The Nation takes an admiring look at librarians

The Nation magazine posted a web-only article yesterday by Joseph Huff-Hannon titled, “Librarians at the Gates,” which takes an admiring look at American librarians. It discusses librarians’ responses to anti-immigration legislation (with a link to REFORMA’s website); our responses to the USA PATRIOT Act, responses to censorship attempts, four paragraphs about the National Security Archive at George Washington University, and attention to both sides of the Cuban “independent” library movement, with a quote from Mark Rosenzweig at the end of the article.

(The article got one important thing wrong that should be pointed out. It states, apparently repeating an assertion of Robert Kent’s, that “Library associations around the world have drafted forceful statements of condemnation [of Cuba for arresting ‘independent librarians.’]” This is simply false – library associations, with only a very few exceptions, have avoided taking a position in support of the “independent librarians.” Thanks are due to Ann Sparanese for pointing out this error in the article.)

The Nation, back in the early part of the 20th Century, used to publish reports from ALA’s annual conferences, showing a definite interest in the professional issues of librarians at the dawn of the modern library movement. It is very gratifying to see the magazine make a return to that tradition.

Joseph Huff-Hannon also had an article published in In These Times earlier this year, with a byline of Buenos Aires, titled, “Locating Argentine Memories,” about the Archive for Permanent Memory (Archivo Permanente Para La Memoria), where the terrors of 1976 and 1977 are documented, researched, and memorialized. Huff-Hannon is a translator and a writer with an intimate understanding of the importance of libraries for justice and social change.

7 comments on “The Nation takes an admiring look at librarians

  1. From a press release of IFLA Committee on Free Access to Information and Freedom of Expression (FAIFE), Jan. 16, 2004:

    “Today, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) and its Committee of Free Access to Information and Freedom of Expression (IFLA/FAIFE) expressed their deep concern about the continuing violations of the basic human right to freedom of access to information and freedom of expression in Cuba.

    “This concern is shared by international organisations such as Amnesty International and Freedom House, New York..”

    I found this at the website of the National Library of Cuba, entry titled: Cuba, the strange obsession of FAIFE. see:

    From the Cuba resolution adopted by the ALA council in 2004:

    “ALA joins IFLA in its deep concern over the arrest and long prison terms of political dissidents in Cuba in spring 2003 and urges the Cuban Government to respect, defend and promote the basic human rights defined in Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

    “ALA supports IFLA in urging the Cuban government to eliminate obstacles to access to information imposed by its policies, and IFLA’s support for an investigative visit by a special rapporteur of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights with special attention given to freedom of access to information and freedom of expression, especially in the cases of those individuals recently imprisoned and that the reasons for and conditions of their detention be fully investigated.”

  2. Stephen,

    Thanks for posting that. Kent & Co. seem to ignore the fact that ALA and IFLA have already made significant, balanced statements. Huff-Hannon was obviously misled by Robert Kent, always on the campaign. Library associations, with a couple of exceptions, have not “condemned” Cuba over this situation, and the quotes you reproduced are consistent with this. Kent is wrong about that, and wrong in his assertion that ALA has not said enough.

    Rory Litwin

  3. Rory,
    When FAIFE and IFLA express “their deep concern about the continuing violations of the basic human right to freedom of access to information and freedom of expression in Cuba,” that to me would fall into the category of condemning such repression in Cuba. I agree that Robert Kent has gone too far in his confrontational manner of advancing this issue, but so have your colleagues Ann Sparanese and Mark Rosenzweig. While I was not wholly satisified with the ALA 2004 statement, I believe that those of us who support the right of individuals to establish their own libraries should have used the resolution in a positive way to advance this cause, since it could be interpreted as supporting this right and opposing the 2003 political crackdown on dissidents.

  4. The idea that the “independent library movement” consists of “individuals establishing their own libraries” is a bit of a distortion, because it makes it seem like these “libraries” (usually consisting of a few shelves of books) have arisen spontaneously out of the independent desire of Cubans who oppose Castro, when in fact they constitute an organized strategy with origins in the US Dept. of State. It is not about the freedom of Cuban people to open libraries but about a US campaign against the Cuban government, and one that has been rather effective in manipulating American sentiments.

  5. But they are individuals, some of them now serving long prison sentences, and it seems that you judge them en masse, without considering their individual cases. Steve Marquardt noted from the Cuban court documents that a number of these people were not accused of receiving U.S. funds. When you say “It is not about the freedom of Cuban people to open libraries..” you have already judged in advance any Cuban who tries to do so.

  6. Marquardt’s document showed that they were not accused of receiving funds from the US government. It didn’t talk about funds received through US-funded NGO, which may not be specifically prohibited by Cuban law.

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