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Diedre Conkling's picture

One person's views of SRRT

I think it would be great if someone else would comment on Rory's blog post, "What ails SRRT: a diagnosis" http://libraryjuicepress.com/blog/?p=2113.

I have posted twice.  I basically do not agree with Rory but I am sure that is because I am old, a "baby boomer" or something like that.

I am sure others of you have some thoughts on the subject.

P.S.  I hope you will keep the discussion on the main issues and not the Cuba red herring.

Mike Marlin's picture

Hi Dee,

 

I just attempted to post a comment on Rory's blog but the screen kept jumping around so I don't know if my post was successful. His page seems to employ a lot of Java scripting and that makes accessibility with screen readerr software quite difficult. Basically I agreed with you that I feel there is no "inner sanctum" on AC and that I/we welcome diverse opinions and work through them in a deliberative process. I also don't feel the newsletter discussion is a crisis and is in fact healthy. If the entire SRRT membership wants to   make their views known, go for it! The more the merrier. 

Mike Marlin California State Library Braille and Talking Book Library Sacramento, CA

Laura Koltutsky's picture

I think that this conversation is an emotional one and that we need to be respectful of each other.  When I joined SRRT in 2001 I joined thinking that its members were activists, in their own communities and within the association.  I didn't expect that we would all hold the same opinions or that we moved in lockstep.  I did expect that SRRT would provide a safe place to discuss progressive ideas and it would work to ensure that ALA was both aware and responsive to the concerns of SRRT as a whole.  I did discover that priorities were set by Action Council and the longer term members of SRRT.  Another thing I discovered quickly was that while SRRT was generally welcoming there was a perceived pecking order.  As a new member I felt that opportunities for leadership really resided only within the Taskforces. That could have been a personal perception and I am very encouraged by many of the newer members of Action Council who have been elected since that time. 

Institutional memory is critically important and I am in no way diminishing the value of having experienced Action Council members .   I also think that there was a perception that the more experienced AC members were doing the majority of the work of SRRT but I didn't know at that time how I could most constructively contribute to the group.  This was when I looked to working with the Freedom to Read Foundation and IFRT as the SRRT liaison to make my contribution.  I enjoyed working with both of these groups and I appreciated the opportunity to serve in those roles.  It did ironically make me feel a bit more disconnected from the core work of SRRT.

So I guess what I am saying is that I can understand Rory's perspective and his frustrations.  I don't know if SRRT is stuck in a making everyone happy conundrum but if SRRT is to maintain its original role within ALA, should that be its goal?  If that role has changed this should be made clearer to members. 

Thanks,
Laura Koltutsky

 

 

Diedre Conkling's picture

Mike, your post didn't appear on Rory's blog so I referred people to the discussion here.

 

Erik Estep's picture

And this is my first time on Connect, so let's hope I can wade right in.....

I think we are having a lot of healthy discussions about SRRT. There is that old, wonderful quote by LBJ, "I'd rather have 'em in the tent pissing out rather than out of the tent pissing in," I'm likely paraphrasing.....

SRRT is a huge tent, full of diverse, voices, and opinions. All organizations evolve and I think that when DC rolls around we all have some "face" time to get through this period of change. I don't think SRRT is in a crisis, but I do think we need to continue this dialogue. It is important that we all move together and not split up into sectarian factions, I've read too much history...

All of that being said, I think Rory made some very good points in his LibraryJuice Blogpost. He has his finger on the temperature of the organization. Historical circumstances have changed and if we keep refighting the battles of the 60's and 70's and 80's. etc. we will never move forward as an organization.

I've also found disquieting that some in SRRT feel other members need to be "educated" on the issues if they have an alternative opinion. SRRTers are fully capable of coming up with their own opinions, that is what makes SRRT such a valuable and  useful organization. I'm not certain why this is a case, but I'm thinking that when you are part of an organization for a long time, you feel like you have "ownership" of the issues.

But again, this is a healthy discussion, folks and I'd love to hear what others have to say.

Erik

Diedre Conkling's picture

Thanks Erik, Laura and Mike for being willing to join this conversation so quickly.

