This is a long one, so I totally understand – and am completely cool with it – if you jump to the end and sign the petition.
Last year I began working with J. Brenton Stewart and Boryung Ju on a research paper on Black students’ perceived welcomeness in libraries at Historically White Colleges and Universities (HWCUs, also known as Predominantly White Institutions – PWIs). In that study, we tested factors of welcomeness (defined as the feeling of being ‘gladly received’) and learned:
“Library as place” is the most influential factor for Black students’ perceptions of welcomeness. Specifically, other students/users’ behaviors and actions are most likely to affect how Black students perceive the library space/climate. (Kendrick 2018)
While writing an essay about the welcomeness study, I came across an American Library Association Office of Intellectual Freedom (ALA OIF) blogpost written by Jamie LaRue – the ALA OIF Director. The piece, titled “Documenting Hate Crimes in Libraries,” discusses and justifies the OIF’s work in documenting “hate crimes that take place on library property.”
Why? Graffiti on library property isn’t new. Nor is it altogether strange that, sometimes, graffiti include what might be called “hate speech,” or derogatory comments that target specific populations. But we began to get reports about an upsurge of these incidents immediately following the 2016 presidential election. In several of these cases, such as the one in Kansas City, the report comes with the observation that “this is the first time this has ever happened here.” (LaRue 2016)
LaRue continues his discussion, making a distinction between “hate speech” and “hate crime.”
An uncomfortable truth is that hate speech is also free speech. It’s not illegal for people to say stupid, ignorant, or even deliberately hurtful things. When an anti-immigrant group, for instance, books a room at the library according to usual policies, and the speakers make some overtly bigoted remarks about Mexicans, that’s the price we pay for democracy. We acknowledge, however, that such speech has real world consequences, sometimes causing great pain, suffering, and even trauma. A hate crime, however, is about more than speech. It is about specific criminal behavior.
I believe that most practicing librarians recognize the difference between the two. Until recently, I thought we also knew there’s a line between recognition and privilege. The latter is what has occurred with ALA’s recent Library Bill of Rights Meeting Room interpretative update, which was approved at this year’s ALA Annual Conference. It includes this extremely questionable language:
If a library allows charities, non-profits, and sports organizations to discuss their activities in library meeting rooms, then the library cannot exclude religious, social, civic, partisan political, or hate groups from discussing their activities in the same facilities. (ALA 2018)
Who In The Hell Left the Gate Open?
Since then, there has been significant fallout* concerning this language. Many ALA members are trying to figure out how this particular iteration of the document was approved. April Hathcock, an ALA Councilor, discusses how this language slipped by:
The statement I read and commented on, all the way up until ALA Annual in late June, had no specific mention of hate speech or hate groups. It just reiterated that generally people can’t be turned away from public library spaces for their beliefs. And there was at least one line about none of this having anything to do with regulating behavior to maintain safety. I figured it was the best we could do. And I trusted that the document with the final resolved comments and edits would be the document I’d vote on during the hectic frenzy that is ALA Annual…I was wrong. (2018)
The hilariously broad ALA Code of Ethics (which is also practically useless) has been used to justify the change. Here, I introduce Dr. Amelia N. Gibson’s cogent Twitter thread:
The ALA re-intepretation is another glaring example of the organization’s inability to align its mission with how conscious library professionals approach their daily service practices. Additionally, it significantly undercuts the EDI work that the organization claims to support and promote (just who do we think will be traumatized the most as this mess gets “implemented?”) Summarily, it is a dangerous missive that continues to posit the abstract notion of libraries (buildings, collections, etc – all things) as more important than the concrete people working in them and the greater number of people who visit them – who are now deemed – by proxy of ALA BEING SURE TO SAY “Welcome, haters” – unwelcome.
Historically, ALA been complicit in upholding laws and emulating practices denying the Greater Good – not so long ago, the organization actively marginalized African-American library users and librarians via segregation laws of the day (ironically, at this year’s ALA Annual Conference, the very same group that approved the meeting room document honored African-Americans who resisted library segregation).
But ALA’s same history shows ALA can do better. It has before, as Charles Duhigg recounts in his discussion of the impact of “small wins” in his book The Power of Habit:
In the early 1970s, the American Library Association’s Task Force on Gay Liberation decided to focus on one modest goal: convincing the Library of Congress to reclassify books about the gay liberation movement from HQ 71-471 (“Abnormal Sexual Relations, Including Sexual Crimes”) to another, less pejorative category….In 1972…the Library of Congress agreed to make the shift, reclassifying books into a newly created category, HQ 76.5 (“Homosexuality, Lesbianism – Gay Liberation Movement, Homophile Movement”). It was a minor tweak…but the effect was electrifying…In 1973, the American Psychological Association…rewrote the definition of homosexuality so it was no longer a mental illness – paving the way for the passage of state laws that made it illegal to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation. (p. 113).
Lisa gets it:
There is a better way for ALA to state its protection of free speech and equitable service to users, and really, the original document was serviceable since it already supported that groups can’t be turned away from space usage. The current document privileges the (extremely) “Lesser Good,” and most importantly, it invokes the most dangerous nexus of vocational awe and resilience narratives: 1) privileging inconsistent professional ethics and values, 2) devaluing the most vulnerable people in the LIS field, while 3) specifically expecting that library workers should *also* – with effort – aid in undermining the work towards a Greater Good and 4) blaming them for the resultant workplace trauma and associated system failures (because conflict-avoidance, low morale, and librarians, anyone?).
When it comes to our users, we know that other users’ behavior impacts welcomeness – so imagine the impact of regular – or even occasional – meetings of any of these groups in a library, compounded by the implication of privilege to such groups given by the library profession.
Casey gets it:
Until ALA’s crafts new language (I really like Dr. Gibson’s suggestion, btw), the current document should be removed from ALA’s website.
Let’s Get it Percolatin’…
Sign the petition to Revise ALA’s Statement on Hate Speech & Hate Crime, crafted by the We Here community.
Read blogs/items considering the other angles of ALA’s action (on Twitter, you can search #NoHateALA to see dialogue and more resources on this topic):
*at least, in social justice/PoC/EDI communities of LIS practice. On Twitter, @beastlibrarian has noticed “majority of the folks defending ’s meeting room amendment are white what does this imply re ? important to pay attention to whose bodies are on the line and whose bodies are not when making decisions in this field.”
American Library Association (2018). Meeting rooms: An interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/librarybill/interpretations/meetingrooms
Duhigg, C. (2014). The Power of Habit. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks.
Hathcock, A. (2018, July 11). My bought sense, or ALA has done it again. At the Intersection Blog. Retrieved from https://aprilhathcock.wordpress.com/2018/07/11/my-bought-sense-or-ala-has-done-it-again/
Kendrick, K.D. (2018, June 11). Presentation redux: Black students and welcomeness in academic libraries. the Ink On the Page Blog. Retrieved from https://theinkonthepageblog.wordpress.com/2018/06/11/presentation-redux-black-students-and-welcomeness-in-academic-libraries/
LaRue, J. (2016, December 21). Documenting hate crimes in libraries. Intellectual Freedom Blog. Retrieved from http://www.oif.ala.org/oif/?p=8063