Library Meeting Rooms for All
By: James LaRue, Director, ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom
See ALA’s statement, “ALA OIF Responds to Library Bill of Rights Meeting Room Interpretation update.” Please also see the comment section. See, too, the new Expanded Timeline.
The American Library Association (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) is charged with implementing ALA policies concerning the concept of intellectual freedom as embodied in the Library Bill of Rights, the Association’s basic policy on free access to libraries and library materials.
Article VI of the Library Bill of Rights (first adopted by Council in 1939) states, “Libraries which make exhibit spaces and meeting rooms available to the public they serve should make such facilities available on an equitable basis, regardless of the beliefs or affiliation of individuals or groups requesting their use.”
The Intellectual Freedom Committee (IFC) proposed a revision of the 1991 “Meeting Rooms: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights” that states, “A publicly funded library is not obligated to provide meeting room space to the public, but if it chooses to do so, it cannot discriminate or deny access based upon the viewpoint of speakers or the content of their speech. This encompasses religious, political, and hate speech. If a library allows charities, non-profits, and sports organizations to discuss their activities in library meeting rooms, then the library cannot exclude religious, social, civic, partisan political, or hate groups from discussing their activities in the same facilities.”
The revision of the interpretation was broadly inclusive and transparent. The decision to include hate speech and hate groups was made by the IFC and OIF in response to feedback they received from ALA Council and the ALA community when the interpretation draft was widely distributed, which concerned whether the KKK is allowed to use meeting rooms. The draft was edited during ALA Annual Conference by the IFC, and iterations were sent to ALA Council and distributed at two Council Forum sessions for feedback. The current language about hate speech and hate groups was included in the draft distributed at the second Council Forum session. The Public Library Association (PLA) reviewed and provided feedback to an earlier version (distributed before Annual Conference), but did not review or approve the final version. Again based on an earlier version, the interpretation was endorsed in principle by ALA’s Committee on Professional Ethics (COPE), the Association of Specialized & Cooperative Library Agencies (ASCLA) and the Intellectual Freedom Round Table (IFRT). Please note that documents are edited constantly up until the end of conference in an attempt to incorporate suggestions and wordsmith. The committee proposed a final draft in its Report to Council, which was distributed Monday, June 25, and presented at ALA Council Session III on Tuesday, June 26. Council voted to adopt the revised interpretation. Based on member and council comments, this process is likely to change, providing more time to review changes from previously submitted drafts, and vote electronically. [Correction to this paragraph have been added in italics to indicate that division and committee approvals were either conditional or based on previous drafts.]
“Meeting Rooms: an Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights” did not establish any new right to conduct hate speech in libraries. ALA does not endorse hate groups, and does not seek to normalize hate speech. But it recognizes that “hate groups” is a remarkably elastic term, prone to be thrown about by both sides of a political spectrum. It has been attached to book discussion groups, Black Lives Matter, Muslim groups, and others. The statement also recognizes two prominent lines of litigation addressing public library meeting rooms. The first set of cases addressed the exclusion of religious groups from library meeting rooms. The second set of cases involved the exclusion of white supremacist groups from library meeting rooms. In both situations, the libraries changed their policies to permit the meetings. In some of the cases, the court ruled against the library on First Amendment grounds; in other cases, the court indicated that it would rule on First Amendment grounds, causing the library’s administration to settle the lawsuit and change its policies to allow the group to meet in the library. The interpretation was also reviewed by legal counsel, and reflects the current legal climate. Our goal is not only to protect free speech, but also to keep libraries out of court.
It is the premise of intellectual freedom that providing broad access to public space builds communities, not only by providing common ground, but by facilitating the sometimes contentious discussions that lead to positive social change. Just as books may offend some people, so might the views of the folks who meet in a library room, or protest outside of it.
Can libraries be “safe spaces?” Librarians cannot protect the public or ensure their safety from ideas they disagree with, nor can they guarantee that no individual’s feelings or beliefs will ever be challenged. This position is fundamentally contrary to the very principles of democracy. We can and must preserve the public’s physical safety. Here are a few resources:
- Libraries Respond – by the Office for Diversity, Literacy and Outreach Services. This also addresses issues beyond physical safety.
- Controversial Speakers and Programs Q&A – adopted by IFC at ALA Annual Conference 2018
- Equity, Diversity, Inclusion interpretation – ALA is about diversity and intellectual freedom, not just one or the other.
To assist librarians in the work of providing thoughtful service, ALA continues its publications, webinars, and education efforts. For a sample of our previous work, see
- Meeting Rooms, Exhibit Spaces, and Programs
- Webinar: “Crafting Meeting Room Policies that Keep You In Charge and Out of Court”
- Hate Speech and Hate Crime
An alternative resource: Public Libraries: A New Forum for Extremists, a Q & A by the Anti-Defamation League, courtesy of the New Hampshire Library Trustees’ Association.
