of separating the editorial board from the Coordinating Committee has arisen, Elaine has opposed it, for the official reason that the board needs to be there to “provide continuity with PLG’s original programmatic compact” (and also that we may not find enough commitment from volunteers outside of this group, which I have to admit is a real possibility). I find it painful to hear her say this, because the conflict between the organization’s two major imperatives is so visible within her as well. Elaine sincerely wants both a more democratic and open PLG but is just as sincerely worried about it losing aspects of its character.

It’s with a sense of risk that I talk about individuals in this way, but it also seems necessary to me, given that I have decided to shine a light on PLG. I hope it is evident to readers that I am making my best attempt at fairness.

A note about student chapters.

Through the years I’m discussing here, we now and again heard from students who wanted to form PLG student chapters at their library schools. We debated about whether this should be allowed, and what kind of formal connections and reporting should be required. Mark and John were particularly concerned that groups of students, without guidance from the Coordinating Committee, might engage in forms of activism, mainly anarchist direct actions with PR-stunt qualities to them, that they felt would associate PLG with ideas that we shouldn’t accept. Elaine supported allowing student chapters, and disagreed with Mark and John’s rejection of playful, showy, anarchist methods. In the end, none of us could deny that the interest and energy of students could only be a good thing, and it was obvious that refusing to allow student chapters would look very bad. So we added provisions for student chapters to the CC guidelines that called for a degree of reporting and connection to the central body. The leadership has felt both a sense of gratitude that library students have remained enthusiastic enough about PLG though these difficult years to start student chapters, and a sense of anxiety about what they might do (in PLG’s name) without the benefit of the group’s enlightened socialist guidance. I talk about it with some wryness now, but it would be wrong of me not to admit that when I was in the thick of it, I shared these feelings.

Recent Events

About a year after my resignation from the Coordinating Committee, ALA met in Philadelphia for its midwinter meeting, and PLG met, too. That was January of this year.

PLG’s meeting was scheduled to be divided in two parts, following the recent tradition of beginning with hour-long discussion sessions led by Lauren Ray (a CC member then) and Georgie Donovan, whose ideas these discussion sessions were. By the time of this meeting, however, both Lauren and Georgie were not able to come (I believe Lauren had resigned from the CC by this point), and the discussion session was to be led by Peter McDonald, who is one of PLG’s founders and who rejoined the editorial board a few years ago.

Peter is someone who, like me and all of the members of the editorial board, has been troubled by the atmosphere of PLG politics and has wanted to find a way out of it into the open air and level ground. Perhaps I should credit him for his commitment to PLG in staying involved while I chose to duck out.

Peter chose as the theme of the discussion session for Philadelphia, “How to make PLG more welcoming to new members.” During the years of the Coordinating Committee’s existence, if you asked members of the leadership circle to identify the major problem in PLG, they would have said, “Attracting new members and not turning them off.” Again, little analysis of the source of the disagreeable fumes.

Peter was and remains genuinely sincere about wanting to make new members feel welcome, and sincere in his perplexity about why we don’t. He began the discussion session by asking the group in attendance, the majority of which consisted of library students who had recently formed student chapters of PLG, what we could do to make them feel more welcome (emphasis mine), and to talk about what PLG means to them. As we went around the room, the young PLG members described activities that they’re doing in their student chapters – with no advice from PLG Central, I will note – that I would describe as original, creative, progressive, refreshing, activist, challenging, educational, and impressive. Some in these student chapters are probably anarchists, but whether I agree with their political philosophy or not, I think it would be a shame to inhibit their creative activities on those grounds. What they are doing, first and foremost, is positive action.

I should note here that Peter was having success in something much desired – providing a welcoming atmosphere for new members at a PLG meeting. For years, the tenor of discussion at PLG meetings was heavy and harsh and intimidating, even toxic. Lauren and Georgie’s innovation of a discussion session was a welcome relief, and Peter understandably wished to continue this healthy practice. The “boring details” of the business meeting, i.e., the place where members would have the power to act in the name of PLG (at least before the CC decided otherwise), would be held afterward; anyone at the discussion meeting who was brave enough was invited to attend.

