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(en) US, Orlando, [Infoshop News] Anarchist librarians at ALA annual conference

From Chuck0 <chuck@mutualaid.org>
Date Tue, 6 Jul 2004 08:27:33 +0200 (CEST)

Second in a series. Chuck represented Infoshop News at this conference. The ALA
conference was held between June 5 and July 1 at the Orange County Convention Center.
July 5, 2004
Orlando, Florida – One of the first signs that I had landed in the
godforsaken hellhole known as Orlando, Florida was the upside down
building that literally looked like it had been inspired by the Wizard
of Oz. The upside down building was just the first of many reminders
that this part of Orlando was a fake place, full of “fake art” and fake
authenticity, designed as a “vacation getaway” spot for tourists. Why
the American Library Association had decided to hold their annual
meeting in this over-the-top tourist trap is beyond me, but I know that
I wasn’t the only librarian who complained about the heat, humidity,
capitalist excess, and pedestrian unfriendly aspect of this part of
Orlando. It was a bit fitting that an association which has been tilting
towards corporate values would host their convention on a spot that is
so inhospitable to everything represented by libraries.
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Despite the hostile environs, a brave rag tag bunch of radical and
anarchist librarians joined with their peers to meet, network, learn,
share, laugh, cry, and engage in a little bit of activism. Radical
librarians have always had some kind of presence at American Library
Association (ALA) meetings, most often in the form of their
participation in the Social Responsibilities Round Table, but also as
library workers who are involved in politics and issues across the
organization. Contrary to what some outsiders might expect, the radical
librarians within ALA have a loud voice and are influential in shaping
ALA policies.

This year’s ALA conference in Orlando also marked the return of the
anarchist librarians contingent–we put together some activities at ALA
for the first time in four years. The anarchist librarians movement got
its start at ALA in 1997, so we already have some of our own traditions
like our Saturday night dinner during the ALA conference. At past ALA
conferences, the anarchist librarians have organized protests,
distributed “disorientation guides,” produced alternative zines to the
official conference newspaper (“Cognots”), and participated in meetings
and activities organized by our comrade radical librarians.

One of the striking things about this particular ALA conference was that
there was so much for a radical librarian to do during the conference.
If you weren’t involved in SRRT or ALAOIF (ALA Office of Intellectual
Freedom) committee work, you’d have to decide between attending panel
discussions on the FCC and media reform, or a panel discussion on RFID
chips in libraries. There was also no shortage of radical speakers,
exhibitors, or films. And this year there was even a post-conference for
radical librarians, organized by Counterpoise magazine, which is based
in nearby Gainesville, Florida.

One of the biggest changes at the ALA annual conference is the fact that
the library profession has become more politicized in reaction to the
Bush regime. This was abundantly apparent by the programming and by what
librarians were simply saying. George W. Bush and John Ashcroft have
politicized the library profession through their policies and by simply
being hostile towards librarians. Most librarians are familiar with
Ashcroft’s dismissal of librarians last year as “hysterics,” which
struck a sexist note for librarians already angry at the Bush

The anarchist librarians kicked off their weekend of activities with a
sign-making party on Friday night. The signs featured anti-Disney
themes, as the radical librarians were planning a Saturday morning
protest outside a session titled “Service, Disney Style.” As Jenna
Freedman (one of the protest organizers) pointed out, why did librarians
need to learn about “service” from a corporation when librarians are
widely known for their savvy in providing services to library patrons?
The protest was held on Saturday morning with around a dozen librarians
participating. The protest also called attention to the ongoing
pernicious influence of corporations on libraries and the decision by
Disney not to promote the new Michael Moore movie.

The Social Responsibilities Round Table holds its first round of
meetings on Saturday, including the first SRRT business meeting and the
membership meeting which provides time for SRRT task forces to meet.
I’ve been long active in the Alternatives in Publication Task Force and
this year I was elected chair of this task force. The AIP Task Force is
involved in promoting alternative media within libraries and raising
awareness about the alternative media among librarians. It sponsors
sessions at ALA conferences and holds the “Free Speech Buffet” on Monday
night during the conference. I’ve organized two panel discussions at
past ALA conferences with sponsorship by the AIP-TF: one on infoshops
and another on porn in libraries. The Alternatives in Publication Task
Force has also initiated print projects like Counterpoise, the review
magazine which is now independent and associated with the Civic Media
Center in Gainesville, Florida. The AIP-TF is currently seeking ideas
for sessions at future ALA conferences. The task force also needs to
raise money to continue its work–one idea that was proposed was for a
benefit punk/zine show at ALA in Chicago next year.

