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Article: CNet / Librarians March to the Left

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  • mwittlans@aol.com
    The following article was forwarded to me -- I think that it will interest some of you: http://listserv.uic.edu/archives/conservativenet.html The Chronicle of
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 28, 2005
      The following article was forwarded to me -- I think that it will interest
      some of you:


      The Chronicle of Higher Education

      From the issue dated September 30, 2005
      The Loneliness of a Conservative Librarian


      Much has been made of the left's domination of college and university
      faculties. Yet in terms of political composition, the library
      profession makes your typical Ivy League faculty look like the Heritage
      Foundation. Had the 2004 election been confined to librarians, I firmly
      believe that the presidential race would not have been between Kerry
      and Bush, but between Kerry and Nader.

      When David Brooks did some research into political donations by
      profession for his September 11, 2004, column in The New York Times, he
      found that for librarians "the ratio of Kerry to Bush donations was a
      whopping 223 to 1." By contrast, the corresponding ratio for academics
      was 11 to 1. As one of those rarest of beasts, a conservative
      librarian, I can attest firsthand to the stifling left-wing orthodoxy
      of modern American librarianship.

      The problem is not that most librarians have liberal or leftist views.
      It is that the overwhelming prevalence of such views has created a
      politicized atmosphere of groupthink and even intolerance, in which
      left-wing politics permeate the library profession and are almost
      impossible to avoid.

      In conversations with colleagues, on library e-mail lists, and at
      professional conferences, liberal and leftist attitudes are shoved in
      your face. Because most librarians are left-of-center politically, they
      automatically assume that you are as well. After all, only benighted
      Red State theocrats could possibly have voted for Bush. You quickly
      learn to keep your opinions to yourself, except among colleagues whom
      you know well.

      To be fair, the situation wasn't always this bad. When I entered
      library school, in 1997, the political composition of my chosen
      profession was the last thing on my mind. I had a vague sense that the
      majority of librarians might be liberals or leftists, but it was hardly
      something I worried about. I pride myself on my ability to coexist with
      all kinds of people, and I try hard not to let my politics get in the
      way of my job or personal relationships. Besides, I had gone to
      graduate school, so I was used to being a token conservative.

      I started work at my current institution in 1999 and have had no
      problems about politics with any of my colleagues. It's true that out
      of roughly 30 professional librarians here, you can count the number of
      us who are politically right-of-center on one hand, with a finger or
      two left over. Still, my colleagues have treated my heresy with respect
      and good humor.

      But in the wake of 9/11 and the war in Iraq, librarianship as a
      profession no longer simply leans to the left; it has become openly
      politicized. By 2004, to work in a major American public or academic
      library was to find yourself in a left-wing echo chamber.

      One of the most disturbing aspects of the situation is the way in which
      the supposedly nonpolitical American Library Association has become a
      platform for left-wing partisanship. The ALA's Council, its elected
      governing body, is dominated by left-wing activists who recently passed
      a resolution calling for the United States to leave Iraq.

      It is, of course, the right of the vast majority of my colleagues to
      hold positions I disagree with. But it's a very different matter when
      the major professional association in librarianship takes openly
      political stands on issues that have no direct bearing on the field.

      Proponents of the resolution on Iraq argue that abandoning the country
      to Al Qaeda would allow us to spend lots more money on libraries here
      at home. I believe that allowing radical Islam to run rampant in the
      Middle East would be utterly disastrous for libraries and intellectual
      freedom, both here and abroad. It is for individuals to choose between
      those positions; a professional organization like the ALA has no
      business adopting such a blatantly partisan resolution.

      The open politicization of the ALA has also trampled on the
      association's commitment to intellectual freedom and diversity of
      opinion. The ALA's Social Responsibilities Round Table, for example,
      has become the exclusive plaything of radical leftists, and they have
      made it abundantly clear that those holding differing viewpoints are
      not welcome. For instance, conservative posts to the SRRT e-mail list
      are treated with open hostility.

      The ALA's annual conferences have become akin to MoveOn.org meetings,
      where Bush bashing and liberal groupthink are the order of the day. At
      the association's June 2003 convention, in Toronto, the lineup of
      speakers included Ralph Nader, U.S. Rep. Bernie Sanders, Naomi Klein,
      and Gloria Steinem. That was merely a warm-up, however, for the
      blatantly political event that was the 2004 convention in Orlando, Fla.

      The featured speaker in Orlando was Richard A. Clarke, once a member of
      the Bush administration and now its bitter foe. Others included E.L.
      Doctorow, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and Amy Goodman, the left-wing radio
      host. The highlight was a special benefit showing of Michael Moore's
      Fahrenheit 9/11, which drew a capacity crowd of over 2,000. The
      association's own magazine, American Libraries, described the
      proceedings with the headline "Opposition to Iraq War Pervades ALA in

      The politicized atmosphere in Orlando included clear intolerance toward
      dissenting viewpoints. Whitney Davison-Turley, a liberal, spoke at the
      membership meeting against a resolution condemning the war in Iraq,
      arguing that it was inappropriate for the ALA to take a stand on the
      issue. Her comments got a hostile response. Later she wrote:
      "Protecting the freedom of speech is a core tenet of librarianship, and
      this tenet was violated during the Membership Meeting. Shaming
      alternative opinions into silence is the same as placing a gag over our
      mouths, and this is not what librarians supposedly stand for."