This discussion is adding to a point that I was trying to make in an earlier discussion - related to the newsletter.  There are many points of view on almost any subject.  On this subject I find myself with many points of view. ;-)

Don't we all find it a little frustrating when we have to go back over material or information that we thought had already been well covered and explained.  I do think that some of this happens whenever we feel like we are repeating ourselves.  I personally find that I can be patient reexplaining things the first 3 times but that 4th time kind of sends me over the edge. 

I do also think that just because a subject has been covered many times does not mean that there isn't more to add to the conversation.  This is why I will never vote to cut off a conversation.  You just never know what that last person is going to say that may totally change the whole course of a conversation.  This doesn't mean that I am not silently begging to move on to another subject.  It just means that I do value what is being said more than my own desire to rush ahead.

I was in awe of the people who were in SRRT when I first started and was totally surprised when within a couple of years of attending SRRT meetings I found myself on Action Council.  I did not feel that I was capable of carrying on the tradition of SRRT in the way they had and I don't think I have.  However, I do think that people within ALA do know that I am a SRRT member and they know that I am fairly liberal and that I have a perspective that maybe some others in the room don't have.

I do not have the vision that some SRRT members have.  I don't have the ability to write resolutions the way some SRRT members have.  I am not necessarily even the person who would be on a picket line.  I am more the person that will partake in conversations throughout ALA and constantly represent many of the values of SRRT in those conversations.  I have been able to sway thinking in many ALA units in this way.  What I am saying is that there is NOT one way to do things and no one way is the right way.  It is the variety that gives strenght to SRRT and the opportunity to see and use each others' strengths.

When I was a child we use to sing a song that I am sure most of you have never heard but it is in my head all of the time.  Here are the words (as I remember them):  "Consultation means finding out what everybody is thinking about.  You listen to them and they listen to you then we all do what most of us want to do."  I never thought that being confrontational was the way to find answers and achieve a goal.

And this is enough rambling for the moment.

 

Kathleen McCook's picture

Thanks to Myka Kennedy Stephens the complete archive of SRRT newsletters has been scanned and is here: SRRT Newsletters. http://libr.org/srrt/newsarchive.html#1969

Start Reading...

SRRT Newsletter 1. May 15, 1969/ pdf here.

 

Also, Alison Lewis ensured that the newsletter is indexed full-text  in Wilsonline and there fore SRRT issues are integrated into the context of the discipline.

Kathleen de la Peña McCook

Frederick Stoss's picture

This current discussion has long roots, as articulated nicely in Rory Litwin's Blog-post and other comments. I address several points here. First, SRRT Members, especially those members new to SRRT (and with SRRT's large population of library student members this is even more so) need to have some place they can turn, directly from SRRT's Home Page to identify specific "hot-button" issues with which SRRT contends on a periodic basis (Cuba and the "Friends of the Cuban Libraries); destruction of libraries and cultural resources due to natural and human disasters, including military conflicts; intellectual freedom, torture of all types from spousal abuse in our own communities to torture inflicted on military noncombatants, prisoners of war in military and paramilitary settings, etc.; responding to ecological disasters; issues related to fair and just treatment of individuals and communities regardless of race, gender, sexual expression, culture, religion; alternatives in publishing, producing, and disseminating information, and other issues.

A problem with SOME of these issues is that new members, younger members, or other neophytes may not be privy to the years or decades-long debates within SRRT on these issues. Often, out of nothing more than naivety, an individual can be rhetorically pilloried, ridiculed, threatened, bullied, chastised, and generally intimidated for expressing their viewpoints or ask a simple question. When I served as SRRT Coordinator, SRRT Membership Committee Chair, and TFOE Chair or Co-Chair, treatment of new members to SRRT by older members was the most frequent response to questions about why an individual left SRRT (did not renew their membership with SRRT). Some may say this is normal discourse on the SRRT email lists, but it has serious ramifications for retention of members.

A second issue this is, perhaps, of more recent vintage, is that individuals directly opposed to the Progressive motivations of SRRT are now official, bona fide, dues-paying Members of SRRT. As such they are afforded the same rights to be heard and published as any other Member of SRRT. There is a lesson that appears to be over looked or under utilized by some “traditional” SRRT Members that do not like other Members’ right-leaning political viewpoints: ANY SRRT Member does not have to listen to or read anything that they find offending. I think often about that old adage, " ...like water off a duck's back."

