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

Don't speak to me of Andrei Codrescu. I was there when he high-jacked ALA (American Library Association) President Michael Gorman's program at our annual Midwinter Conference. It was obvious to me that he HAD NOT read all the available information and that, in fact, he had been purposefully mislead. Clearly he had listened to one perspective from few (perhaps only one) voice(s). Information was withheld from him, much to the perpetrator's disgrace. I spoke to him personally after the event and he had been told that ALA had never even discussed this issue (False), that ALA leadership [Council] refused to even look at it (False), and that no written statements of any kind had been issued from ALA (False). He urged me to exert myself to make sure the issue was at least discussed within ALA - a comment that should make ALL parties involved in this issue roll their eyes in disbelief at his lack of awareness. Yet, as our invited speaker, he had the floor, as well as the microphone, and he spoke as if he were the expert. His chastisement of our entire organization would have been laughable, if he were not using the time that was needed (and that had been fairly and democratically allocated) for other serious issues. Whoever had led the man by the nose should hide under a rock in shame. But Codrescu is not without fault. He did not bother to check facts. He did not even bother to ask his host, Michael Gorman, about the information he'd been fed. You may hold him high as one shining example. He no longer shines in my book. He came off as pompous, condescending, rude, childish, and misinformed.

Even if he had understood all the history, actions, statements, and issues – and still held the views he spouted - he had no right to high-jack a forum intended for other important issues. Our issues may not be important to him, they may not be important to Kent et al – but they were important to those of us who had worked hard on that event. Codrescu should have fairly and honestly sought a forum of his own. In addition, he had no right to mislead Michael as he did. It was no less than an ambush. I know Michael to be an extremely good and dedicated man. He has worked his entire adult life for libraries and all they mean and stand for. It was a vile act on the part of Codrescu to treat such a man in such a contemptible manner.

Codrescu has since claimed that he was not informed of any given topic for the forum and that he never discussed what he would speak on with Michael Gorman. That is a nothing but a lie.

I campaigned for Michael Gorman and was appointed to his presidential advisory committee on library education. Library education is an issue near and dear to me. But these folks refuse to care about anything but their own issue. The issues of others mean nothing to them. They care not that our committee worked for almost 2 years to address serious issues and that the program with Codrescu was one means of moving forward. Codrescu agreed to speak on library education and he discussed the talking points with Michael prior to the program. He did not speak on the agreed upon topic and he never informed Michael of his change of plans. Michael was left on a stage in front of hundreds with unusable notes. It was not just rudeness to his host. And it was not just rudeness to all of us who had worked so hard and cared so much. And it was not just rudeness to ALA. It was rude, most certainly, but also it was a vicious tactic. Underhanded. Spineless. Codrescu demonstrated to me that he is not an honorable man.

It was clear to me that some in the audience knew what Michael did not. A few people sat in the row directly in front of me whispering with great glee about how Michael was “in for a big surprise.? Clearly this was orchestrated by a number of people and they were pulling the puppet strings. These people alternated great delight with snearing – both verbally and facially during most of the program. They turned around often to connect with what I assume to be other conspirators. They all but rubbed their hands together anticipating their victory. When Michael introduced Codrescu with the gracious words, “But I know you aren’t here to see me…? They loudly stated, “YOU GOT THAT RIGHT!? Then they laughed. It was not a wholesome sounding laugh, I assure you. As the event was nearing completion, they got up and ran up the aisle and out the door with smug expressions. I have seen this sort of behavior in young teens, but never adults. It was truly odd – even creepy, somewhat scary.

Codrescu owes Michael Gorman an apology, at the very least. If he had any sense of fairness and honor – if he had integrity - he would repay his $5,000 speaker fee to ALA!

We had issues too. We worked hard on them and cared deeply about them. I personally put portions of my career in jeopardy to work on this - giving many, many volunteer hours. We went through channels accepted in a democratic society - such as elections - to get our programs and ideas before our colleagues and the public. This was our right. And these people took it. They stole it. They high-jacked it. Because their cause is more important than anyone else's. Because they are right and anyone trying to work toward any other goal is wrong. Because they are the crusader and anyone who is not with them is their enemy. Any ends justifies their means. They not only attempt to silence and falsely discredit those who oppose them they have no qualms about abducting with, or even silencing, all other forums and discussions but their own. These are vile behaviors – behaviors of the Hitler regime and the Bush regime. And the Castro regime. These people bare far too close a resemblance.

THEY HAVE BECOME THOSE THEY CLAIM TO HATE. They need to revisit "Animal Farm."

Because I strongly oppose their vile tactics, these folks have assumed that I am either uninformed on the issues or that I am against their views on these matters. They do not know what I think. I will tell you this, in the 20-some years I have supported Amnesty International, I have yet (to my knowledge) disagreed with any stance they have publicly taken. I will also tell you this, ALA has also issued a written statement and I don't disagree with it either.

You see cognitive dissonance here. There is none. I attended ALA Council when much of these discussions took place. I know that this was a highly contentious issue within our association and that massive amounts of time was given and that massive amounts of discussion took place. Compromises were made. The process was a fair one. I support the result. If they cannot live with the result, they are no friend of democracy and no friend of ALA. But then, that's been clear for some time now. I believe their ruthless, vicious, unfair and unfounded attacks on ALA and individuals within the association are seen by the vast majority for what they are - and that they see these people for who they are. (I thought to compare them here with children who throw tantrums when they don't get their way - but children have a sense of fair play - so the analogy fails.)

These people are militant - to the exclusion of all other voices, opinions, and issues. To them, this is a war. And war is a dirty business. There are no winners. I want no more to do with these people.

Sharon McQueen

Posted by: sherri6 at July 16, 2006 07:51 PM