This is a “Yes, and…” post in that it builds on the themes and ideas that Sarah Houghton just posted on her blog.
Based on that, here’s where I’ll start: the values of the American Library Association are completely incompatible with the Trump administration in its present form.
Period. Full stop. The end.
As it stands at the time of writing, the Trump administration is a basket of unignorables: overtly hostile to current norms of free expression, speech, and press; a major threat to the civil rights of religious minorities, LGBTQ, and people of color; and filling his administration with like-minded individuals with track records of racism, misogyny, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and other awful backward beliefs. This is the reality of the president elect and the men (since they all are at this point) he has tapped to lead the nation for the next four years.
It’s completely unacceptable.
I can understand the terrible bind that makes for an organization like the ALA as their mission is to advocate for libraries. I can understand the pragmatism and politics involved in finding the common ground with the Trump administration since it is what they have to work with. But there is a line too far in which values and ideals cannot and should not be compromised in order to achieve a partnership with the incoming government.
Here’s what I would suggest going forward.
First, that ALA comes out strongly against the bigotry exhibited by members of the Trump administration. Be it resolutions, press releases, whatever, but it has to be strong and clear. It has to spell out the differences in values and why libraries cannot “go along to get along”. It should encourage them to move closer to what we believe as a profession in regards to intellectual freedom, freedom of expression, and rights of all human beings regardless of color, religion, or sexual orientation. This is a time for bold statements, so let no ambiguity muddy the waters.
Second, that the ALA limit their exposure as time goes on with the new administration. The gears of grants and funding do not always line up with presidential terms, but as they wind down it should look for other funding avenues. This is neither easy or simple, but it is the right thing to do until their values line up with our professional ones. This will take time as things shake out but the goal is still to limit the reliance on the new administration.
Third, that the ALA pursues partnerships with other organizations that align with our values in one way or another. Whether it is the ACLU, NAACP, or any number of civil rights/freedom of expression organizations that exist out there, this is the time to start building a network of likeminded folks. We can support each other in working on projects that entail both of our interests and we should pursue such opportunities. Now is the time to do so.
Last, and this falls to my peers, it’s to organize ourselves. The ALA can’t politically advocate in the manner that is required here, so it is up to the individual to do so. Make your own contacts and networks to call, fax, email, and/or march to protest and make your voices known. I wouldn’t impose a mandate on what level of involvement, but I know that some of my peers are community organizers who can get people together while others work better in smaller groups of active voices. Find your activity level and embrace it.
A couple of final things to take under consideration before we part.
This is not the easy path. There is no easy path. This will be a hard decision and as with all decisions there are consequences (most likely funding). There may be some PR backlash, but keep a few things in mind. Libraries have a 90%+ approval rating; this is to our advantage that people believe in us. Librarians are seen as trustworthy, according to a recent Maine poll; I would presume that this is not an outlier for the profession as a whole. As obnoxious as librarian stereotypes are, they don’t include deceit or bigotry; people see us in a positive light for that reason. We can and will survive such an ordeal as libraries have survived over the last hundred plus years. This is just another chapter in the history of the profession.
Finally, Donald Trump is vastly interested in things that get him attention, respect, and fame. We don’t need to feed the beast by engaging him on his boring and petty feuds; we need to focus on the bigger pictures and the items and issues that matter. As the American public focus shifts, we need to snap it back to the larger and more impactful topics: immigrations and deportations, persecution of religious minorities, and the threats to freedom of speech and expression. That’s where it really matters.
Good luck, everyone.