I think SRRT starts treading on very thin ice over the deepest part of the pond, when attempts to craft policies for excluding certain forms of communication, types of expression, means to being heard, etc. SRRT found core was that of responsibilities for social, racial, gender, sexual, and other causes. For five decades, SRRT's voice is heard and has directed the entire Association to more humane means for upholding the dignities of individuals, organizations, causes, and actions. SRRT was equally vehement in pointing out abuses, atrocities, and indignations of people against other people. It was the strength creating and nurturing SRRT and ALA. It is a strength, that SRRT should not abandon.

Fred Stoss

SRRT Coordinator, 1999-2002

TFOE Chair or Co-Chair MANY times...

 

Fred Stoss
Biological and Environmental Sciences and Mathematics Librarian
Science and Engineering Library
Arts & Sciences Libraries
University at Buffalo
BA Biology, MS (zoology/aquatic ecology), MLS

Jaime Hammond (non-member)'s picture

I'm glad to read Fred's comments about the experience of new members. As a new member of SRRT and a very new Action Council member, I have often felt intimidated by the conversation on the listserv simply because I did not know the background of many of the conversations and worried that I would somehow make a mistake by contributing to the discussion. 

In person, at conference, was a different story. I am sorry that more SRRT members do not come to the AC meetings because I felt much more free to voice my opinion and ask questions. I can't say that the discrepancy between the two comes from anyone or anything other than myself, I'm just sharing my experience in case others find value in it. 

I've often felt lost in the heated debates about Cuba, the newsletter, and other issues that seem to have 40 years of backstory and personality conflicts woven into them, and I'm thinking that I'm not alone. I would love to see SRRT move forward as a leader in social rights and environmental issues in libraries. I'm interested to hear what more of the newer members have to say about their experiences. I don't hope to pit the new members against those who have longevity and the benefit of experience, I hope that we are able to find a better way to work together so that the new members are able to gain their own long term experience with SRRT.

 

Jaime Hammond

Action Council 2009-12

Robert Kent (non-member)'s picture

Re Jaime Hammond's comment that "I've often felt lost in the heated debates about Cuba," one of the main problems with SRRT discussions of this topic is that one side of the disagreement is often censored," as seen in the recent effort to prevent Steve Marquardt from publishing his view of the dispute in the most recent issue of the SRRT newsletter.

The Cuban issue is clearly a matter of principle: it is wrong to burn books, to assault librarians, to raid libraries and to sentence library workers to 20 year prison terms for the alleged crime of opposing censorship, as is happening today in Cuba.  But the oldtime SRRT leadership, as pointed out in Rory Litwin's flawed but useful commentary on the emerging generational dispute within SRRT, refuses to recognize these facts and does all in its power to prevent or censor presentations of both sides of the issue (as if principled librarians can have more than one view on the rights and wrongs of burning books or criminalizing access to the Internet, which is also occurring in Cuba today, despite all denials to the contrary).

For example, in the only membership poll of ALA members taken on this issue, in ALA Direct, an overwhelming 76% of respondents voted for the ALA to condemn library repression in Cuba. When was the last time any SRRT members, in any SRRT publication, learned of this overwhelming vote by ALA members? And why did the SRRT gerontocracy force the ALA president at the time to "suggest" to the ALA Direct editor that all future polls on Cuba be banned?

To learn the alarming truths which the oldtime SRRTers are trying to hide from the younger and more openminded members, please go to the website of the Friends of Cuban Libraries at: ( http://www.friendsofcubanlibraries.org).

Thank you,

 

Robert Kent

Co-chair, The Friends of Cuban Libraries

Diedre Conkling's picture

We knew this comment was coming but it is not the big issue(s) in this particular discussion, so I hope all of you will continue to address the main issues and not get too sidetracked here.

For those who do not know, ALA Council has adopted a position paper on this issue at Midwinter 2004 and that is ALA Policy.  The information that ALA Council viewed may be found here:  International Relations Committee and Intellectual Freedom Committee's
Report on Cuba,  http://www.ala.org/ala/newspresscenter/news/pr2004/prjan2004/alacounciladopts.cfm  and  http://www.ala.org/ala/aboutala/offices/iro/iroactivities/alacubanlibraries.cfm .  The survey referred to was, in my opinion, very poorly worded and one of those  yes/no kinds of polls with no room for more positions.  AL Direct had problems like this with many of their polls and have since stopped using them.  The majority of the polls they did had very few responses with fewer and fewer over time.

