Bad Reporting and Weird Views about ALA

My wife passed this article from along to me last night, and it irritated me. A lot. So I left a comment on the article (still awaiting moderation), and thought I’d share it here, too. Here’s my comment:


I just read your article “The American Library Association’s social activism” by Emily Whitten. Emily seems to be a fine writer, but needs to brush up a bit on her research skills, as her article about the American Library Association is highly inaccurate at best.

Here are some examples of those inaccuracies:

Emily says this: “That sort of social activism was on display two weeks ago at the ALA’s annual conference in Anaheim, Calif., where best-selling author John Irving took the stage before the packed house. He was there to introduce his new novel, In One Person, in which one of the main characters, a transgender librarian, seduces a 13-year-old boy through the books she recommends to him … Such proselytizing isn’t new to the ALA.”

That makes it sound like 1. ALA had only one author talk, and 2. ALA is pushing certain philosophies to all members.

Simply innaccurate on both counts. There were over 300 author events at the conference (which I attended) – here’s a list from the ALA Conference Scheduler.

Two of those were book signings by authors from Zondervan Books, a Christian book publisher. Does that mean that ALA was also pushing a Christian agenda? No – obviously not.

Or how about this – I attended a talk by Fantasy author George R. R. Martin. Does that mean ALA was pushing some weird fantasy elfin agenda? Nope. With all these authors, it simply means that librarians, for some odd reason, are really interested in authors and their new books. Go figure.

Next HUGE inaccuracy: Emily says this: “But more disturbing than the content of the book were the reasons why Irving wrote it: The American Library Magazine reported Irving saying, “There could be one bisexual boy out there like Billy or a transsexual girl [like the librarian] who could be helped by reading the novel.”

Again, this is simply WRONG. Here’s a link to the article in question – and here’s the quote by Irving – “Irving’s son read the manuscript when he was 19, the author said, and told him later that even if people misconstrue the meaning of the book, it doesn’t matter, because there could be one bisexual boy out there like Billy or a transsexual girl (like another character in the book) who could be helped by reading the novel.”

So – Irving did not, in fact, say that, as Emily claimed. His son said it.

Next, Emily says this: “For instance, in conjunction with Gay Pride Month in June, the ALA put its weight behind a campaign to communicate to LGBT communities across the nation that “You belong @ your library.”

Again, WRONG. The You Belong @ Your Library campaign is the annual National Library Week slogan. It’s not about some agenda, other than raising awareness about libraries. Here’s what ALA says about this campaign: “Every day, people of all ages and backgrounds from rural, suburban and urban communities across the country turn to their libraries to find jobs or go online, to get help with homework or complex research projects, to start on a business plan, connect with their kids or simply find a space to relax.”

And one more whopper from Emily: “As for librarians who might feel that such a campaign is more about social activism than intellectual freedom, it’s unlikely you’ll hear from them. Library employees often must have the approval of their superiors—superiors who hold significant positions in the ALA—before they can speak with any member of the media.”

Really? This is so completely inaccurate, I’m not sure quite how to tackle this one. But I’ll try. OK. First of all, Emily is wrong about the ALA/library superiors thing. Sure, some library administrators are members of ALA. But certainly not all. And being a member (and being a library administrator) doesn’t mean that person also “holds a significant position in the ALA.” Those are voted for by members – you have to survive an election for them.

The other part of Emily’s statement is troubling too – sounds like she’s never worked at an organization before. Emily says this – “Library employees often must have the approval of their superiors … before they can speak with any member of the media.”

Well … um … yeah. Worldmag – do you let your entry-level employees talk to the media? This really depends on the individual library, and has nothing whatsoever to do with ALA. For example, at my library, we tell employees that if they are comfortable talking to the media, and know all the facts about said topic, that’s fine (but they need to tell our Communications Director it happened, too). If they don’t feel comfortable doing it, they refer the media person to our Communications Director. We send staff of all levels to a local weekly TV news show to report what’s happening at the library.

OK, so why am I dissecting Emily’s article? For a few reasons. First of all, it’s simply bad reporting at best. Emily obviously didn’t do her research, didn’t even read the research she DID do correctly (see the info about John Irving’s son above), and doesn’t know a thing about ALA, an association for libraries and librarians.

More importantly, on Wordmag’s About Us page, you guys say this about yourselves: “We stand for factual accuracy and biblical objectivity, trying to see the world as best we can the way the Bible depicts it. Journalistic humility for us means trying to give God’s perspective. We distinguish between issues on which the Bible is clear and those on which it isn’t. We also distinguish between journalism and propaganda: We’re not willing to lie because someone thinks it will help God’s cause. Our standards are just as high for the content presented at, where we offer an open forum for discussion of the news that arises at the intersection of religion and culture.”