The language of the current interpretation may certainly be further revised. The underlying principles, however, remain. Librarianship is not based on the suppression of speech. It is based on the right to express and access it.
As mentioned in the IFC’s Report to Council, a Q&A about meeting rooms is forthcoming. Please send potential questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Below is a summary of the process through which the Meeting Room Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights was adopted. It is added to this post on July 17, 2018.
February – A review group was initiated at the 2018 ALA Midwinter Meeting to survey all the intellectual freedom documents and determine whether they need major, minor or no revisions, in preparation for the publication of the Intellectual Freedom Manual, 10th edition.
March – The review group determined that the meeting room interpretation needed revisions. Several issues were identified, among them charging fees, definitions of “meeting rooms” and what groups may use meeting rooms.
IFC Chair Helen Adams sought volunteers with public library backgrounds. The working group consisted of five volunteers currently employed in public libraries across the country and had the support of OIF staff.
April – An IFC working group, in six conference calls from March through April, updated two Library Bill of Rights interpretations: “Meeting Rooms” and “Library-Initiated Programs as a Resource.”
May – In May, a revised meeting rooms interpretation draft was distributed to the IFC for comment. The feedback period was 9 days. Here’s language from that draft:
If [publicly] funded libraries make their meeting rooms available to the general public for non-library sponsored events, the library may not exclude any group based on the subject matter to be discussed or the ideas that the group advocates. For example, if a library allows charities, non-profit groups, and sports organizations to discuss their activities in library meeting rooms, then the library should not exclude partisan political, civic, social or religious groups from discussing their activities in the same facilities. Religious organizations have the same right to use library meeting rooms as other community groups; such use does not constitute a breach of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the US Constitution.
In four conference calls during May, the working group took each comment from IFC into consideration and revised the document; it discussed the ethics of charging for meeting rooms and “commercial uses” of meeting rooms.
In May, the revised interpretation was distributed to the ALA community for feedback. The interpretation draft was sent to ALA Council, division presidents and executive directors, Round Table Coordinating Assembly, Committee on Professional Ethics, Intellectual Freedom Round Table membership and board, the State Intellectual Freedom Network, and ALA staff liaisons. The document was also posted on ALA Connect. Here’s the language that was included in the draft sent to the ALA community:
If publicly funded libraries make their meeting rooms available to the general public for non-library sponsored events, the library may not exclude any group based on the subject matter to be discussed or the ideas that the group advocates. For example, if a library allows charities, non-profit groups, and sports organizations to discuss their activities in library meeting rooms, then the library should not exclude partisan political, civic, social or religious groups from discussing their activities in the same facilities. Religious organizations have the same right to use library meeting rooms as other community groups; allowing religious groups to use the library’s meeting rooms does not constitute a breach of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the US Constitution.
June – After the deadline for comments passed, the IFC working group reviewed the feedback in three more conference calls. A discussion thread on the Google Doc concerned whether the KKK is allowed to use meeting rooms; some commenters urged the matter to be addressed within the document.
The working group revised the document to be included in the IFC’s conference packet. On June 12, copies of the three documents were emailed to IFC liaisons of PLA, ALCTS, ASCLA, and IFRT, requesting review and endorsement. Part of the email stated: “To avoid any misunderstanding, I’m acknowledging that the documents may change slightly based on comments received during the Council Forums on Sunday and Monday. It is the intent of the IFC to submit the three revised interpretations to Council for approval at Council III on Tuesday.”
This is the language that was distributed to the IFC in preparation for ALA Annual Conference:
If publicly funded libraries make their meeting rooms available to the general public for non-library sponsored events, the library may not exclude any group based on the subject matter to be discussed or the ideas that the group advocates.1 If a library allows charities, non-profits, and sports organizations to discuss their activities in library meeting rooms, then the library cannot exclude partisan political, civic, social, or religious groups from discussing their activities in the same facilities. Public libraries have lost or have been forced to settle lawsuits filed on First Amendment grounds when the library tried to deny meeting room space to conservative religious groups or white supremacists.2 Religious organizations have the same right to use library meeting rooms as other community groups. Allowing religious groups to use the library’s meeting rooms does not constitute a breach of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.
The documents were reviewed by legal counsel, who added suggestions. The IFC accepted these revisions at IFC Meeting III at Conference.
ALA Annual Conference Friday – The IFC met for IFC Meeting I and IFC Meeting II. The interpretations weren’t edited. During those meetings, the IFC was engaged in final editing of “Social Media Guidelines for Public and Academic Libraries” and “Responding to and Preparing for Controversial Programs and Speakers Q&A” documents, and the IFC approved both documents.
ALA Annual Conference Sunday – The above language in the IFC packet is the same language that went to Council Forum I on Sunday morning.
