Librarians Take a Stand

July 12, 2019

At the recent American Library Association’s annual conference in D.C., the CIA had a booth set up to entice librarians into a new role as intelligence analysts. Pretty smart, I’ll admit, but many ALA members were very unhappy with the agency’s presence. Raw Story reports, “Citing CIA’s Dark History, Librarians Protest Agency’s Recruiting at their Conference.” Protestors cited the CIA’s history of foreign-government overthrows, support of dictators, reliance on torture, and tendency to spy on everyone else while maintaining opacity for itself. They maintain that supporting the agency in any way runs counter to the American Library Association’s stated values.

This is not the first time librarians have made an issue of this particular conference exhibitor. Writer Common Dreams notes:

“That language builds on and mirrors a call from an open letter released last year. Authored by [Alison] Macrina and Dustin Fife and entitled ‘No Legitimization Through Association: The CIA Should Not Be Exhibiting at ALA,’ the letter was published right after the ALA’s 2018 annual conference, when the CIA was also an exhibitor.

We noted:

“‘We refuse to lend credence to the CIA through association and we ask our fellow library workers to join us,’ it said. ‘We should not allow them space to recruit library workers to become intelligence analysts, which was the focus of their booth.’

And this:

“‘Library workers are powerful,’ the statement added. ‘We have a strong reputation in our local communities and across the world as being steadfast stewards of democracy, intellectual freedom, equity, and social justice. We attempt to honor these values through our collections, programs, and services and we recognize that our libraries need continuous examination in a systemically unjust society. Those values should extend to all that we do. A more democratic world is possible, and we believe that library workers can be at the forefront of this charge.’”

At this year’s conference, it was proposed that CIA be banned from recruiting at future events, but the resolution failed. It was reasoned that such a ban would violate the CIA’s freedom of speech. Without noting the irony, Library Freedom Project founder Alison Macrina insists this is not a first amendment issue, predicting the ALA would deny, for example, the KKK should that organization wish to recruit at the conference. Certainly, she is correct there. Right?

Cynthia Murrell, July 12, 2019

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