SRRT Councilor’s Report on the ALA Conference

ALA Council Report to SRRT

July 3, 2007

Greetings to the members of the Social Responsibilities Round Table. SRRT took a break in proposing resolutions at the ALA Annual Meeting in Washington, DC. Perhaps we were worn out by the unsympathetic reception to our efforts at the Midwinter Meeting. SRRT did however endorse one resolution, which was then approved by the ALA Council. ALA is now on record in support of the necessary funding to bring new equipment to the National Library Service for the Blind. Council also passed a resolution on the need for “Accessible Digitization Projects” including people with disabilities. A discussion at the SRRT Action Council led to a later initiative at the ALA Council concerning how to move ALA Headquarters and the Washington Office to follow-up on SRRT initiated resolutions passed by the ALA Council. Although we have been assured that these resolutions are sent out to the members of Congress, etc., we are not given any tangible evidence. I now hope and expect to see much better and detailed implementation reports in the future, but of course we will have to monitor this and see what happens. In a related matter, ALA sponsored a successful lobby day where more than 2000 librarians descended on the Congress to lobby for ALA’s issues. Of course, we found that our resolutions on withdrawing from Iraq, opposing disinformation campaigns, and opposing the use of torture were not included in the ALA handout. SRRT made its own handout but it is unclear if it was successfully distributed to many Congressional and Senate offices. I raised this issue three times at ALA Council meetings to no avail. This was particularly unfortunately because the ACLU, an ALA partner organization, along with a couple of hundred other organizations were also lobbying on the same day, and one of their main issues was stopping the torture of prisoners at US and US-affiliated facilities around the world.

The most important Council action was probably contained in the Intellectual Freedom Committee’s report. ALA Council passed a good resolution against the misuse of National Security Letters to obtain library records. The IFC report also contained a substantial guide on “Fostering Media Diversity in Libraries: Strategies and Actions.” The Council also endorsed a short document on “Principles for Digital Content,” with sections on Values, Intellectual Property Rights, Sustainable Collections, Collaboration, Advocacy, International Scope, Continuous Learning, Preservation, and Importance of Standards.

There were two internal procedural resolutions that I and some other progressive councilors opposed. The first created a task force to investigate open-ended electronic participation in all ALA structures. As I said on the Council floor, I am all in favor or e-participation but I am not in favor of e-decision-making. When Keith Fiels later approached me about my remarks, I suggested the extreme case of a call for the ALA Council to meet online. I said that there is no substitute for personal interchange, including body language of folks at the microphone, the emotion in people’s voices, and caucusing during debate to offer amendments. The second was a resolution that will be implemented at the next annual meeting, and concerns the restructuring of ALA Membership Meetings. These meetings were designed to influence ALA policy by offering members the chance to discuss any issues with the possibility of referring resolutions for consideration of the ALA Council. (The ability to overturn ALA Council resolutions was rarely used and is no longer in effect.) Until now, any proposed resolutions had priority on the agendas, but this new provision divides the one-hour meeting into two halves and relegates member resolutions to the second half. This will leave only one-half hour to discuss any controversial resolutions that may arise. We may have to address this problem again soon, perhaps by a membership resolution.

There was one other report of particular interest. The Freedom of Read Foundation lamented the loss of the so-called “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” case in the Supreme Court. The FTRF had filed an amicus brief along with several other free speech organizations. This lawsuit challenged a high school student’s suspension from school for displaying his “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” banner. But this event, an Olympic torch relay, was not a school event and not on school property. This decision was a blow against student free speech rights, and it may have far-reaching implications.

Finally, the Council honored Kurt Vonnegut with a memorial resolution noting his vision, humor, and support for libraries. The text notes that ALA records show 21 reported censorship challenges to five of his fourteen novels, including fifteen incidents from 1972 to 2007 targeting Slaughterhouse Five, which was burned in 1973 in North Dakota.

As usual, I will try to answer any questions.

AL Kagan
SRRT Councilor