At IFC Meeting III from 12:30-2:30 on Sunday afternoon, the committee discussed the three interpretation drafts. For the “Meeting Rooms” interpretation, a division liaison expressed the division’s suggestion to revise the mention of conservative religious groups and white supremacy groups in the third paragraph, as it seemed to them to equate the two groups and tended to reinforce the stereotype that libraries only want to serve a liberal audience. IFC meeting attendees suggested other phrases to replace “white supremacists,” such as hate groups and pressure groups.
A small working group went into the hall to revise this section of the document. When they returned, the revised section was reviewed by the committee. The suggested edits included moving references to any extremist group to a footnote. The working group argued that original comments on previous drafts requested specific guidance and that avoiding the reference was ignoring the “elephant in the room.” Instead of itemizing conservative religious groups and white supremists, the compromise was to use hate groups to broadly include groups that have extreme or unpopular views on religious, racial, and cultural issues. This was the language that was created by the committee:
Public libraries are bound by the First Amendment and the associated law governing access to a designated public forum. A publicly funded library is not obligated to provide meeting room space to the public, but if it chooses to do so, it cannot discriminate or deny access based upon the viewpoint of the speaker or the content of the speaker’s speech. This encompasses religious, political, and hate speech.1 If a library allows charities, non-profits, and sports organizations to discuss their activities in library meeting rooms, then the library cannot exclude religious, social, civic, partisan political, or hate groups from discussing their activities in the same facilities. Allowing religious groups to use the library’s meeting rooms does not constitute a breach of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.2
ALA Annual Conference Monday – The above language went to Council Forum II Monday morning. It was also posted on ALA Council’s Connect page. The IFC met for the last time Monday afternoon from 12:30-2:30. The committee reviewed the meeting rooms interpretation draft. One member questioned the inclusion of hate speech and hate groups in the draft, and there was an explanation about how it was originally written as “white supremacists.” Another IFC attendee suggested adding definitions of hate speech and hate groups. Another suggested changing the statement from “This encompasses religious, political, and hate speech” to “This encompasses political and hate speech, as well as religious speech.”
An IFC member made the motion to approve the revised “Meeting Rooms: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights.” Another IFC member seconded the motion. There was no further discussion. There being no opposed and no abstentions, the motion passed.
The IFC chair did not attend Council Forum III on Monday afternoon because at that time she was working with OIF staff to recheck text of the three interpretations and finalize the IFC’s Report to Council by the deadline of 6 p.m. After its last meeting, the IFC submitted its Report to Council, which included three action items, proposed to Council for adoption: “Meeting Rooms,” “Library-Initiated Programs as a Resource” and “Services to People with Disabilities” interpretations. The Report to Council was distributed to Council members Monday night. On the meeting rooms document within the report, it stated the interpretation revision was endorsed by COPE, and endorsed in principle by ASCLA and IFRT, as the final language in the document was not approved by IFC until its last meeting; documents are edited constantly up until the end of conference in an attempt to incorporate suggestions and wordsmith.
ALA Annual Conference Tuesday – During Council Meeting III, IFC Chair Helen Adams gave an overview of the IFC’s and OIF’s work since Midwinter Meeting. Describing the “Meeting Rooms” interpretation revision, she stated, “The revision that you see today has strengthened the guidance on providing nondiscriminatory access to meeting rooms and addressed fees for the use of meeting spaces. The Committee plans to create a Q&A to address specific questions that were asked by librarians when we sought comment on the revisions.”
At the microphones, a few councilors spoke in support of the motion. The motion carried.
James LaRue is the Director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom, and the Executive Director of the Freedom to Read Foundation. Author of The New Inquisition: Understanding and Managing Intellectual Freedom Challenges, he has given countless keynotes, webinars, and workshops on intellectual freedom, advocacy, building community engagement, and other topics. Prior to his work for OIF, Jamie was a public library director for many years in Douglas County, Colorado. Find him on Twitter @jaslar.
I understand, as do most of the people at ALA and in libraries, that many people in our communities feel exposed and angry. To those people, they say an affirmation of our longstanding support of intellectual freedom as a kind of betrayal, or an invitation to violence. I acknowledge both those fears, and the genuine concern for the most vulnerable among us. I share it. Yet it is my belief that intellectual freedom is the foundation for positive social change. Speaking against the status quo is OFTEN labeled hate speech: it was applied to Martin Luther King, Jr. It was applied to Gandhi. It has been applied, as noted above, to the Black Lives Matter movement. But the freedom to speak out is where social change begins. There is, at present, no body of law that prevents “hate speech” – or even defines it in such a way that it prevents it from being immediately abused, and used against precisely the people we seek to protect. Maybe there will be such a law one day. Meanwhile, libraries have many other ways in which they can continue to advocate for freedom and safety for all. Some of the links of them are above.