You are NOT doing that. In Emily’s article anyway, Worldmag has NOT been factually accurate or objective, and, I think WAS willing to lie (again, see above) and push some weirdly inaccurate propaganda about libraries out to its readership.

Guys, as a Christian and as a librarian (who is a member of ALA), I’m embarrassed. It makes me wonder how accurate the rest of your “news stories” are.

Do better next time. Please.


OK. There. I feel better. No, actually, I don’t!

Here’s the deal – I’ve heard this ALA Agenda/ALA controls libraries thing before – in other articles, and locally, too (from a conservative activist organization). And I know that’s simply not the case at all – so much not the case that it’s laughable at best. Simply not how ALA works.

But here’s my question – where in the world is this coming from? I think I know – politicians and activists of all stripes, when pushing their ideas (and I mean extreme right AND left here, guys – not picking on any one side), tend to stray off the path of truth to get their points across.

I guess it just really wigs me out when I see a Christian organization and a Christian writer do this. I know enough about the Bible, etc to know that bearing “false witness against your neighbor” (one of the 10 commandments) tends to be frowned upon. And that’s what I feel this article did. Under the auspices of accurate reporting.

Argh. Just argh.


Update – to be fair, my comment is now posted, and Worldmag made a couple of corrections to the article (it’s still off, but at least a bit more accurate). So kudos to them for listening.

  • Patrick

    You know what I find troubling? How some people feel that the ALA has any kind of power over libraries anyway. I mean, if a librarian’s supervisors were in ALA and held some kind of position, what does the author think that will do? I’m a councilor and I’m astonished at how little power the ALA has! If my employees do something wrong, what am I going to do about it? Make a poster session about it at annual? No, I just don’t think that’s the kinda thing the ALA really cares about.

  • davidleeking

    Make a poster session – that’s a good one! Made me laugh. I know – We have a LITA board member, an Executive Committee member, and a past LLAMA President at my library, among other things. Believe me, ALA does not control my library.

  • Jim Peterson

    Funny how they think all librarians belong to the ALA. I’m not sure that even our director is a member!

  • Andromeda Yelton

    So did you get any response from WorldMag or the reporter?

  • davidleeking

    I did from one of their editors. They actually corrected the story! It still reads weird – like there’s some grand horrid conspiracy going on. But at least, they did correct some of their wildly inaccurate facts.

    So good for them for at least listening.

  • Rory Litwin

    What do you expect?

    Also, could you substantiate your statement that to be fair one should acknowledge that misleading statements about ALA come from the Left as well? I doubt that this is actually true, as nice as it sounds.

  • davidleeking

    What do I expect? Much better than what they did! And on the misleading statements part – that had nothing to do with ALA. I just meant extreme right crazies and extreme left crazies both tend to be crazy – that’s all.

  • Guest

    Why does she hate librarians?

  • Mseratt2

    (Our crazy support of Intellectual Freedom comes to mind.)

  • quodscripsi

     If you really don’t think the ALA has an agenda and doesn’t seeks to indoctrinate its members then you need to take a step back and take a serious look at the situation.  When the first of my friends started an LIS program she was telling me about how the first semester they try to indoctrinate you, I kinda let it pass as we had met in a graduate history program that mostly rejected agenda based approaches.  Then I went to a different LIS program and was taken aback by it.  It was like being in the novel The Wave.  And the friends I made in the program and I had great fun mocking the indoctrination, also with another friend who went to the first program.  Luckily one of my professors was smart enough and been around long enough to also push a what works approach with some of the best true stories I’ve ever heard.  So don’t think for a second it isn’t there and the sad part is that they aren’t very good at it, its like indoctrination of ideas from the 1970s that are mostly not relevant anymore.  This is also one of the reasons libraries have been so badly beaten down the last few year.  You can’t advocate funding anymore, people want to see value not hear how you think what you do is wonderful.

    Lets take GLBT issue.  Librarians are all about advocating for more of it for their libraries and being inclusive.  GLBT represent about 5% of the population give or take a few points depending on where you live unless it is Mecca for GLBT like San Fransisco.  How much of your resources are you going to dedicate to that 5%.  And btw if you say 5% you are actually being prejudiced against GLBT because you are saying that being GLBT is what defines them instead of their jobs or hobbies or religious beliefs or political affiliation.

    The goal of a library is to provide for the information needs of the community which typically means knowing aiming for the middle and advocating for things that will help the community.

    Now let me be clear I am not saying you shouldn’t have GLBT stuff in a public library.  I imagine there have been great novels written that would fall into that category as I know there are movies that stand on their own merit and not as a niche work.  And as I said above don’t assume that because someone is GLBT that they read GLBT stuff.  Check the records and see what people are reading because no matter what it is if its not getting used its a waste libraries can’t afford.

  • davidleeking

    Quodscripsi – I’ll have to disagree, because you are mixing your apples and your oranges. ALA and a library school graduate program are two very different organizations. The two simply aren’t the same. What happens at one organization doesn’t reflect on the other organization, and vice versa.

