Posted: 11/28/2005 11:34:00 AM
Author: Edith Levy
Article dated: 10/24/2005
The very name of the American Library Association suggests to me an association, or group of people, involved in, employed by, and/or concerned with libraries and librarianship in the U.S. Thus, I assumed that ALA would be involved in furthering the visibility and the interests of the profession; that any political involvement would be primarily concerned with library employment, education and infrastructure, and ensuring that collections are balanced in perspective and accessible to all.
I did not expect to find that this professional organization had extended its purview beyond addressing issues directly relevant to the profession. Library staff who wish to be political activists should, by all means, enlist in any or many of the political organizations that are congruent with their beliefs and interests. This does not include bending a professional organization into a political arm of either the Liberal Left or the Reactionary Right.
The ALA Mission Statement includes the goal of speaking “with one voice for the profession” (ala.org/ala/ourassociation/governingdocs/policymanual/mission.htm#mission).
The Mission Statement also declares that “The diversity of the membership dictates a wide range of interests that frequently overlap or complement one another.”
The definition of “diversity” is “differing from one another; unlike.” Inherent in the concept of “diversity” is the very real possibility that agendas may not only not “overlap or complement one another,” but may in fact be diametrically opposed, even though individually valid within the scope of each perspective.
If diversity is recognized, encouraged and supported by ALA, then speaking with one voice has got to be a contortionist’s feat. For an organization that has as a goal providing “access…to the full range of available knowledge and information” (ala.org/ala/ourassociation/governingdocs/policymanual/mission.htm#mission), ALA falls woefully short of this goal; certainly it does on its website.
For example, the website provides a list of “Alternative Resources on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” (users.telerama.com/%7Ehudsonm/israelpalestine.html). There is an interesting disclaimer at the head of this list: “Resources listed on this page do not necessarily [emphasis mine] reflect the views of IRTF, SRRT, or ALA.”
First, what in the world does “necessarily” mean? Either the list does or does not reflect the organization’s views. Second, by its inclusion on the website, the tacit implication is that, indeed, the list does reflect ALA views. If it does not reflect ALA views, why is it prominently displayed on the ALA website?
The phrase “alternative” resources is also problematic. One dictionary definition of “alternative” is “espousing or reflecting values that are different from those of the establishment or mainstream.”
In this context, neither Al Ahram nor Al Jazeera can be considered alternative publications in light of their primary intended readership. Indeed, Al Ahram, established in 1875, is as mainstream an Egyptian newspaper as one could hope to find.
Notably absent from this list, however, are such media outlets as Israel National News (israelnationalnews.com), Israel Insider (israelinsider.com), the Jerusalem Post (Jpost.com) and the Near East Report (aipac.org/neareastreport.cfm), to name just a few. I can only conclude that the (anonymous) compiler of the list has as an implicit definition of “alternative” anything that is pro-Palestinian and/or anti-Israeli. Otherwise, the list and its title make no sense.
Equally absent from the companion list of “Organizations Concerned with the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” are the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (aipac.org), the American Jewish Committee (ajc.org), The American Jewish Congress (ajcongress.org), B’nai B’rith International (bnaibrith.org) and the Zionist Organization of America (zoa.org). All of these organizations (and many more I’ve not listed) are extremely concerned with the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
The choice to exclude not one, but every single alternative and mainstream organization that supports Israel, speaks volumes about what seems to be an institutionalized bias of the ALA.
The ALA IRC Near East and South Asia Subcommittee, consisting of three individuals, includes one Arab but not one Jew. This geographical region does include Israel. Unfortunately, the complete list of the International Relations Committee is not available to me as a non-member of ALA, even though I’m a genuine Reference Librarian.
(Do even ALA members have easy access to ALA committee membership rosters? For a group that trots out the Freedom of Information Act at the drop of a volume, the secrecy surrounding the identity of committee members is certainly a vote of no-confidence in both its membership and the profession at large.)
Based on some of the language to be found on the pages of the ALA website, this organization strays into inappropriate political positions, particularly when it meanders into the Elysian fields of “social responsibilities” and gratuitous resolutions.
In 2002 The Jewish Press published a front-page essay titled “Librarians against Israel” (jewishpress.com/news_article.asp?article=1915). At that time the author stated that “the text of one of the two anti-Israel resolutions, passed in 1992, is conspicuously absent from the ALA website.” (This was the resolution referencing Omar al Safi, a terrorist who “may have worked” in the Bir Zeit library.)
I was astonished to find that this resolution, which either never disappeared or has been reinstated, is easily located in 2005 on the ALA website at "Resolution on the Deportation of Omar Al-Safi” (ala.org/ala/iro/awardsactivities/resolutiondeportation.htm).
Clearly, ALA is either a bumbling mega-group or a defiantly pro-Palestinian organization.
As a Jew whose family has supported Zionism since the end of the 19th century, I find the anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, and anti-Semitic material found on the pages of the ALA website not only personally offensive, but egregiously unbalanced in scope and antithetical to my personal political position.
It is indeed regrettable that the politics of a major professional organization are such that those who would wish to join a professional organization can do so only at the risk of having their membership subverted and misused.
“Edith Levy” is the pseudonym of a reference librarian in San Diego, California.