ALA President’s Open Letter on Ebooks and Publishers doesn’t get us very far

Maureen Sullivan, ALA president, just posted an Open Letter to America’s Publishers. Go read it, then come back and discuss.

On the one hand, it’s a fine letter, addressing all the appropriate stuff. On the other hand … I think I’m confused. Here’s why:

The letter doesn’t really seem to be addressed to America’s Publishers. Instead, it seems to be addressed to libraries and librarians. Most of the letter gives the normal “aren’t libraries awesome” stuff.

And then, in the last two paragraphs, that’s when the letter actually gets to the point. Here’s our big call to action:

“We librarians cannot stand by and do nothing while some publishers deepen the digital divide. We cannot wait passively while some publishers deny access to our cultural record. We must speak out on behalf of today’s — and tomorrow’s — readers.The library community demands meaningful change and creative solutions that serve libraries and our readers who rightfully expect the same access to e-books as they have to printed books.”

“So, which side will you be on? Will you join us in a future of liberating literature for all? Libraries stand with readers, thinkers, writers, dreamers and inventors. Books and knowledge — in all their forms — are essential. Access to them must not be denied.”

Did I miss something? Our big directive from ALA is this:

  • Librarians cannot stand by and do nothing
  • We can’t wait passively
  • We must speak out
  • Library community demands change

??? All Maureen/ALA is asking libraries to do is to … “speak out???” Nothing about the issues, nothing about results, nothing about concerted efforts…

So really – I’m glad maureen is ALA president, and I’m glad ALA is starting to do something about ebooks. But I’m not sure that simply asking libraries to randomly “speak out” about the issue is useful.

Why not something more concrete, like “everyone call Penguin on October 1 at 2pm, and ask for the same thing”? And then provide some some talking points to use during the phone call?

How about something more specific saying what ALA is doing about the issue, and giving us something to take back to our library boards?

Help me out here – what could we as libraries and librarians do that is more than just “speaking out?” Let’s create some better, more specific next steps for ALA. I think we can do better than this!

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.

ALA12 Presentations

As promised, here are my two ALA12 presentations. There was some great discussion at both!


I also participated in Battledecks. It’s not for the faint of heart! My goal wasn’t so much to win – more to say something coherent on every slide, and attempt to stick to the topic. And I think I achieved that, with some humor thrown in to boot. So mission accomplished there!

Say Hi in Anaheim!

ALA AnnualI’m headed to Anaheim, CA next week for the ALA 2012 annual conference. Busy time, that conference! My time will be full of meetings, sessions, and the exhibit floor, touching base with a bunch of techie vendors.

I’ll be giving a few presentations while I’m there, too. Please stop by and say “hi!” Here’s where I’ll be:

  • Sunday, June 24, 10:30 a.m.–noon. RUSA President’s Program: Library in Your Hand: Mobile Technologies for Exchanging Information with Patrons. The MARS Conference Program Planning Committee has produced a program on the use of mobile devices in libraries as communication tools between librarians and library patrons. Mobile devices are increasingly being used to provide libraries with the opportunity to disperse information at the exact point of need. This program will explore the importance of libraries supporting mobile technologies for the dissemination and acquisition of information. Other speakers include Joan Lippincott, Associate Executive Director of the Coalition for Networked Information, will speak about why libraries should embrace communicating with patrons through mobile devices, and Kristin Antelman, Associate Director for the Digital Library at NCSU Libraries, will speak about mobile initiatives at NCSU including WolfWalk, a photographic guide to the history of NCSU optimized for mobile devices.
  • Monday, June 25, 2012, 8:00am to 10:00am. Let’s Work Together: Integrating Social Media, Online Marketing, and Outreach (RUSA). Speakers will discuss how their organizations have reinvented their online presence using social media as a way to interact with their communities. They’ll also address their personal and organizational investments in the implementation of an ongoing online, socially-interactive presence; give hints and advice regarding the implementation of new media and how these roles and responsibilities are assigned to staff; identify the criteria they used to develop their social media plan; and explain goals and measurement tools for keeping on track.  Other speakers include Jen Robinson, Marin County Free Library and Marshall Breeding.
  • Monday, June 25, 5:30pm – 7:00 pm. Battledecks! Battledecks is not for the faint of heart. It is a nerve-wracking event where those competing must create a coherent presentation from a deck of slides that they have never seen before. This is truly the perfect way to end your conference experience as these courageous individuals compete for the glory of being crowned the next champ.

Say hi if you see me, and cheer me on for Battledecks – I’ll need all the help I can get!