My place in the circle around the room was at about three quarters of the way around. As the discussion meeting went on, the reports from the student chapters showed where the real life of PLG is located, and my mind seethed at the phony paternalism of wondering aloud how “we” could be more welcoming to “them,” when in fact no opportunity for equal membership would be forthcoming under the current regime.

When the minute hand ticked over to me, I said what was on my mind, and it could accurately be called a rant. It was a summary of the issues that I’m discussing here, delivered with pent up anger.

It was not what Peter, or any of the students in attendance either, expected. Perhaps I should have disciplined myself and saved it for the business meeting that was to follow, which was the designated place for organizational issues. I brought it up because I felt that any discussion of how “we” could be more welcoming to “them,” accompanied by Peter’s sincere perplexity about why we are not, would be dishonest if the core issues went unaddressed. And so, some students were put off by PLG’s internal tensions and ugly politics. I was responsible for that, it is true, but at the same time, I was the only one in the know who can take credit for being honest about PLG at that meeting. Unlike Peter, I didn’t try to protect our new members from the knowledge of what was actually going on in this organization that they are interested in.

I’ll tell you what I said at the beginning and the end of my rant. What I said at the beginning was that if PLG were to govern itself as a federation of student chapters, with student representatives being the only ones in charge, then PLG would have a bright future; but if the Coordinating Committee tries to stay the course with permanent membership for the editorial board, it will not survive beyond that small group’s activity. And I think that’s true.

My rant led to some discussion, at the end of which, still ranting, I suggested a proposal: that we should restructure the Coordinating Committee so that within three years (just to be reasonable) the PL editorial board is represented by just one person, and that there will be one representative from each student chapter (actually Peter’s idea originally, which he suggested during the discussion, and which I liked). In discussion, the group decided to defer this idea until the business meeting. Then, at the business meeting, the group decided that the Coordinating Committee would investigate the ideas presented and address the issue at the next membership meeting, in Anaheim. Action would presumably be taken then.

Fast forward to Anaheim…

Based on my personal conversations with him, I believe that Peter is, among the founding members of PLG, the person who is the most open to restructuring the Coordinating Committee along democratic lines. So I don’t believe that his leadership of the PLG meeting in Anaheim represents any real attempt to maintain control for the CC by avoiding the issue. I think Peter’s main motivation in running the meeting as he did was to create a positive experience of involvement in PLG for the newer members who attended. I think he probably really does believe that the problems in PLG are that superficial, and not a structural problem. As a result of his approach, the PLG meeting in Anaheim was a very positive discussion of the environmental crisis (not the PLG environment, but the world’s ecological systems) and how librarians should address it. Different perspectives and ideas were shared. Peter did a beautiful job of facilitating the meeting so that everyone who wished to say something about the environmental crisis and how librarians should address it would have a chance to speak without feeling intimidated. From beginning to end, the PLG meeting felt the way we all wish PLG meetings could feel all the time. It was full of a sense of fellow-feeling, shared concern, belongingness, and mutual support. These are feelings that most of us remember from our early experiences in the library left community, and wish would characterize that community for us every day.

The problem, of course, was that there was no business meeting. No PLG business was discussed. No minutes from the previous meeting were distributed, nothing reported, no issues presented. The ugly problem of control and democracy was swept under the rug. PLG members were protected from both unpleasantness and empowerment. The CC moved forward with its assumption that the governance of PLG is their task and privilege, and not that of the members. My proposal for restructuring the CC, as well as other ideas that would supposedly be discussed in Anaheim, ignored.

What to do now?

As a result of these developments, it seems that if the problem is going to be solved, it is going to require ten PLG members to force a proposal to a vote of the membership.

Doing that requires some careful thinking about what the future of PLG should be, and carefully weighing the risks of a more open process for constituting the Coordinating Committee. What if it proves too difficult to actually find enough people willing to serve on the committee in a responsible way? What if reactionaries pack the board and reverse our direction? There is some security involved in permanent member status for PLG’s most dedicated people (the ones with the strongest sense of ownership).

And how tightly or loosely should PLG’s idea-base be defined? Despite being non-sectarian, PLG is ideologically much more consistent than ALA/SRRT, and the value of this ought to be recognized. It is difficult for many people to give credit to PLG for this, especially if their own views are different.