The Social Responsibilities Round Table had a full plate. In addition to
the usual batch of internal business, SRRT members discussed several
resolutions that were going to be presented before the association’s
membership. SRRT members pondered resolutions on torture, ALA corporate
partnerships, workplace speech, the Iraq war, and anti-Arab books.

ALA convenes its general opening session on Saturday night, which
includes the keynote speaker for the conference. It should be noted that
at this event, radical librarian, cataloger, and our favorite gadfly,
Sandy Berman, received an honorary lifetime membership in ALA. The
keynote speaker this year was Richard Clark, the former White House
insider-turned-whistleblower. The ironic thing about Clark’s appearance
was that five years ago the anarchist and radical librarians had
protested a keynote speech by war criminal Colin Powell. Powell had
received $70,000 to speak to the 1999 ALA conference in New Orleans
about the subject of “volunteerism.” Seeing Richard Clark speak to ALA
was a bit surreal, as he criticized the Bush administration for pursuing
a war on false pretenses and scoffed at the existence of the Patriot
Act, but this was still a former White House advisor who had been
involved in the planning of violent U.S. activities around the globe.
Clark made a convincing case about why the Bush administration is
bungling the war on terrorism–he pointed to the “Battle of Algiers,” a
movie shown at the White House but whose lessons were evidently lost on
Bush regime officials. Clark also argued that the U.S. should have
focused on winning the “battle of ideas” against Al Qaeda after the 9/11

As people left the convention hall after Clark’s speech, many of them
ran into Democracy Now host Amy Goodman, who was passing out flyers for
her ALA talk the following morning. The anarchist librarians had invited
folks to join us for dinner and we quickly discovered that around 30
radical librarians were interested in our dinner plans. Unfortunately,
as the organizer for this event, I hadn’t made dinner reservations and
the touristy nature of the locale mitigated against a spontaneous take
over of some restaurant. So we ended up taking over a nearby hotel
lobby, procured some pizza and beer, and hung out with Denis Moynihan
and Amy Goodman from Democracy Now. If the capitalist restaurants
couldn’t accommodate us, at least we had our little temporary autonomous
zone in a hotel lounge.

On Sunday morning Amy Goodman was the featured ALA speaker. Her talk
about media reform was preceded by an excellent video produced by the
Hudson-Mohawk Independent Media Center titled “Independent Media in a
Time of War.” Unfortunately, Goodman’s appearance was poorly promoted by
ALA and the attendance reflected this mistake.

After Amy Goodman’s speech, several anarchist librarians gathered for an
informal anarchist librarians caucus. Jenna Freedman proposed a project
whose aim would be to provide reference services for the upcoming RNC
protests in New York City. This project would include a website or
webpage where people could ask questions and software that would track
questions for volunteers responding to the questions. The project would
identify who had relevant skills and would make an effort to involve
library school students. The caucus also talked about organizing a
“street librarian” component which would put radical librarians on the
streets during the protests (like the street librarian project that
Jessamyn West organized for the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle). A
proposal was made that we wear color-coded hats like legal observers
wear during protests. The caucus was friendly to the idea of purple hats
for the street librarian corps. The caucus endorsed Freedman’s project.
More information about this project will be disseminated in the near future.

The anarchist librarians caucus also discussed some possible ways that
anarchist librarians can help activists. We talked about how anarchist
librarians could help create resources such as bibliographies on special