I found it interesting that Jaime felt more comfortable in the face-to-face meetings than in the discussions on the list.  I would have thought it would be the other way around at first but the more I think about it the more it makes sense.  In the face-to-face meetings it can be obvious when people disagree on a particular subject but also as equally obvious that people like and respect each other (at least most of the time ;-) ) where that might not be as obvious in an online discussion.

I look forward to hearing/reading more comments.

 

Larry Romans (non-member)'s picture

I think that the discussion started on Rory Litwin’s blog about the state of SRRT is a good one. I agree with Rory on a number of counts:

1—The SRRT leaders and hard-liners are dedicated, passionate people whose strong political stands stem from a sense of moral responsibility.

2—There is a disconnect between what the Action Council and the hard-liners want SRRT to be and what the majority of members want SRRT to be.

3—The Cuban “librarian” issue has taken up too much of SRRT’s efforts and is more a result of the political views of the hard-liners than a result of concern for social responsibilities.

4—SRRT hard-liners don’t care what the membership thinks and are not interested in finding out.

5—“ For the majority of its members, SRRT is something to join in order to support the activities of this activist group and to show one’s identification with the idea of the importance of social concerns within the profession.”

I also agree with Fred Stoss:

6—“An individual can be rhetorically pilloried, ridiculed, threatened, bullied, chastised, and generally intimidated for expressing their viewpoints or ask a simple question.”

7—“[What] SRRT found core was that of responsibilities for social, racial, gender, sexual, and other causes. For five decades, SRRT's voice is heard and has directed the entire Association to more humane means for upholding the dignities of individuals, organizations, causes, and actions. SRRT was equally vehement in pointing out abuses, atrocities, and indignations of people against other people.”

I have a different take on some of these issues, however.

The Membership

I doubt that a majority of SRRT members have been as radical as the hard-liners for 35 years ; perhaps they never have been. I don’t think that there’s much of a generation gap. I know some younger members of SRRT who are hard-liners; I know even more of the older members who are not hard-liners.

Activism

I don’t think the issue is that the hard-liners are activists while the membership does not want to be. Instead I think it’s a difference of what to be active about. I think the issue is that many hard-liners are more interested in international affairs, are against the excesses of capitalism, and use anti-government rhetoric that is offensive to many folks in ALA, both in SRRT and outside.

A good example is the Cuban “librarians” issue.  I don’t favor taking up the Cuban issue because there are many more serious human rights issues in other countries that would have precedence for me and because I think that the few people interested in this issue are U.S.- government supported. At the same time, if Israel were restricting Palestinian “librarians,” does anyone doubt that the hard-liners would jump right on that issue and SRRT would have a strong resolution condemning Israel?

In contrast, I think most of the membership is interested in narrower social and economic activism on a narrower scale: pro-choice; anti-trust, against racism, sexism, and homophobia; for rights of minorities, including the physically and mentally challenged; for economic justice, support for the environment, for treating everyone fairly, with dignity, and with justice. They seek less confrontation and more collaboration.

Certifying SRRT Bonafides

I personally disagree with the notion that anyone with $15 should be able to be a member of SRRT. Instead I believe that one must share a belief in SRRT’s mission. As a result, I prefer not to have members of the conservative Cuban “librarians” group send me emails about their issue, which only encourages other people to respond.

However, at what point do we decide who’s progressive enough to be a “real” member of SRRT. We all know how quickly some of the hard-liners will jump on someone who doesn’t toe the line and how quickly the attacks turn personal. Many members do not post because they don’t want to face that.

I have personal experience with this problem. If I were in the U.S. Senate I might be the most liberal senator in the country. However, because on ALA Council I don’t vote in favor of every SRRT resolution that is hastily composed, contains offensive rhetoric that detracts from the issue, or is just wrong-headed, I am seen as a poseur by the hard-liners.

Rehashing Issues

I agree with Deidre Conklin and Fred Stoss that we need to have issue summaries on the SRRT website that can help remind the old-timers and inform the newcomers about what the issue is about and why SRRT has taken a certain stance. Such summaries would be good vehicles for setting the parameters of the debate when viewed by other people.

 

I don’t think that these issues are new issues, and I don’t think that SRRT is in a crisis, but I think that SRRT needs to make changes to be more open to all of its members and less combative in its positions.