Meanwhile, the purpose of blogs is to hash out these professional concerns – a concern (as was the phrase “hate group” itself) that came from librarians who wanted to drag the issue into the open, not bury it in vague language. We have. So please do weigh in below. But assume, please, that as librarians we SHARE values with each other. That we believe in both intellectual freedom AND diversity. And that these statements aren’t a thoughtless attempt to destroy what we have worked so hard to build. Rather, they are to give guidance that we believe will improve our libraries and our communities. Thank you.
The ALA webinar about crafting meeting room policies is something you need to pay for but NJLA has a PDF of a version of that talk online that people might be able to take some good info away from.
To whom it may concern,
I am writing to you to ask that the language of the Hate Speech and Hate Crime section of the Intellectual Freedom policy be revisited and revised (http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/hate). Not only does this policy create an unsafe environment for LGBTQ+, people of color (POC), and other library patrons, but also for LGBTQ+ and POC library staff. I am deeply troubled by the false equivalencies made in this document as well as in the policy on meeting rooms cited here: http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/librarybill/interpretations/meetingrooms
Charity groups and neo-Nazi groups are not the same and should not be treated as such. Additionally, I found disturbing that OIF and ALA would conclude that tolerating hate speech somehow protects hate speech targets.
“Tolerance of hate speech not only protects and upholds everyone’s right to express outrageous, unorthodox or unpopular speech; it also allows society and the targets of hate speech to know about and respond to racist or hateful speech and protect against its harms.”
This stance is one of ignorance to history and blind privilege. As a library worker, I object to these claims and ask that a revision be made.
I would also say that intellectual freedom is not the same as letting hate groups who openly champion the degredation of groups of people, or inciting violence against them share space in the library. Intellectual freedom is a library worker helping a patron look up the information of their choice. It is not inviting groups who openly wish to subjugate groups of folks, or who wish to harm those very library workers into your library.
15 year ALA member. But really, do better. Y’all at the washington office stand with someone who openly wishes harm on others, and now the OIF thinks we need to stephen king, “hug the oppressor” in our libraries. Instead, maybe have a policy where the value of the library worker is just as important as that hate group you want to share space with. Where is the organization who stood up to the patriot act? Because it seems like more of the collaborator metality going on now.
My understanding is that vague language in policy allows for multiple interpretations. That suggests that the purpose of including specific language is to limit possible interpretations. Was it your intention to limit the range of possible interpretations of this policy?
I suppose my concern would be, with this explicit language, can we deny the use of our meeting rooms to groups that actively seek to cause violence? I mean, at the end of the day, if I have the KKK using my meeting room, aren’t I basically telling my customers of color that they aren’t welcome in my library? What about my staff? Is a staff person with a disability to be expected to check in/assist a group that advocates for their elimination or segregation from society? What about a Jewish staff person and a Neo-Nazi group? That goes a bit beyond neutrality. It seems like it would go all the way into “creating a hostile workplace” and leaving us open to a lawsuit.
If our profession continues to use the excuse of “neutrality” as a way to avoid having difficult discussions what our professional response should be to the rise of misinformation, disinformation, and bigotry, then we’ve basically made ourselves obsolete. Who needs a degree to basically provide non-vetted information? Do we as a society really need another institution that disregards the needs and rights of the most marginalized among us?
Edith, yes, we have received many copies of that statement, although your link references not the controversial phrase “hate groups” in the Meeting Rooms, an interpretation of the Library Bill of Rates, but a summary of court cases and analysis. It’s not a policy statement.
Amy, no, I think the Intellectual Freedom Committee and its members were trying to respond to a shift in challenges from books to exhibits, displays, speakers, and community programs. Their intent, I believe, was to call out, to name, the issue as plainly as possible. I take that as a principled act. We, librarians, need to talk about it. We offer this space as a forum.
I would like to echo Jenn’s concerns about the ways that including explicit language allowing hate groups in library meeting spaces can create a hostile work environment for marginalized library workers and an unwelcoming space for large swathes of the library community. I am a librarian and a member of the queer community. I want to know if, with the current wording, it is the ALA’s stated position and guidance that I MUST allow my workplace to be used as a meeting space for a Neo Nazi group that would actively be organizing and strategizing for ways to make my murder not just permissible but state policy? Because the wording as it was amended reads that way to me, and it enshrines that situation into a core document of the profession, one that I had previously pointed to as a pillar of what was good about librarianship.
James, above you say “Speaking against the status quo is OFTEN labeled hate speech: it was applied to Martin Luther King, Jr. It was applied to Gandhi. It has been applied, as noted above, to the Black Lives Matter movement. But the freedom to speak out is where social change begins. There is, at present, no body of law that prevents “hate speech” – or even defines it in such a way that it prevents it from being immediately abused, and used against precisely the people we seek to protect.”