Recognizing the energy and ideas in the student chapters, to what extent can they be relied upon for continuation over time? Student organizations tend to wax and wane in activity based on student leadership.

How should PLG, as distinct from the journal, be defined? What should its activities be? What should its function be?

I am still interested in moving forward with my proposal to constitute the Coordinating Committee with the same number of at-large members, plus one representative from the journal and one representative from each student chapter, with a time period of three years for transition, but I would agree with anyone who would say that these questions need careful thought and further discussion.

I made the choice to go public with this story because I feel it’s the only way to be sure that the core issues in PLG will be addressed before it is too late. I definitely feel that PLG’s resistance to change in recent years is self destructive. “Change or die” is the imperative that nature gives us.

I fully expect some people to not like the fact that I’ve posted this. That’s okay.

PLG members are especially invited to comment. If you comment and you are a PLG member, it would be helpful to the discussion if you would state your membership status.

This is written in solidarity with progressive librarians and with the people who make up our world situation…

June 14, 2008

The Cuba Debate – Why the “middle” is not the middle

It is still not dead. A resolution has just been sent to the ALA Council list for discussion, calling on ALA to recognize the dissident “independent librarians” as members of the library community who deserve our support as colleagues, calling for the return of “library materials” to the “independent libraries,” and calling for the release of prisoners.

As this debate has worn on and grown tiresome over the years, many people who understandably just want it to go away try to close the books on it by saying, “I’ve heard all the arguments, and I think both sides have a point. They just need to sit down and be rational about it for a change instead of haranguing us on our listservs. The truth, as always, is somewhere in the middle.”

Well, what are both sides saying, and what would the middle be?

On the one side, you have Robert Kent and company, who are campaigning for the cause of Cuban dissidents who have set up “independent libraries” in their homes. He acknowledges that they are dissidents and that their activities contra the Cuban government are the reason for their libraries. But in Kent’s campaign, there is no angle on the issue other than intellectual freedom in a pure, undiluted form. No room for the complexity which we know characterizes the question. For Kent, there is only one side. It is a question of good and evil.

On the other side, you have members of the Progressive Librarians Guild, myself included, and others who have engaged Kent on the listservs where he has sent his campaign messages. We have never advanced the Cuba issue other than to counter Kent where he needs to be countered.

Because we have written and spoken counter to Kent, it would be easy to assume that our message is equally black and white, but this has never been the case.

What we have pointed out, to oversimplify, is that the “independent libraries” are propaganda distribution centers set up in people’s homes rather than libraries in the usual sense, and that they are set up using funds coming from the U.S. government and routed through “pro-democracy” NGO’s that are staffed by members of the Cuban exile community who want their land and property back. (Jorge Sanguinetty should be named, because he is the originator of the “independent library” movement.) The “independent librarians” who have been arrested were arrested for violating a Cuban law that bans citizens from accepting money or material support from a foreign state for the purpose of undermining the government. The United States has a parallel law, as well as a set of more specific laws directed at individuals aiding Cuba, which American citizens also go to prison for violating, a fact which Kent has understandably avoided dealing with, because it does not fit into his simplistic picture.

Some of us who have written against Kent’s campaign are lifelong socialists and friendly toward the Cuban revolution. But readers should not conclude from that that any of us deny support to real, homegrown dissidents in Cuba, or deny that more freedom of speech in Cuba would be a good thing, or that there are serious problems in Cuba that are partly the result of failures of Castro’s government. On this side, you will not find anybody avoiding the true complex nature of the question. This side, I argue, IS the middle.

That is why everybody in the Progressive Librarians Guild who has been working contra Kent over the years was happy with the ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee’s 2003 Report on Cuba, despite its being a response that validated many of Kent’s concerns. We supported it as the final word of the Association. The report is based on ALA’s long history of support for intellectual freedom, and took the occasion to join IFLA in its prior statement on Cuba, which it arrived at because of the same issue. IFLA in 2001 and ALA in the 2003 IFC Report called on Cuba to “eliminate barriers to access to information imposed by its policies,” and expressed their deep concern over the arrest and long prison terms of the dissidents, as well as calling on the Cuban library community to monitor violations of the right to free access to information and work to promote civil liberties in Cuba.