On Sunday afternoon I attended a panel discussion titled “Cultural
Democracy and the Information Commons,” which included Howard Besser, a
professor at New York University. This was one of many ALA sessions
which dealt with the political issues swirling around libraries and the
library profession. As many activists probably know, corporations have
nee encroaching on public space at a breakneck pace, with public
libraries being one of the few areas of the “public commons” still in
existence. But even public libraries are threatened by corporations,
privatization, job outsourcing, budget cutbacks, corporate values,
corporate sponsorships, and a bias towards big publishing when it comes
to building collections. Besser talked about the state of the
information commons, with a special emphasis on how intellectual
property is a threat to that commons. The ironic thing is that as
copyright and intellectual property laws have become more draconian and
absurd, librarians have become more politicized over copyright and IP
issues. Besser outlined the ways in which IP laws are further
restricting the information commons, including new legislation that is
putting public domain foreign works under the jail of U.S. intellectual
property law (Golan vs. Ashcroft). He explained how the disappearance of
the information commons reflects the disappearance of the public commons
in general. There are new efforts underway to fight back, including the
Personal Technology Freedom Coalition (PTFC). And there are new laws in
the works, including the “Induce Act” introduced into Congress by Orrin
Hatch, which would outlaw any technology that could be used to harm
minors. A new video produced by Jed Horowitz titled “Willful
Infringement”was also previewed. This video looks at how intellectual
property laws are interfering with the work of teachers who use
multimedia for teaching. Corporations are going after schools for
copyright infringement and companies like the Copyright Clearance Center
are extorting money out of librarians and teachers who don’t understand
the new IP laws.

The Progressive Librarians Guild met on Sunday afternoon. The PLG
publishes a journal titled “Progressive Librarian” and they serve as a
parallel professional organization for radical librarians.

Michael Moore’s new film Fahrenheit 9/11 was the big attraction on
Sunday night. Around 2300 boisterous librarians packed the convention
center auditorium to view a special screening of the movie.

Media reform was the hot topic of a Monday morning session titled “From
Many Voices to Few: Media Consolidation and Intellectual Freedom.” This
panel featured Mark Cooper from the Consumer Federation of America and
Lucy Dalglish who is the director of The Reporters Committee for Freedom
of the Press. Cooper went into detail about recent surveys that shed
light on where people are getting their news. He bemoaned the fact that
local news is hard to find on the Internet. He explained that local news
is important because culture and government are local, and that
decisions about everyday life are made on the local level. The FCC has
bungled media reform, partly because they represent corporate interests
and partly because they don’t understand how people get their news and
information. Cooper made the point that anybody can print or publish on
the Internet, but so can NBC. He argued that as long as we don’t have
the same broadcast rights as NBC, we are all second class citizens. One
audience member advocated that people get involved in cable access TV
and that they work to get Free Speech TV on local cable. Another person
pointed out that FCC chairperson Michael Powell was appointed by
President Bill Clinton.

On Monday night, the alternative press was featured at the Free Speech
Buffet, sponsored by the Alternatives in Publication Task Force and held
this year at Siam Orchard, a nearby Thai restaurant. The Free Speech
Buffet is held every year at ALA and represents an effort to show off
local alternative and indie publishers to the international library

A word or two should be said about all of the publishers that exhibit in
the huge ALA exhibit hall. Counterpoise magazine and the Alternative
Press Center (from Baltimore) had booths. I had the opportunity to talk
with Richard from Soft Skull Press. Many of the major publishers and
distributors were featuring radical titles (more on this in a future
installment of this series). On Tuesday, the famous Guerilla Girls made
an appearance on the exhibit hall stage. The Guerilla Girls have been
using feminism and creative tactics for the past 18 years to take on the
male dominated art world. They talked about their new book, “Bitches,
Bimbos, and Ballbreakers: The Guerrilla Girls' Illustrated Guide to
Female Stereotypes.”which criticizes gender stereotyping.

The ALA conference usually wraps up on Tuesday, but this year library
workers had the opportunity to attend a special post-ALA conference on
radical librarians put together by the Counterpoise collective. Infoshop
News will publish a special report on this conference, as well as the
transcripts of talks given at the post-conference.

It was extremely encouraging to see that there is still an interest in
anarchist librarians, especially among the newest batch of librarians.
Radical librarians continue to make waves within the library profession
and libraries and the library profession are becoming increasingly
politicized in the direct of radical ideas and values. There is
tremendous potential for the development of an anarchist library workers
tendency and movement within ALA and the rest of the profession. The
ideas of anarchist librarianship are even more relevant today than they
were seven years ago when a bunch of librarians started talking about
the idea of anarchist librarianship over beers at an ALA conference.

On the web:

American Library Association

Anarchist Librarians

Social Responsibilities Round Table


by Chuck “Chuck0" Munson
Infoshop News
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