    That’s EXACTLY what I’m talking about.

  • quodscripsi

    It isn’t apples and oranges.  Two ALA certified programs using ALA materials to teach their students is not separate from the ALA.  What happens in one organization reflects on all organizations that are connected with it.  You may not like that but its the way the world works for better or worse.  We are very quickly reaching the point where people are going to start doing the math and divide the budget of the public library by 200 and realize how many tablets that is.  Its about one per student PER YEAR in a lot of areas plus I’m pretty sure if you start buying thousands of tablets you probably get a discount.  

    You can try and talk about how one organization isn’t technically the same as another, if there is any reasonable connection there the connection will be made and other associated organizations will be associated to it. 

    Luckily one of my professors was smart enough to teach us to make wise decisions and not those directed by the ALA, an idea that some of the ideologues in the class didn’t like until she started telling real stories.  Because ultimately you can’t fight access to information resources if you aren’t even in the fight.  The next battle ground isn’t going to be about challenges to a book or two people don’t like, it is going to come down to whether or not we should spend public money for the latest fiction because as one retired professor I heard talk on the subject, American public libraries were not built so suburban housewives could read the latest novel, they were built as places where people could learn and better themselves. 

  • davidleeking

    But… they don’t use ALA materials to teach. I went to library school, so at least I know this about UTK’s program. They used curriculum written by the professor, and sometimes a textbook, sometimes not. But not ALA materials. ALA doesn’t even publish textbooks!
    And being ALA accredited does not mean they indoctrinate students – sorry. If you want to say that, then fine – but I’ll need some proof.

  • Rosa

    I work at a public library in Los Angeles County and had an experience that left a bad lingering feeling.  A patron had was returning a David Sedaris book and I commented on finding the book funny.  The patron said in complete seriousness that she hated the book and would not have checked it out if she had known it was written by a “homosexual.”  I answered that I thought that was too bad and she responded that she was in the right and that homosexuality was a wrong.  I told her I did not agree.  Some people will think I had no right to make my point known, and call it being political.  I call it refusing to accept bigotry.

  • Erin

    I would love to see this rebuttal printed!

  • Paul Signorelli

    Thanks for attempting to set the record straight on a variety of issues through your article, David. Seems as if the writer had little interest in accuracy–didn’t even have the name of the magazine (“American Libraries,” not “The American Library Magazine”) correct. Like you, I enjoyed the diversity of opinions on display at the ALA Annual Conference events, in meetings, and among vendors on the exhibits floor–didn’t feel as if I had to agree with all of them, but was appreciative that ALA offered us a chance to be hear what others are thinking/saying about issues that affect many of us; it’s a shame that Emily didn’t approach the conference in a way that might have offered her–and those misled by what she wrote–the same opportunity.

  • Ingrid Henny

    I have never been so proud to be on the GLBT Round Table!

  • Lennyjb2009

    In reply to the comments, I’m kind of sad that ALA is not more left.  The Social Responsibilities Roundtable tries to bring issues affecting library issues to the fore, but the ALA Council always groans en mass and stifles them.
    As for the article in World Magazine, the writer totally has the plot of John Irving’s In One Person all confused.  Miss Frost, the librarian, does not try to seduce the main character.  She merely introduces him to books in which people have crushes on the wrong people.  She’s a wonderful and gentle character who expertly guides a young man to the world of reading.  That’s the only seduction.

  • punklibrarian

     Too expensive for what our salaries are!

  • quodscripsi

     2/3 of the material in one of my first classes was from the ALA to the point where we were joking that they should just assign the whole ALA website.  And you should probably have pointed out that you graduated library school 18 years ago. 

    If you want proof go and read the is the ALA going through a revolution stuff from about a year ago.  A lot of the impetus behind it came people with graduate degrees in other fields coming into library school programs and being surprised at what and the level at which things were taught. 

    Part of comes from a natural state of things in a field when it is dominated by an organization and no the ALA doesn’t dictate to librarians what to do, librarians look to the ALA for what they should do, which isn’t bad either, nor is indoctrination necessarily bad.  We indoctrinate people all the time.  The problem is the ideas are old and stale and lack pragmatism. 

  • davidleeking

    So … Some material in one class? Out of curiosity, what school, what class, and when?

  • Tony

    “But here’s my question – where in the world is this coming from?”

    Please see this:

  • davidleeking

    testing… one two three… 

  • Dan Kleinman

    David, your post was really good and provided balance to what that lady said, so I included it in my own post on the topic:

    “American Library Association’s Social Activism Undermines Public Trust in a Community Institution”

    Note, however, that there is no denying that the ALA’s social activism does indeed exist and does indeed cause concern to ALA members and non-members alike.  What Nat Hentoff said regarding jailed Cuban librarians, for example, comes to mind.