Note that PLG liked the report and Kent found it totally inadequate.

PLG liked the report because it dealt with the complexity of the issue. The report recognized the relevance of the US blockade of Cuba in contributing to the conditions there that have led to such a defensive posture, and called on the US to end its economic embargo, because it is also an embargo of information exchange. The report also acknowledged that the “independent librarians” do not consider themselves librarians at all (this based on interviews by members of an IFLA delegation), and that the dissidents are in prison for violating the Cuban law against accepting material support from a foreign power to undermine the state. (The IFC didn’t point out that the U.S. also has such laws, as that would have been to advocate for the Cuban state’s action, which, whether comparable to what the U.S. does or not, is still essentially contrary to intellectual freedom in an absolute sense.)

Kent did not like the Report because it fell short of condemning Cuba for not releasing the imprisoned dissidents. Unlike Kent, the Intellectual Freedom Committee sees the complexity of an issue involving the policies of a sovereign state that has rule of law. I think the IFC used a mature, diplomatic approach in its choice of language regarding the imprisoned dissidents. (The Report says, “ALA joins IFLA in its deep concern over the arrest and long prison terms of political dissidents in Cuba in spring 2003 and urges the Cuban Government to respect, defend and promote the basic human rights defined in Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights” – hardly a defense of the Cuban government!)

Now three Councilors, inspired by Kent’s campaign (without which this would not be an issue at all, as he has worked with Sanguinetty from the beginning) are bringing forth a resolution that goes far beyond the IFC report and takes us into quite un-diplomatic territory.

I say the 2003 IFC Report is sufficient and nuanced, and expresses our commitment to intellectual freedom while at the same time respecting the real complexity of the issue. In a very general way, I think it is a much better example of what intellectual freedom means to us as librarians than are Kent’s absolutist missives. I hope you’ll contact a Councilor and express your opposition to the resolution.

April 29, 2008

2008 Braverman Winner

Media Release

Contact:
Dr. Terrence W. Epperson
Chair, Miriam Braverman Memorial Prize Committee
Progressive Librarians Guild
Phone: 609/771-3352
FAX: 609/637-5177
E-Mail: epperson@tcnj.edu

April 29, 2008
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Miriam Braverman Memorial Prize Winner Announced

(The College of New Jersey, Ewing, NJ) – The Progressive Librarians Guild is pleased to announce the winner of the 2008 Miriam Braverman Memorial Prize. This year’s prize has been awarded to Miriam Rigby for her essay entitled “Just Throw It All Away! (and other thoughts I have had that may bar me from a career in archiving).” Ms. Rigby is currently enrolled in the MLIS program at the University of Washington’s Information School and plans to graduate in spring, 2008.

Essays were submitted by library and information science students from colleges and universities in the United States and Canada. Their papers considered such subjects as the USA Patriot Act, health literacy outreach, and humanism as critical librarianship. Ms. Rigby’s essay will be published in the forthcoming issue of Progressive Librarian, the journal published by the Progressive Librarians Guild. She will also receive a $300 stipend for attendance at the 2008 American Library Association’s annual meeting in Anaheim, CA, and an award certificate at the PLG annual dinner on June 29, 2008.

The Miriam Braverman Memorial Prize is awarded annually for the best essay written by a student of library/information science on an aspect of the social responsibilities of librarians, libraries or librarianship. The prize is named in honor of Miriam Braverman (1920-2002), an activist librarian who was a longstanding member of the Progressive Librarians Guild and a founder of the American Library Association’s Social Responsibilities Round Table. She was a strong proponent of the social responsibilities perspective within librarianship and an inspiration to younger librarians entering the field.

The Progressive Librarians Guild (PLG) was founded in 1990 and is committed to supporting activist librarians and monitoring the professional ethics of librarianship from a perspective of social responsibility. For more information, visit the Guild’s website at: http://libr.org/PLG/

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April 14, 2008

New from LJP: Questioning Library Neutrality

Questioning Library Neutrality: Essays from Progressive Librarian

Editor: Alison Lewis
Price: $18.00
Published: April 2008
ISBN: 978-0-9778617-7-4
Printed on acid-free paper

Questioning Library Neutrality: Essays from Progressive Librarian presents essays that relate to neutrality in librarianship in a philosophical or practical sense, and sometimes both. They are a selection of essays originally published in Progressive Librarian, the journal of the Progressive Librarians Guild, presented in the chronological order of their appearance there.