I don’t disagree but I feel strongly that there’s a vast difference between speech challenging authority and longstanding historical threats that include murder, torture, rape, and genocide directed at minorities. When an organization actively, by name, allows and welcomes parties like the KKK and Nazis to organize within their walls we provide a very direct message to others that they are not safe with us and that we can not protect them.
I am glad, truly, that I am not in the public library sector any longer as I am exactly the type of person many of these organizations seek to actively harm. I have already had the unfortunate experience of being targeted by individuals – what happens to library staff like me who now have to face entire organizations like this? If an individual feels emboldened it’s easy to imagine how easily this could escalate with the backing of a group. Not to mention the fact that in many states, it is entirely legal to carry guns and other weapons in public libraries which further complicates matters.
The policy as it is needs further revision and we hope to see ALA and OIF understand the need to promote free speech but still restrict violent and murderous rhetoric within their walls. I’d like to bring up the fact that while free speech is protected, there ARE several categories of free speech that have less or no protection as decided by the Supreme Court of the United States. These categories do include speech integral to illegal conduct, speech that incites imminent lawless action, and protection from imminent or potential violence against particular persons.
All of these things are tenants of what hate groups seek to do to others. By inviting those that seek the death and destruction of others into our spaces we are actively allowing their actions to be approved.
Jenn, I can imagine situations – where some discriminatory group really camped out at the library and started actively harassing staff – when it WOULD be a hostile work environment, and that *behavior* would have to be addressed. But I think a lot of librarians deal with some of what you say already – reference librarians who get not-quite-abusive patrons who not only ask for proof of government conspiracies but keep up a nasty running commentary, for instance. Or patrons who pointedly walk by one staff member (Latina, for instance) to talk with the Anglo staff. Often, of course, we have no idea what the political beliefs or biases of an individual might be when they use our services. Usually, we don’t need to.
I don’t know the answer to your other question: if there’s a group that actively promotes violence (a named affiliate of a group with a website calling for that, for instance) can a library deny them meeting space? There’s a difference between the probability of violence at the library (raising security and insurance issues, maybe), and groups with some members who have said they advocate for some kind of violence. I just read through the “Public Libraries: A New Forum for Extremists, “by the Anti-Defamation League, cited above. It was written in 2002, so the issue isn’t new. To the first question (“Can a public library ban extremists from using library meeting rooms and facilities?”) they say, “A library cannot decide whom to allow to use its meeting rooms and facilities on the basis of the content of the user’s speech.” But as the ADF also notes, “Please be aware that First Amendment issues of this sort are often very complicated, and the best response for your library may hinge on your institutional practice or state and local law.” I guess it will come down to the particular cases.
There are two issues I am unclear on. First, why are some council-members claim that the language inserting “hate groups” into the Interpretation took them by surprise. When was that language added, and given that hate groups were already covered, why are they now explicitly mentioned? Second, adding that language seems like it will be used against libraries and library staff in legal challenges. Regardless of future revisions, legal counsel for hate groups will have access to this text. Can you explain OIF’s thought process? Thank you.
More here, should anyone care: https://beerbrarian.blogspot.com/2018/07/the-american-library-association.html
Words can be weaponized. When someone calls Black Lives Matter a “hate group,” they are weaponizing the words to delegitimize a group they disagree with and don’t like.
Black Lives Matter stands for groups of people. Actual hate groups stand against groups of people. There is an essential difference.
I champion free speech. Libraries are all about the free expression and exchange of ideas. But inviting hate groups into the library is unnecessary and unsafe. If we “can and must preserve the public’s physical safety,” then we can’t invite a group whose central tenets are the destruction of other groups.
ALA does not need to include the words “hate groups” in the meeting room amendment. Even if AL A genuinely believes libraries cannot or should not prevent hate groups from using their meeting rooms, there is no need to include the words “hate groups” in the amendment. To do so signals an invitation to these groups, and a tacit endorsement.
The language “…cannot discriminate or deny access based upon the viewpoint of speakers or the content of their speech” is sufficient. Remove the words “hate groups.”
This statement does not respond to the concerns I, and other parties, have raised. It glosses over the transparency problems surrounding the approval process: many voting members report that they were not alerted to the last minute inclusion of the phrase “hate groups” to the document before the final vote. Most importantly, the tone of the response is condescending and betrays a basic lack of understanding of the experiences of marginalized people. There is no world in which white supremacist fascists can co-exist with the people of color, immigrants, disabled people, and queer people that libraries claim to serve.
I encourage you to rethink your position, issue a formal apology to the members of the profession you have personally harmed, and work with a diverse group of ALA members to form a new document that will be subject to an open and transparent vote.
