Clarification: The taking off point for last issue's column on the social function of libraries was what seemed to be a name change for the University of Washington's library science program. I have since learned that UW's School of Library and information Science [still so-named] will continue to flourish within the new School of Information, and that the program is actually being expanded. The new School of Information simply consolidates all UW programs that train people to create, organize, and deliver information.
This doesn't take away from the essential point of my article, that libraries serve a larger social function than simply delivering information. But I do apologize for passing on the incorrect suggestion that the University of Washington is part of the dismaying trend of stripping the word "library" out of our professional training programs.
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REVIEW: ALTERNATIVE LIBRARY LITERATURE, 1998-1999: A BIENNIAL ANTHOLOGY
Sanford Berman and James P. Danky, eds. McFarland and Co., Inc., box 611, Jefferson, NC 28640. 0-7864-0917-7 $45.00 [order at 1-800-253-2187 or www.mcfarlandpub.com]
I think it's fair to say that the alternative library press is there to keep us honest, to ask us how genuinely we are committed to representing ALL viewpoints and serving ALL residents of our community. This compilation of the best of the alternative library press suggests: not very.
Earl Lee, in "Really Banned Books," examines how many libraries bought books recommended in Counterpoise, the "alternative review journal published quarterly by the Alternatives in Print Task Force of the Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association." Why, he asks, do we exercise such passion over theoretically banned books like Catcher in the Rye that are in fact widely available, and worry not at all about the fact that books like Suppression Stories, or Afflict the Comfortable, Comfort the Afflicted or Children, the Invisible Soldiers are effectively banned by being held by fewer than ten libraries? A similar study of academic library journal collections finds very alternative press publications represented.
In "Confessions of a Latina Author," Pat Mora asks us how really devoted we are to serving our Hispanic users by choosing books that represent the fullness of their lives and culture? Arlene Barry, in "Hispanic Representations in Literature for Children and Young Adults" chastises publishers and librarians alike for the paucity of books for and about Hispanic Americans.
Worse yet, what if the few books we have on specific cultures actively misrepresent them? That question is posed in "My Heart Is on the Ground and the Indian Boarding School Experience," which attacks Ann Rinaldi's book for its benign representation of the scarring experience of Indian children, uprooted from their culture and forced into boarding schools in which they were forbidden to speak their language or know their history. An article by Chris Dodge suggests that we can improve community understanding of the homeless by welcoming the "street newspapers" they publish into our libraries. Another article makes the point that among the voices of the downtrodden missing from our collections are those of the extreme right, the folks many of us dismiss as loonies.
Sanford Berman can always be relied on to point out that the materials we do provide for our underserved populations might as well not exist if bad cataloging hides them and their interests under subject headings nobody in their right minds would ever search with. He and Thomas Mann point out the drift in the Library of Congress toward inferior descriptive cataloging, a problem that would be compounded by the Librarian of Congress' plan for shelving by height (which as best I can tell, has not been put into effect).
Have we advocated strongly enough for the importance of libraries? Not according to the alternative librarians. In "The Devil and Max Weber in the Research University," Albert Henderson says we have allowed politicians and universities to divert money away from libraries when they are needed most, to purchase and organize and make available information that has become nearly unmanageable by sheer quantity. Another article points out that we have allowed ourselves to be held hostage by the outrageous pricing strategies of scholarly publishers, and failed to build effective alliances against them, as if our only available weapon was subscription cancellation.
Alternative library literature also asks us whether we apply our highest principles of service to our own staff, whether we treat them fairly and pay attention to their ideas, or rather impose decisions on them that violate their own ideas of service? Sanford Berman thinks not. Included here is his proposal to the American Library Association that we add to the Library Bill of Rights a 7th point: "Libraries should permit and encourage a full and free expression of views by staff on professional and policy matters."
In Public Library, R.I.P., Clark Dissmeyer reveals how passionately angry our own colleagues are at our practice of ruthless discarding:
Thieves are in the treasure house
Ravaging, plundering, laying waste
To everything beyond their taste
Similarly, Fred Woodworth, in "One of the Strange Features of Life and Civilization," says, "Series books aren't gone; after all, WE still like them, and we rescue them and hold onto them, fix them up, re-create color photocopy dustjackets for them, and perpetuate them in one way or another. But thinking back, does it seem to you that this function was the one you attributed to LIBRARIES, when you first learned of those institutions long ago?"
This compilation, published biennially, is valuable because many of us lack ready access to these alternative publications and the ideas they propound. We need not agree with all, or even any, of the ideas expressed here. We do, however, need to think about, and address, the questions raised here.
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Official history is always phony,
But it never lasts because,
As the old folk singer once said,
The most dangerous political force
In America today is a
Long memory," and memory
Will not die in the special
Collections room of a good
J. Quinn Brisben. "In Memoriam Gene de Grusson." Reprinted in Alternative Library Literature, 1998-1999.
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You are welcome to copy and distribute or e-mail any of my own articles for noncommercial purposes (but not those by my guest writers) as long as you retain this copyright statement:
Ex Libris: an E-Zine for Librarians and Other Information Junkies.
Copyright, Marylaine Block, 2000.