SRRT Councilor’s report

ALA Council Report to SRRT, Chicago, July 2009

Before reporting on the business of the meetings, let me first honor the life of E.J. Josey, who died just before Annual Meeting. EJ was a founding member of SRRT and the founding father of the Black Caucus of ALA, the first black male President of ALA (1984-85), an ALA Councilor for 29 years,, and a fighter for justice for his entire career, both inside the library profession and outside in the community, nation, and world. EJ was instrumental in desegregating the ALA state chapters in the South and developing ALA policy to support the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. He was a prolific author (more than 400 articles and 12 books), and wrote the path-breaking book, The Black Librarian in 1970. He was responsible for organizing already existing groups for official recognition into a SRRT Coretta Scott King Book Awards Task Force in 1980 (now part of EMIERT). As a young librarian, EJ inspired me with his outrageous interruption of the 1985 Chicago IFLA meeting. He rose from the audience at the first plenary session to castigate the IFLA leadership for continuing to allow the membership of libraries that enforced the policy of apartheid and also the apartheid South African Library Association. I started my library activism at this meeting. For more about EJ , see Memorial Resolution #13.

Despite the economic meltdown, the ALA Annual Meeting had record attendance, 28,941 people. However there certainly was a sense of crisis, and the Council passed a resolution calling for ALA to develop “An Action Plan to Remedy Current Library Budget Crisis (ALA Council Document #56). ALA itself has had to make cutbacks, reducing staff by 9.6 FTE (including 2 layoffs) and requiring staff to take 5 “furlough” days and accrued vacation days.

SRRT had one resolution for ALA Council, “Resolution on Libraries and the Continuing Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.” It was passed by the ALA Membership Meeting (Membership Meeting document #5) without any debate and by a large majority of members voting. However, the ALA Council defeated it by a large margin after several emotional speeches (ALA Council Document #55). In my presentation, I noted that Council had called for the withdrawal of the US military from Iraq at the 2005 Midwinter meeting (ALA Council Document #62). It was interesting that two long-time Councilors were ready to challenge the existence of the 2005 resolution until we produced a copy for them. Besides the usual argument that this is not a “library issue,” others seemed to support the Obama position of withdrawing from Iraq but escalating the war in Afghanistan. There were also assertions that the US was upholding women’s rights in Afghanistan. The Council usually follows public opinion, rarely taking a leadership position. We only passed the 2005 resolution on Iraq because it was clear that the country was fed up with the Bush Administration’s war. Sadly, I expect we will have to wait for public opinion to rise against the Afghanistan war before we get Council to act.

SRRT endorsed 4 resolutions developed by other ALA bodies and councilors. One of these also came through the ALA Membership Meeting, “Resolution on Civil Marriage Equality Regardless of Sexual Orientation” (Membership Meeting Document #6). I was very pleased to see that it passed Council with only a few dissenters (ALA Council Document #53). The resolutions on “Accessibility of Library Websites” (Council Document #51) and “Purchasing of Accessible Electronic Resources Resolution” (Council Document #52 Revised) sailed through easily. These bring ALA policy into conformance with several guidelines and laws concerning people with disabilities. Some of us were surprised with the amount of resistance to the “Resolution Endorsing Legislative Proposals for [Single Payer,] Universal Health Care (Council Document #54). ALA endorsed single-payer health care in 2006 but now that the national debate has seriously heated up, the Council took a step backwards. It looked like the resolution would be defeated until a compromise saved the day. Larry Romans substituted the wording “Reaffirms its support for affordable universal health care program, including the option of single payer health care program.” (The title was amended to remove the words “Single Payer.”)

SRRT Action Council also took a position on the “Organizational Dues Rate Proposal” (Council Document #44 Revised). It changes the criteria from size of budget to size of library in various categories. It provides for an average 28% increase over two years. SRRT reiterated its support for a progressive dues structure for individuals as well as organizations. Others voiced the opinion that because of the economy, this was the wrong time to increase dues. However the proposal was approved by a large majority.

Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act was again hotly contested. This is the section that concerns “business records,” the section that most directly affects libraries. It is the only section of the act that ALA has ever officially addressed. Jonathan Betz-Zall referred to “dueling motions.” Separate motions came out of the Intellectual Freedom Committee (IFC) and the Legislation Committee. The IFC resolution was much better. “Resolution of the Reauthorization of Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act resolved that Section 215 be allowed to sunset (end) on December 31, 2009 as scheduled (Council Document #19.9). The Legislation Committee’s resolution recommended 9 changes to Section 215 (Council Document #20.8). After much debate, the Council passed the IFC resolution and sent the Legislation Committee’s recommendations to the ALA Washington Office for their use if it looks like reauthorization is going ahead. I spoke to the point that the Washington Office should initially hold firm, and only go to the back-up recommendations at a later stage. I wanted this in the legislative record because the Washington Office is often much too ready to cave in. Furthermore, I reminded the Council that SRRT is opposed to the entire USA Patriot Act.

Council passed 2 other resolutions from the Legislation Committee of particular interest. The first resolved that ALA convene a widely representative group to continue to assess the Google Book Search Settlement and make recommendations to the membership and the Association (Council Document #20.3). The other resolution looks very simple at first glance but is actually based on troubling trends. The “Resolution Supporting GPO’s Digitization of Historical Federal Publications” (Council Document #20.6) urges Congressional support, asks that all digitization efforts adhere to Title 44 of the US Code and GPO guidance, and ALA’s principles of Digital Content, and that GPO and partner depository libraries become trusted repositories for preservation and access. The background to this resolution may be a Midwest “Big Ten” (CIC) proposal to maintain print copies only in its 3 regional depository libraries. This leaves the other depositories to do what they like with their print collections, including moving them in mass across state lines and so-called “destructive digitization.” I think the debate on this will heat up in the coming year.

The Intellectual Freedom Committee presented and Council approved 4 new or revised interpretations of the Library Bill of Rights. They are: “Access to Digital Information, Services, and Networks” (Council Document #19.5), “Importance of Education to Intellectual Freedom” (Council Document #19.6), “Labeling and Rating Systems (Council Document #19.7), and “Minors and Internet Activity (Council Document #19.8). Of course, the death of Judith Krug highlighted the IFC’s work. Judith founded the ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom and the Freedom to Read Foundation. She initiated “Banned Books Week” and developed the Intellectual Freedom Manual. Although SRRT has occasionally tangled with the Intellectual Freedom bodies over the years, Judith stuck to her principles in a forthright way. She will be missed.

There were two other successful resolutions of interest. The first was “Resolution Promoting Sunday, October 4, 2009, as Intergeneration Day Means Libraries” (Council Document #50). This asks us to support multigenerational activities in our libraries and asks ALA bodies to do the same including promoting this on their websites. The other was “Resolution to Expand Electronic Participation.” Instead of waiting for ALA committees and staff to figure our when and where we will start electronic access to governance, this resolution mandated member access to Council meetings for Midwinter 2010. Considering the cost estimates presented, the easiest and cheapest option is a podcast. It will be interesting to see how this plays out, and if there is extensive member interest.

The ALA Allied Professional Association (APA) Council passed one resolution after extensive debate. “Resolution on Support for Overtime Pay Protection” (APA CD#8.4) puts ALA-APA on record in favor of eliminating the exemptions for white collar staff that were enacted in 2003, amending the Fair Labor Standards Act. It also encourages other associations to speak out in favor of low-wage library workers and actively enforcing existing regulations.

This is my last report as your SRRT Councilor. After ten years as your first SRRT representative to the ALA Council, I can truly say how honored I feel to have had your trust for my time in office. Although there were many times when frustration almost got the better of me, on the whole I think the work has been extremely satisfying. Whether or not we won our issues, we always were able to do some education. In some cases, we were able to persevere and win our issues a few years later. I think this is not only a marker for me but an end to an era for SRRT. Elaine Harger and Jonathan Betz-Zall have also finished their work as ALA Councilors. They are both stalwarts and deserve our praise and thanks. I am sure all the old-timers, including the generation before Elaine, Jonathan and me, look forward to new younger librarians asserting themselves in favor of SRRT issues on the ALA Council floor. I stand ready to help in any way that I can. On the 40th anniversary of SRRT, let’s remember that we are still the largest round table. We also make the biggest splash of all the round tables in the ALA Council. We should be proud of what SRRT has accomplished.

Al Kagan
SRRT Councilor, 1999-2009