If the current OIF is unable to make a distinction between Black Lives Matter and the KKK, then hand over the work to people who can.
“The fact that it generated so much energy, I think means it’s an important topic. So let’s talk about it, but let’s try not to savage each other in the process. Let’s assume that we share values.” James La Rue
James, this is where I think we are running into a challenge. I don’t think that we share the same values. The energy that you referred to (on social media) is engagement on this issue. It isn’t apparently engagement that you want to deal with by referring people back to this blog. So now some of us are here, trying to have a conversation that is so very important.
As a councilor I didn’t do my job well enough at Annual 2018, I didn’t catch this hate speech change in the interpretation. As you know from the 2017 Resolution on Libraries as Safe Spaces we have very different perceptions on the primacy of the first amendment over the safety of library staff and patrons.
When we privilege protecting free speech for hate groups we have created an unsafe space for others. This isn’t a theoretical exploration of the first amendment, done from a position of privilege and relative safety. The consequences of allowing hate groups like the ubiquitous Nazi example to use public meeting rooms as a measure to protect libraries’ “neutrality” may make libraries very unsafe for those community members targeted by hate groups. We should be aiming much higher and affirming some of our other core values such as diversity and social responsibility alongside intellectual freedom in our work. When they are in conflict I will always choose protecting those who are targeted by groups whose only function is to create fear and anger.
My thanks to ALA and the OIF for creating a transparent forum for some discussion on the official ALA site. I firmly agree with what others have noted, that opening meeting spaces to hate groups invites violence, aggression, and negative experiences on both our staffs and our patrons. Further, it’s the job of many of us who are established white library leaders to step aside and acknowledge we don’t face the sorts of systemic discrimination, disempowerment, and danger our colleagues of color, LGBTQ colleagues, and others face. I also reiterate what others have noted, that as an overwhelmingly white profession it is not enough to acknowledge the fears or experiences of marginalized library workers and patrons. We need to center the conversation and its next steps in their experiences. We have an obligation to one another- a social contract even.
I believe that we may be talking past each other, so I do want to note that I found the tone of this response to be somewhat condescending in its mentions of “safe space” and “contentious discussions.” Hate groups in this country regularly commit violence. We are at a critical point in a national dialogue where as a profession that acts in service of community, we must acknowledge and accept both our power and its limits. We do not need to invite dangerous groups to our spaces. We can say that we reject hate and violence. This should not be considered controversial nor does it curtail actual discussion of ideas. Violence is not dialogue, it is the end of dialogue.
James and OIF are repeatedly referring people to this blog and implying (or in James’ case, stating) that they are not interested in engagement outside of this space (which they happen to control). There appears to be a significant delay and level of moderation occurring here. Additionally, James has repeatedly referred critiques and substantive questions to this blog statement, though it does not address them. (e.g., April Hathcock’s well-reasoned legal explanation of why this wording change makes lawsuits more likely, not less likely; or the many questions about the specific timeline of changes to the document and when, precisely, the hate groups example was added. That specific phrase does not seem to have been made widely available prior to the final vote, and it is specifically that phrase that is the problem.)
Is OIF genuinely interested in discussing this issue and rethinking their stance on this issue, or is this venue meant as a place to contain the bad publicity and (justified) outrage in a less visible venue?
(This comment written and submitted at 1:11 PM, Eastern.)
Here, we are talking about “beliefs” being challenged. We are giving two unequal sets of beliefs equal standing.
I, as a queer person, believe I have a right to physical safety+autonomy.
Hate group believes in my demise+inhumane treatment. I, as a Jewish person, believe I have a right to physical safety+autonomy.
Hate group believes in my demise+inhumane treatment.
One belief hurts no one. The second belief threatens my existence. The OIF is seeing these two as equal.
My “beliefs” aren’t being challenged, OIF. My existence is.
An example of a belief being challenged is that a baking workshop is being held+a patron doesn’t believe in eating refined sugar.
The workshop isn’t advocating for violence. The patron’s life is not being threatened.
A belief being challenged is a graphic novel club being held in the meeting room and a parent insisting that comics aren’t real books. Differences of opinion, but not the same as a POC family existing alongside a white supremacist group.
Maybe the patron will decide that refined sugar is OK once in a while, maybe they won’t. Maybe the parent will come around see the value in graphic novels. Maybe they won’t. But a hate group will not convince me that I’m not a person. A hate group won’t do anything but terrorize.
When OIF says, “We can and must preserve the public’s physical safety.”
1) Why is a child’s emotional safety unimportant and frivolous in this scenario? Why are discounting the negative consequences of coexisting with hate speech? Do we truly think there are no repercussions here?
2) How can we preserve the public’s physical safety when they are in close proximity with a hate group?