Larry

Robert Kent (non-member)'s picture

Diedre Conkling seems to believe that the SRRT oldtimers' continuing efforts to ignore, deny or falsify the the reality of book burning and 20-year prison sentences for Cuban library workers, imposed after unfair one-day trials, are somehow irrelevant. Nor will any librarian of conscience pay serious regard to Rory Litwin's claims that the burning of books can ever be  "complex."

Facts are stubborn things, as repeatedly noted in presentations to the ALA by icons of freedom such as Ray Bradbury, Andrei Codrescu, Anthony Lewis and Madeleine Albright, all of whose efforts to direct the ALA's attention to this issue have been ignored by the pro-Castro faction within the ALA. Perhaps Ms. Conkling and Mark Rosenzweig believe Ray Bradbury (the author of "Fahrenheit 451") has nothing relevant to say on the subject of book burning, but more and more ALA members, including SRRTers, are becoming aware of the cruel and unprincipled actions of their "superiors." Justice can be delayed, but it cannot be denied.

To take just one example of the documentation on this issue, Ms. Conkling mentions Mitch Friedman's 2004 report on Cuba, as if nothing more needs to be said on this subject. While carrying out his purported investigation of the Cuba issue, Mr. Friedman promised to examine Amnesty International reports confirming the persecution of Cuba's independent librarians, as well as Cuban court documents, removed from the island and published on the Internet, proving that entire library collections, including classics of freedom such as Orwell's "1984," have been BURNED by court order.

Yet in his completed report, Mr. Friedman made no mention of the damning court papers, as if they had disappeared down some Orwellian memory hole. And his only citation of Amnesty International reports on Cuba somehow failed to mention the existence of Amnesty's documentation of library repression on the island.

As new, younger and  impartial members join SRRT and demand a fair hearing, the ongoing injustice being perpetrated by the oldtimers will not stand. Fairminded SRRT members can access  the Internet for themselves  to examine the "inconvenient truths" being covered up by the dwindling band of hardliners in our midst.  Printed below, for example, is the introduction to an article (Sept. 28, 2003) from the Friends' website (www.friendsofcubanlibraries.org) on the court-ordered burning of confiscated library collections.

Sincerely,

Robert Kent

-------------------------------------------------------------------

Library books burned by court order

 

NEW YORK, Sept. 28, 2003 (Friends of Cuban Libraries) - On April 5, after a one-day trial before the State Security Court in the city of Santiago, Cuban dissident Julio Valdés was convicted of conspiring with U.S. diplomats to commit "crimes against the national sovereignty and economy of Cuba" and sentenced to 20 years in prison. One of the accusations made against Julio Valdés was the founding of a "self-proclaimed Independent Library" to "ideologically subvert the reader with the clear purpose, by means of inducing confusion, to recruit persons for the counter-revolution..."  After sentencing the defendant to 20 years in prison, the judges also condemned Valdes' library materials as "lacking in usefulness" and ordered them to be destroyed by fire....

Julie Winkelstein's picture

I love that this discussion is going on and I hope other new members are reading it, because I think it could help them realize there are really many different opinions and views in SRRT, as a couple of people have pointed out.

I am in agreement with so many of the comments that have been made. Like Jaime, I am a new member who has felt uncomfortable with some of the email conversations that go on, yet when I went to the meetings at mid-winter this year, I found people to be much more approachable than the emails would have indicated. Perhaps this is because people become so much more one-dimensional when they are only represented by written words while in person it can be seen, as Deidre pointed out, that they like and respect each other. The most challenging part of any of the discussions that I have witnessed or been engaged in is the idea that some of us are right and some are wrong. All of us come with a lifetime behind us of experiences, probably many of them related to ways that we are social activists. They may not be the same ways or even the same views as others, but that doesn’t make them any less valid. I joined SRRT thinking that what we do share is a commitment to using the library profession to make the world a more sane, tolerant and equitable place to live. My guess is that many new members come into SRRT with either a past of social activism or a desire to learn how to become socially active as a member of ALA. I would like to see us be more welcoming so more members participate in the listserv discussions and come to the meetings.

I appreciate those who have been a part of SRRT for a long time and who have seen issues come and go and come again. I would like to be able to have conversations about those issues and others and I want to feel that my opinion is respected and that I don’t have to defend myself as a contributing member of SRRT. I want to listen and learn, but I also want to feel that my presence and thoughts make a difference.