      The issue on which I am probably most out of step with the bulk of the
      library profession is the USA Patriot Act. Section 215 of the act gives
      the Federal Bureau of Investigation the authority to obtain a court
      order granting the agency access to business and other types of records
      as part of "an investigation to protect against international terrorism
      or clandestine intelligence activities." The section has become known
      as the library section -- despite the fact that it never uses the word
      "library" -- because it gives the federal government the theoretical
      ability to obtain patrons' library records. Section 215 also states
      explicitly that such an investigation may "not be conducted of a United
      States person solely upon the basis of activities protected by the
      first amendment to the Constitution of the United States."

      Section 215 is not without its flaws, and I firmly believe that
      ensuring the privacy of library transactions is an important priority
      for our profession. However, much of the reaction among librarians to
      the USA Patriot Act has been over the top. As an example, some
      libraries have put up posters that warn patrons the FBI can view their
      library records. That is little short of fearmongering.

      For one thing, the FBI and other law-enforcement agencies have always
      been able to obtain library records after getting a subpoena. In
      addition, the available evidence indicates that FBI agents aren't
      exactly trampling each other in a rush to scrutinize libraries'
      circulation records.

      In a study released in June, the ALA reported the results of a survey
      of more than 1,500 public and 4,000 academic libraries about requests
      for information from law-enforcement agencies. A large majority of the
      libraries that responded to the survey reported receiving no such
      requests; only 137 formal and 66 informal requests were reported since
      October 2001. Of that total, 73 came from federal agencies; the rest
      were from state or local law enforcement. The survey does not reveal
      how many of those inquiries were related to terrorism investigations,
      nor does it provide any figures from before 9/11 for comparison. Most
      important, the requests were almost certainly in accordance with
      earlier laws, given that at the time, the Justice Department said
      Section 215 had never been applied in a library or bookstore setting.
      (Section 505 of the act was evidently used this summer, according to
      recent reports, in the only known instance of the act's provisions
      being applied to library records.)

      Why do I not agree with most of my colleagues that the USA Patriot Act
      is a grave threat to privacy? Because my fundamental worldview differs
      so starkly from theirs. I believe that the primary threats to our
      freedom are named bin Laden and Zarqawi, not Ashcroft and Gonzales. My
      main worry is not FBI agents with subpoenas but the supporters of a
      totalitarian ideology of death that represents the antithesis of
      everything our profession is supposed to stand for.

      At least five of the 9/11 hijackers used computers at public or
      academic libraries to plot their atrocities. As important as it is to
      protect the privacy of library patrons, protecting the lives of our
      fellow citizens and the safety of our country is even more important.

      A large number of American librarians simply don't see things that way.
      Many of them honestly believe that the war on terror is merely a
      pretext to allow the FBI to fulfill its long-held dream of wantonly
      rummaging through libraries' circulation records. The idea that, under
      some circumstances, granting law-enforcement agencies access to library
      records might save lives is inconceivable to those librarians. Not all
      librarians opposed to the USA Patriot Act feel that way. It would be a
      mistake, however, to pretend that the sentiment doesn't exist in our

      Librarians are supposed to stand for intellectual freedom, diversity of
      opinion, and providing access to materials that represent all points of
      view. How can we do that when many of us are intolerant of dissenting
      views? Allowing our profession to be a bastion of orthodoxy of any kind
      defeats our purpose.

      Do I think that the situation will change? I have to admit to a certain
      amount of cynicism and disillusionment. After three years of feeling
      that I am not wanted in my profession, I have grown increasingly
      alienated. I am so tired of having left-of-center politics thrust on me
      that I have retreated into my work, cutting myself off from much of the
      broader profession. When I do go to a professional meeting, I sit
      silently. When the conservative-bashing starts, as it so often does, I
      know better than to complain.

      I have responded in the only ways I can: To protest the ALA's growing
      politicization, I allowed my membership to lapse and have no intention
      of renewing it. In June 2004 I started an obscure blog, Heretical
      Librarian, where I can finally express the opinions that I would never
      dare voice among librarians I don't know.

      Ironically, I rarely write about library issues per se, but blogging
      has provided me with a welcome forum for laying out my own beliefs.
      Some might ask what right I have to complain about politicization when
      I talk mostly about political issues on my blog. My response is that
      that's exactly why I started the blog: It's a personal site where I
      claim to speak for no one but myself. I can voice my views in a venue
      that is separate from my professional responsibilities. That is an
      approach other librarians might want to consider. Besides, when I look
      at groups like Radical Reference or Librarians Against Bush, I feel
      more than justified in blogging not just as a conservative, but as a
      conservative librarian.

      I do see one positive development: A growing number of librarians, not
      all of them conservative, are calling for our profession to leave
      politics alone and focus on librarianship. As Steven Bell recently
      suggested in Library Journal, the ALA should either invite speakers to
      its meetings from across the political spectrum, or not invite
      political speakers at all.

      The solution is not to replace left-wing with right-wing
      politicization. Rather it is to leave politics to the individual. Just
      as we should collect and provide access to materials representing a
      broad range of beliefs, we should welcome diverse viewpoints within our

      David Durant is head of government documents and microforms at East
      Carolina University.
      Section: Libraries
      Volume 52, Issue 6, Page B12

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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