3) If we can’t offer a space for BIPOC, queer ppl, ppl with disabilities, women, and immigrants that’s free of hate groups, what the hell good are we as an institution anyway? What do we have to offer a community? The only ppl we are catering to here is hate groups. No one else.
4) If this is the precedent we are setting, we are not allowed to wonder why librarianship is overwhelmingly white. We do not get to complain about lack of diversity within the profession. When we do not value our non-white lib workers, this is what will continue to happen.
5) If this is the precedent we are setting, we are not allowed to wonder why we’ve lost connections to certain communities. We do not get to complain that we don’t have library advocates when our budgets are failing and our staff members are being laid off. We do not get to ask our lost patrons to testify for us at city hall when it’s time for our contracts to be renewed. We do not get to wonder why citizens won’t support pro-library bills and candidates at the voting booths.
We are not supporting our patrons.
We can’t expect them to support us.
We have to value their physical autonomy or they will not value us.
“But it recognizes that “hate groups” is a remarkably elastic term, prone to be thrown about by both sides of a political spectrum. It has been attached to book discussion groups, Black Lives Matter, Muslim groups, and others.”
I am very concerned to see librarians conceding to this false equivalence. There are reliable resources available to help distinguish between hate groups from political and religious organizations. If librarians cannot use reliable sources to craft reasoned arguments about what belongs in the library, and what doesn’t, then how can we do collection development? The term “hate group” does get thrown around a lot, just like the term “fake news.” As librarians, we critically evaluate sources in order to evaluate the truth of these claims. We distinguish between fact and opinion, and between supported and unsupported claims. We do this every day when we decide what belongs in our collections and what doesn’t, and when we guide our patrons to the best information for their needs. The implication that librarians are unqualified to make reasoned determinations about what constitutes a hate group in the face of differing opinions undermines the very nature of librarianship.
The lower court decisions referenced here about hate groups in libraries are, of course, a concern. However, they are not binding precedent. I am not a branch manager, but if I were, I would be willing to go to court to keep terrorist organizations like the Klan out of my library. I would prefer that my professional organization offer resources to support me in such a challenge, rather than issuing a statement that could serve as evidence to undermine my position. I am certainly disheartened by the language in this post implying that my legitimate concerns about user and staff safety stem from a desire to suppress speech.
I also agree with others above who expressed concerns about the transparency of the process when this language was added, about the fact that this language likely exposes libraries to increased risk of lawsuits from hate groups, and most especially about the risk to our staff and patrons when we allow hate groups to use our spaces. For all of those reasons, I request that “hate groups” be removed from this document as soon as possible.
Thank you, all of you, for your frank comments. An update: ALA leadership is working on a combined working group (members of both intellectual freedom (IF) and equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) communities, to revisit the language in the very near future (more info as I get it). I do not believe IF and EDI are irreconcilable. But as is obvious here, there is a significant split in the profession about whether and how we will continue to try to embody the principles of the First Amendment (IF), or if EDI values are more important, or if some new balance can be found between them. I don’t claim to have it all worked out, nor does the Intellectual Freedom Committee. But I do think we need to talk it through. Moving it here is just to make it easier to make sustained arguments, respond to them, and archive the conversation.
I am confused, are you saying it is obvious in this forum that there is a significant split in how libraries embodies the principles of the First Amendment? Because all the opinions on this forum, besides your own, are clearly against the incorporation of the term “hate speech” in library policy. I am curious how much diversity was in the working group to make this decision. Did you confer with those of us who have been victims of hate groups and how we feel being in a profession that is accepting of groups who threaten our safety? I am deeply disturbed.
Jaime, the Interpretation was crafted over the space of a year or so by Intellectual Freedom Committee members, so represents their views and deliberations. It certainly discussed the issue of people threatened by hate groups. I suppose it’s as diverse as most ALA committees, meaning not so much, but this is the same group that passed the EDI interpretation at midwinter, so they’re mindful of the issues. While final language changed, as noted, the broad ideas – and the belief that library meeting rooms are open to all under the same terms – did not, and were widely circulated around the association. The revised statement, as I noted above, will consciously include formal representatives from some diversity committee or group within ALA. This blog was set up, and has mostly been visited to date, by people who take issue with that final statement. It hasn’t been up long. I don’t know if the comments will change or not.
To echo and expand upon my comments on Twitter:
I feel that OIF snuck one past me here, and that makes me feel uncomfortable about both my performance as a leader and OIF’s conduct. The draft that was circulated, to me and others, in May did not include the “hate groups” language. That language was added during Annual; I received that draft around 4pm on Sunday, with a request for comment by 12:30pm on Monday – far too short a window, at far too busy a time, for me to respond. In addition, the email that I received with a link to the draft did not mention the addition of “hate groups”; its summary of changes sounded narrow and procedural. So I didn’t flag this email as important enough to require my attention at a point where I was too busy to attend to anything but the highest-priority things.