I think Rory makes some good points but I disagree with him on others. In particular, I’m just not sure that only a handful of members are interested in using SRRT for activist goals. I know he has a lot more information about SRRT than I do, although I have done some reading, including Toni Samek’s book and past issues of the SRRT newsletter. But I’m wondering if maybe he is talking about a narrow definition of activism. Deidre put it beautifully already - that there is not just one way to do things. I agree and I also think that people change, evolve - they may start with a small conversation somewhere and end up on a picket line somewhere else or writing a book or giving a talk or simply being that activist librarian who makes sure her patrons are getting what they need. I like to think there is room for all of us and that we will respect each other enough to listen and consider and, if we disagree, do it respectfully, politely and maybe even in a friendly and open way.

Mike Marlin's picture

Larry, I appreciate your comments and actually everyone who has posted about the topic Dee raised, namely the socio-political-emotional environment, future or various alternative futures of SRRT and where and how we might be going. I think the speculating on what "the membership" wants is somewhat fruitless, and we probably won't ever know conclusively until "they" (they are us or us is they?) start writing letters to the editor, talking to AC members at conferences en masse,  or more than 160 people sign up for the listserv.  We could consider rewriting the mission statement, maybe posting it for member commentary or something like that, though I'm guessing there are always more urgent fish to fry.

Mike Marlin California State Library Braille and Talking Book Library Sacramento, CA

Diedre Conkling's picture

I saw this article in Truthout today and thought that it kind of tied in with this discussion:  There's No Time Like Now to Be an Activist.

 

Thomas Twiss's picture

I agree with other respondents who have noted the value of this discussion. Rory has demonstrated repeatedly that he is a librarian who cares passionately about the field of librarianship, about social justice, and about SRRT. Also, Rory has given serious thought to the role of librarians and of our professional organizations in a broader social context. So I haven’t been surprised that I’ve found my own thinking provoked and stimulated by Rory’s original post as well as by contributions of others to this discussion. But, as in other recent discussions, I again find myself disagreeing with much of Rory’s perspective.

 I have to confess that the first thing about Rory’s account that confused me was his characterization of SRRT as an “activist organization” with an “activist orientation” and “activist goals.”  My own understanding of the term “activism” is close to that of the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary: “a doctrine or practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action especially in support of or opposition to one side of a controversial issue.” I’ve belonged to various organizations that were activist in this sense. In contrast, the main activities of SRRT revolve around passing resolutions and organizing programs for ALA conferences. As important as these activities are, in my mind they hardly constitute an “activist” agenda.

Instead, I think that Rory is really objecting to the strongly political—and especially leftist—emphasis of SRRT’s resolutions. This is suggested by his complaint about the leadership’s “political priorities, assumptions about the way things are, and modes of acting” which originated in the 1960s. Unfortunately, Rory doesn’t specify which priorities, assumptions, and modes he finds so objectionable. But he is convinced that these are no longer appropriate, for since the “revolutionary time of the 60’s,” and especially in the past few decades the “country has shifted rightwards,” there has been a steadily “worsening reality,” which has contradicted the leadership’s “obsolete assumptions.”

Rory does not attempt to substantiate these assertions, apparently assuming they are self-evident. But there is at least some reason to believe that they are highly exaggerated, or even inaccurate. One of the most important sources for political attitudes in the U.S. over decades is the General Social Survey of the National Opinion Research Center, begun in 1972. Data from that survey show that, in fact, a high point of progressive sentiment in the U.S. was 1973, when 4% of the population identified themselves as “extremely liberal.” GSS data show a drop in “extreme liberalism” since then —but only to 3% in 2008, and only after having again reached 4% in 2004. The total percentage identifying themselves as liberal to any degree has dropped from a high point of 31% in 1973. But that drop occurred mainly between the early 1970s and the mid-80s. Since 1987 it has varied between 24% and 27% (with a dips in the early 1990s perhaps connected to the collapse of “actually existing socialism,” and in the early 2000s following 9/11).  Furthermore, it has risen steadily since 2004 to 26% in 2008. [H.W. Stanley & R.G.Niemi, Vital Statistics on American Politics 2009-2010, CQ Press, 2010), 111, 112.]

