January 23, 2006


Romanian-born writer Andrei Codrescu addressed the American Library Association's midwinter meeting in San Antonio, and raised the issue of the Cuban "independent librarians."

(I've written about it here, here, and here: the basic story is that the ALA has pointedly refused to condemn Castro's crackdown on and imprisonment of Orwell-distributing "librarians." At the heart of the rhetorical battle is the definition of "librarian." In the words of ALA anti-independent-librarian activist Ann Sparanese, "deep down, we know these people aren't librarians." To those of us whose status as actual official libarians may be even shakier than that of the imprisoned Cubans, this tacit approval of Castro's crackdown, on semantic grounds, really seems like an odd position for an organization dedicated to the celebration of free speech. Hence the controversy, stoked periodically by Nat Hentoff and others.)

Coderescu got to the heart of this semantic debate with ALA president Michael Gorman:

Then Condrescu addressed freedom of expression, citing his youth in Communist Romania, where "my good luck was to meet Dr. Martin, a retired professor, who had all the poets who were blacklisted." Because of ALA's record in opposing excesses in the USA PATRIOT ACT, Codrescu said he felt "great dismay" that the organization "has taken no action to condemn the imprisonment of librarians," the banning of books, and repression in Cuba...

Codresco said he didn't see why the Cubans should be termed "so-called librarians."

Gorman said there was a dispute about whether the activity of lending books "is being a librarian" and that "there is some dispute about the funding of these people who claim to set up libraries." Gorman also added that ALA's Council had "condemned the imprisonment" of the Cubans [actually, the phrase was "deep concern"], and that the stance had been misrepresented by columnist Nat Hentoff and Robert Kent of Friends of Cuban Libraries.

Codrescu intoned, "The man who lent us books was a librarian, and he was our librarian. I think ALA should make a stronger point in solidarity with these disseminators of books."

Later, in the Q&A, Codrescu was asked if "people paid to overthow the Cuban government" deserve the support he professed. He didn't engage the question but said wryly, "I think people should overthrow all governments."

(NB: the Library Journal article reports that Codrescu's remarks received "strong, if not unanimous" applause from the crowd, concluding that the ALA membership may have a "less measured approach" to the Cuba issue than the ALA Council.)

(via Bookslut.)

Posted by Dr. Frank at January 23, 2006 05:08 PM | TrackBack

the ala is totally a bun-head association that is too wrapped up in its own bureaucracy and self-importance to actually help with disseminating information. i know many people who are fed up with the the ala, their unwillingness to do anything other than faint condemnation, and excessive fees and obsession with fund raising for the orginisation (not libraries), that they are no longer members.

Posted by: kendra at January 23, 2006 10:13 PM

A Total Bun-head Association: great band name.

Posted by: Dr. Frank at January 24, 2006 02:11 AM

I have a library. I lend books. Nice to think these folks wouldn't be there for me if someone tried to stop me from lending certain books (or any!) BTW do you have to be a public library to be in the ALA?

Posted by: slickdpdx at January 24, 2006 09:55 PM

not a public library, but a degreed librarian (or enrolled in a mls programme). there's a separate division for public libraries- the pla. my small academic library is part of the sla because we're special.

Posted by: kendra at January 25, 2006 06:06 AM

I know we've talked about it before, Kendra, but to repeat: I love how you're a member of the SLA!

Posted by: Dr. Frank at January 25, 2006 06:21 AM

Thanks for clearing that up Kendra.

Posted by: slickdpdx at January 29, 2006 09:58 PM
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