Thank you to the librarians who created this Google Document which served as our starting point for writing this letter. In addition to posting this letter here, we have emailed it to ALA President Loida Garcia-Febo and ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom (OIF) Director James LaRue.
To Loida Garcia-Febo and James LaRue:
We represent a loose alliance of several hundred archivists and library workers and are writing today in regard to the Bills of Rights Meeting Room Amendment passed during the 2018 ALA Annual Conference: http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/librarybill/interpretations/meetingrooms
We ask that the language be revisited and revised. The amendment as passed, specifically identifying hate groups as one among many types of groups that may legitimately use library meeting spaces, gives such groups and their members an opening to interpret this policy as welcoming them into the public and common space of the library. In addition, mentioning them in the same breath as charities or sports teams normalizes “hate” as simply one among many activities for which people may come together in association, to collectively pursue and promote.
This policy is unworthy of an organization that is supposedly devoted to the public good. ALA has merely appeased and offered sanction to groups and individuals that promote the assault, dehumanization, degradation, and death of human beings. In the process, ALA has betrayed the safety and security of our colleagues and patrons who belong to vulnerable and marginalized groups.
With this revised interpretation of the Bill of Rights Meeting Room amendment, ALA has created a hostile environment for both library workers and library patrons who are people of color, non-Christians, queer, migrants, women, and others targeted by groups who subscribe to white supremacist, Christian nationalist, and other hateful ideologies. Library workers should be able to arrive at work every day knowing that their employer is not rolling out the welcome mat for meetings dedicated to the violent eradication of people like them. Library patrons should be able to access their community’s library without fearing that — if they are the target of hate in the library space — the library staff will stand by and do nothing to prevent such harassment.
In this current political and social climate, where hate crimes are on the rise and where prejudice and bigotry are tolerated at the highest levels of our government, it is dangerous and unethical for ALA to explicitly protect groups with an explicit mission to harm our employees, colleagues, patrons, and neighbors. It is a dereliction of ALA’s moral and professional duty towards library patrons and the library workers who constitute ALA membership.
With this policy interpretation, ALA has bought into the outmoded, privileged, and patently false notion that libraries are “neutral” spaces. That notion is a lie and a myth. Libraries never have been and never will be neutral. We owe it to ourselves as librarians, and as human beings, to protect our most vulnerable neighbors and strive to the best of our ability to make libraries into the welcoming, inclusive safe harbors we claim they should be.
As archivists and librarians committed to engaging in anti-oppression work in archival and library spaces, we reject the language of this policy document and the ideological and structural conditions out of which it emerged. We call on ALA leadership to do better and rectify this situation as quickly as possible before any library worker or library patron is harmed as a result.