A few other figures are also worth noting. Since 1970, studies by the Higher Education Institute at the university of California have measured the number of college freshmen in the U.S. identifying themselves as liberal or far left. After a decline from almost 40% in 1970, this percentage has risen fairly steadily from a low point of about 20% in 1980 to about 38% in 2008. Finally, I might note that a recent survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press discovered that a surprisingly high 29% of Americans currently view “socialism” positively. [Stanley & Niemi, 113; “’Socialism’ Not So Negative, ‘Capitalism’ Not So positive, A Political Rhetoric Test,” Pew Research Center, May 4, 2010, http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1583/political-rhetoric-capitalism-socialism-militia-family-values-states-rights]

Of course, figures such as these also oversimplify and distort a complex reality. One can legitimately question the value of political self-identification, the categories employed, etc. Still, they suggest a number of conclusions: 1. Although the wave of radicalization in the late 60s and early 70s was real (and magnificent!), it would be inaccurate to characterize the overwhelming popular sentiment of that time as revolutionary, or even liberal. 2. Although there have been various shifts within the U.S. since the early 70s, a strong current of liberal opinion has remained constant. 3. Liberalism and radicalism have been growing among young people for some time; and more recently liberalism has been on the rise within the broader population.

It seems to me that it’s been the sentiments of this broader current—and not just stubbornness on the part of a handful of grizzled 60s holdovers—that has nourished the progressive activities of SRRT over the years. I think this is reflected in the fair number of younger librarians— including inactive SRRT members as well as nonmembers—who have spoken positively to me about many of the resolutions we’ve adopted. It’s been reflected in the fact that SRRT remains one of the largest round tables in ALA. It’s even reflected in the positions taken by ALA Council. Despite occasional frustrations, I’ve been positively impressed by the ultimate willingness of Council to adopt important resolutions on such controversial international topics as the destruction of Palestinian resources, the American use of torture, and the Iraq war. Likewise, this broader progressive current has inspired similar resolutions and actions by other professional and academic organizations, including the AFL-CIO, the National Association of Social Workers, the American Anthropological Association, the American Sociological Association, and the American Historical Association.

Rory also suggests that an old SRRT leadership, which has retained control for decades, is hostile, or at best indifferent, to the views of the membership. In response, others have noted the fairly high rate of turnover within AC, as well as the openness of SRRT in-person meetings. That corresponds closely to my perceptions since I first got involved it in SRRT in 2001. Like Julie and Jaime, I still feel a bit intimidated about presenting my views on a large email list. That may be inevitable. At any rate, I believe we’ve made substantial progress in the past few years in overcoming the problems of incivility on the SRRT-AC list mentioned by Fred—though there may be more we can do to make the list a more comfortable environment for participation.

With Diedre, I feel Rory’s assertion that AC members don’t care about the views of the membership is inaccurate. But I also think the issue is somewhat false. When a member raises a point in discussion, as a member of AC the first thing I think is neither “Who is this person?” nor “How big a part of the membership does this person in effect represent?” Instead, I ask myself how the member’s comments fit with our goal of promoting social responsibility as a core value of librarianship. And I respond on the basis of that, rather than trying to represent an imaginary constituency. I suspect that’s what most AC members do.

Having said all this, I believe we could do more to encourage participation and the exchange of ideas on the part of the membership. But in contrast to Rory, I think the best way to do this might be by INCREASING the level of activism of SRRT, not decreasing it. Currently members can express their general views on resolutions under consideration or on topics for programs. But much of the actual discussion and debate about these inevitably takes place in relatively small task forces or AC meetings at ALA annual or midwinter. I’ve wondered at various times if there wasn’t more we could be doing that would engage a larger portion of the membership.

A few examples from Pittsburgh might help illustrate this. In recent years a loose grouping of librarians—mostly SRRT members, and primarily at Pitt—have created a website for the Allegheny County Labor Council; we’ve spoken at rallies, at city council meetings, and in a documentary about the Patriot Act; we’ve participated in a Progressive Librarian Skillshare; we’ve created a web page of Alternative Resources on the G-20; we’ve volunteered to assist with Radical Reference for the G-20 protests; we’ve initiated research on articles related to the question of public access to academic libraries and the availability of alternative publications; and we’ve begun to explore ways we might help promote information literacy skills within disadvantaged communities.

