Why I’ll quit ALA

I’m worried about this post, let me just say that up front. I don’t want to be anybody’s poster child, and I’m not out to make anybody angry at me who isn’t already. Nor am I the best person to take on this particular windmill. Even so—in my estimation, some things have to be said that aren’t being said, and faute de mieux, I’ll say some of ’em and hope other people pick up lances of their own.

I am furious—apoplectic—with Michael Gorman over this remark in a Chronicle of Higher Ed interview:

That does not mean that everything can be dumbed down to some kind of hip-hop or bells-and-whistles kind of stuff.

The library world, despite the valiant efforts of many, is one of America’s Great Honky Bastions. I’m sadly, appallingly, vilely pasty-faced white. I can count the non-white librarians, proto-librarians, and library educators I know without moving from my fingers to my toes. (Remove Asians and Asian-Americans from that list, and all I need is one hand. Sad.) We don’t have a great deal of room to protest our ideological purity, either, what with the stunningly racist (still!) organization of our most-used classification and cataloguing vocabularies.

It is simply not acceptable for an ALA spokesperson to use a musical genre associated with African-Americans as a term of opprobrium. I don’t care that Gorman presumably didn’t mean to be offensive. He was. He implied with crystal clarity that hip-hop and its listeners are simple-minded. In what world is that all right?

Worse still, I’ve seen some rolled eyes among the ALA-associated blogsphere, but that’s all. The foray against bloggers earned more attention and vastly more anger, which appalls me. I was hoping not to have to write this post, because I’m late to the game; I thought other bloggers would pick this up. Apparently not.

From ALA itself? Nothing. “Diversity is one of the five key action areas adopted by the American Library Association to fulfill its mission of providing the highest quality library and information services for all people,” according to the ALA’s own website, but I haven’t heard a single peep out of the actual Diversity Office about this. Maybe someone’s staging a private intervention with Gorman. I hope so. But even if that’s the case, it’s not enough.

I’d have to see an awful lot of good works coming out of an organization before I made the conscious decision to overlook such a vile utterance from its leadership, especially when neither the leader nor the organization has the courtesy and good sense to apologize loudly and publicly for it.

What do I see? A complacent, sclerotic, myopic mess with (usually) good intentions and (almost always) abominable execution. An organization in which the answer to deprofessionalization is recruitment. An organization that can’t or won’t embrace open-access publication despite its members’ crying need for another clear, unambiguous example of same. An organization that defines itself in terms of buildings rather than people. An organization that is five to ten years behind the technology curve. Finally, an organization that is too big and too entrenched to change from within.

I joined ALA as a student member, because I believe strongly in professional organizations, and because I wanted to understand and participate in the evolution of my newly-chosen profession. I now believe that my money and my energy will be better-spent elsewhere. I respect that many will choose differently; I respect the change-from-within efforts I read about in the blogsphere.

This is, however, the only choice I can make for myself.