We begin with Progressive Librarian editor Mark Rosenzweig’s editorial, “Politics and Anti-Politics,” which provides a philosophical framework for considering the historical role of “neutrality” within the profession of librarianship. It is followed by Peter McDonald’s “Corporate Inroads and Librarianship,” which exposes the outsourcing of library functions in various settings and advocates for the retention of local professional involvement and humanistic values. Sandy Iverson provides a post-modernist and feminist critique of neutrality or “objectivity” in “Librarianship and Resistance.” Steven Joyce revisits the so-called “Berninghausen debate” surrounding issues of social responsibilities within the American Library Association in the 1970s and relates it to a similar conflict within the profession over homosexuality in the 1990s in “A Few Gates Redux.” In “Activist Librarianship: Heritage or Heresy?” Ann Sparanese relates the circumstances surrounding her now-famous “saving” of Michael Moore’s book Stupid White Men and the motivations behind her own decision to act rather than remain a passive, neutral observer. Robert Jensen provides useful insights into the impossibility of remaining neutral with his comparison of librarians to professionals working in journalism and higher education in “The Myth of the Neutral Professional.” Jack Andersen’s “Information Criticism: Where is It?” looks at librarianship’s inability to critique and analyze the information it deals with and places the blame for this on the profession’s embrace of a technological and managerial discourse that overlooks practical use and societal impact. Likewise, John Doherty challenges librarianship’s lack of critical self-awareness in “Towards Self-Reflection in Librarianship: What is Praxis?” and provides practical examples of his own attempts to integrate the ideas of educational theorists into his practice of bibliographic instruction. In “The Professional is Political,” Shiraz Durrani and Elizabeth Smallwood examine the library within a global context, then narrow their focus to innovative practices in public libraries in Britain, providing a concrete example of a needs-based youth advocacy program. Lastly, Joseph Good critiques neutrality as a form of moral relativism in “The Hottest Place in Hell.” Here at the beginning of the twenty-first century, “neutrality” no longer means “impartiality” or “objectivity,” but too often lapses into what might be better termed “indifference.” These essays are presented in the hope that they will stimulate further interest in and debate about the concept of neutrality within the library community, if not provoking the downright opposite of indifference.

Now available from Amazon, Barnesandnoble.com, as well as library book jobbers.

February 21, 2008

Miriam Braverman Prize – essay contest

Message from Terry Epperson, chair of PLG’s Braverman Prize committee

Hello –

We’re pleased to announce the fifth 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. The announcement flyer can be found at: http://libr.org/plg/Braverman-08-flyer.pdf. 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 bravermansubmissions@gmail.com

6. Entries must be received no later than 6pm on, April 15, 2008.

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 2008 American Library Association annual conference in Anaheim, CA 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.

Terrence W. Epperson, Ph.D.
Social Sciences Librarian
TCNJ Library
The College of New Jersey
P.O. Box 7718
Ewing, NJ 08628-0718
Phone: (609) 771-3352
Fax: (609) 637-5177
E-mail epperson@tcnj.edu
http://www.tcnj.edu/~library/epperson/index.html

September 15, 2007

PLG endorses the Iraq Moratorium

The Progressive Librarians Guild has endorsed the Iraq Moratorium, an organized method of protest for the third Friday of each month.

August 20, 2007

PLG Report from the U.S. Social Forum

The Progressive Librarians Guild had representatives at the U.S. Social Forum in Atlanta in March, in partnership with representatives from Radical Reference. Elaine Harger and Kathleen de la Peña McCook wrote a report on their activities and their experience at the Forum. I think it’s a good restatement of how librarianship and the Left are connected and offers some inspiration, some rejuvination, and the challenge of a good example for anyone who wants to mix Left activism with their librarianship but has become inactive out of a sense of disaffection and hopelessness in the Bush years.

A big thank you to Elaine and Kathleen and to Radical Reference reps Melissa Morrone, Dena Marger, and Susie Husted for making the trip and participating. I hope the experience generates a lot of new activity.