I’m sure the experiences of other librarians in SRRT are similar. It seems to me we could be doing more as an organization to promote and coordinate these kinds of activities, and to share our experiences about them. Along these lines I would shamelessly like to appeal again for help, ideas, and all kinds of input for the (long overdue!) redesign of the International Responsibilities Task Force web site to  make it more appealing, current, and useful to librarians and others who are concerned about the same kinds of international issues that concern us.

Terminological disagreements about what constitutes “activism” aside, Rory may even agree with some of these ideas. In his original post Rory spoke almost exclusively about what we shouldn’t do. I hope that in future contributions he’ll talk more about what he thinks SRRT should be doing.

 Thanks and my apologies for the length of this contribution!

Tom

Alfred Kagan's picture

From time to time, it is useful to have a discussion such as the current one to advise the Action Council. Notice the name of the body, "Action Council."  SRRT chose that name to distinguish it form the ALA Council, ALA's governing body.  The name of the body, ACTION Council, is a good indication that SRRT was not going to be like other round tables.  Rory suggests that most SRRT members want SRRT to be more mainstream, "...more like other round tables?" I sincerely doubt that.  SRRT's raison d'etre is to be unlike other round tables.

I very much liked what Rory said at the beginning of his posting, "When I was in library school in the late 90s, SRRT’s existence and the passion of the people who worked within its structure were deeply encouraging, because it affirmed what I saw as an important tie between librarianship and broader social concerns."  I don't think that has changed, and I bet many new members relate to Rory's statement as of today. 

If you look at the current officers of SRRT, you will see many new names. Some in the group that Rory presumably refers to are not currently active.  Mark has been in China for a few years now, Elaine is off on a long adventure in Europe, and Peter is now a library director with little time for organizing. So contrary to Rory, I feel the loss of some of my closest friends from my generation in SRRT. On the other hand, we still have representatives from the previous generation who are active in SRRT.  Thank goodness that Mary and Herb Biblo and Ginny Moore are still around. I hope I have as much energy as they still do when I reach their ages. When you consider the leadership, I think we now see people from a number of generations.  This is a good thing.  We need to promote continuity as well as institutional memory. And of course, we need the energy of our youngest members and leaders to keep challenging the status quo. 

So to conclude, I don't agree with much in Rory's posting. I don't think we are working with obsolete assumptions, and I don't see any entrenched leadership. I think SRRT should continue to be the unofficial conscience of ALA, and I think we need to continue to challenge authority.  If we don't do it, who will?

In solidarity,

Al

 

 

Erik Estep's picture

Al, et. al,

A little more for me to throw in the pot, just trying to *gently* stir it ;-)

I joined SRRT about a decade ago, I'd been on the Left my whole life and

a part time activist. The best job I have ever had was working as an AmeriCorps

VISTA, teaching kids in detention centers and housing projects and coordinating

programming, fundraising etc. So, I came to SRRT with a fairly decent knowledge of

"the issues"

For me, it was intimidating at first, but most things are since I'm a very shy person. But looking

back, I never felt unwelcome. And I appreciate the passion. In particular, Rory was a great help

in getting me started by encouraging me to be editor of the SRRT Newsletter, Jane Ingold was a

delight to work with as Book Review Editor, Al was very generous in making the one hour drive to

Bloomington-Normal from Champaign on his own dime to talk to a New Librarians group at Illinois

State. He gave a  terrific presentation and inspired a few of my colleagues. I could go on because

I've met so many great friends and colleagues, but I'm focusing on my "early years" because, in

part, we are having a generation discussion.

What we have been discussing in SRRT is *healthy* and not *unusual* to SRRT. All organizations

go through this process and because we are all so *passionate* about social justice the temperature

gets raised a bit. To give an example, of another professional association, back in 90s (poli sci junkies

please correct me), there was a "glasnost" debate in the American Political Science Association who wanted

to take the organization in a new direction. And there has been a long going tension between those who

study political philosophy and the "number crunchers" in everywhere else.

And very few times in my whole "career" in SRRT have I ever felt truly disrespected. Sadly, I can't say the same

about the far too many faculty meetings I have attended.

So, I think this discussion has been and continues to be a healthy one. And the fact that we are having a discussion

about this, is proof that SRRT is an evolving organization.

Okay, back to the zillion other things I'm working on.

Erik