From Twitter, I see that some Council members feel similarly: that they did not have time to go looking for substantive changes to the draft, and that those substantive changes were not brought to their attention. I think they feel, as I do, that we’ve fallen short of our responsibilities as leaders – but that OIF put us in a position where it was hard to do otherwise.
I also see on Twitter that there is a robust debate about the relationship of free speech and inclusion in a modern democratic society. I think that’s an important debate, and one where informed people of good faith can differ on where to draw the lines. And I know, Jamie, that you also know this, because you participated in a panel on these exact issues at conference last year, where several panelists presented meticulously researched views that differed from yours. We all saw from the social media reactions last year that this is an issue that many members care deeply about and where views are quite divergent.
This debate deserved to be held in public, as part of the consideration of whether to adopt the interpretation – not short-circuited by procedure. And the member leaders deserved a realistic chance to reflect on the substance of the text, not to have our names and our authority used to legitimate policy we do not necessarily support.
I have frequently quoted ALA interpretations of policies in the past to make various points, but now I feel a sense of disquiet about so doing. Did they reflect the considered opinion of the membership? Were their clauses also snuck in sub rosa? I no longer feel that I can rely on these interpretive documents as authoritative.
ALA, and OIF, can do better.
James, it seems to me that it is in fact the final wording that people are objecting to. It is not the broad idea of whether meeting rooms are open to people whose opinions librarians may disagree with that is at question. It is the specific inclusion of hate groups, which may directly threaten the lives, safety, and well-being of both library patrons and library workers that is unacceptable to so many of us and which is the concern for this forum. So I think it is important for you to clarify when, exactly, the words “hate group” and “hate speech” were added to this statement, and if a draft of the document with those words included was in fact circulated widely before the meeting where it was voted on.
When we emailed OIF, all of us received a form response, a cut-and-pasted three or so sentences. On Twitter, we have been told to redirect here, that our discussions on Twitter are “potshots”, and just conversations taken out of context. I assume that all questions asked above will be thoroughly and thoughtfully answered.
It feels very much to me as if James LaRue’s personal opinions were the driving force behind the changes made. It is not clear to me who else on IFC or in OIF supports the changes made. James, can you provide documentation, such as the minutes of the conversation in which the decision was made to add this language? Are there other people willing to speak to the reasons for 1) adding the language, and 2) doing so at 4pm on Sunday of conference with request for Councillors to comment by 12:30pm Monday, as Andromeda Yelton states?
“Amy, no, I think the Intellectual Freedom Committee and its members were trying to respond to a shift in challenges from books to exhibits, displays, speakers, and community programs. Their intent, I believe, was to call out, to name, the issue as plainly as possible. I take that as a principled act. We, librarians, need to talk about it. We offer this space as a forum.”
How do you respond, then, to the fact that the addition of this language *has* limited possible interpretations of the document?
“But as is obvious here, there is a significant split in the profession about whether and how we will continue to try to embody the principles of the First Amendment (IF), or if EDI values are more important, or if some new balance can be found between them.”
Is it accurate to say that your summary of this issue is whether intellectual freedom or diversity is more important?
“Is it accurate to say that your summary of this issue is whether intellectual freedom or diversity is more important?”
Amy Martin–I have noticed in discussions around several issues over the past year or so, beyond this particular one, that there does seem to be an underlying notion that the values of intellectual freedom and EDI/social justice oppose each other. While I personally believe there’s more to the current issue of the revised meeting room policy, I certainly think that many of the arguments attacking IF and First Amendment principles are being framed by this notion.
I agree with James LaRue that these two principles–IF and EDI–are not incompatible, and that we can and should be striving to uphold both. I thought Martin Garnar discussed this wonderfully in his sidebar in this SLJ article: https://www.slj.com/2018/07/industry-news/free-speech-debate-erupts-alas-inclusion-hate-groups-bill-rights-revision/#_
As others here have said, I find myself extremely uncomfortable with the false equivalences made by this stance and the accompanying language. As librarians, we should both know better and be able to do better than comparing charities and nonprofits to hate groups when clear definitions are available. The choice of libraries, as an institution, to offer education and information to everyone even when some of that material is controversial is already not a neutral stance. Taking a position like this one, especially in the current political climate of our country, and pretending that it’s morally and ethically neutral is contributing to the problems that prompted discussions like this one.
As both a queer and a biracial librarian, this comes across as exceptionally tone-deaf on the part of our leadership and frankly makes me feel unsafe and unwelcome, just from reading it. How will our LGBTQ+ and POC patrons feel, then, if we adopt policies like these? There is a significant amount of hypocrisy in the claims that public safety is a foremost concern and that “ALA does not endorse hate groups, and does not seek to normalize hate speech” if our policy is to give groups like the KKK and similar a platform. Permitting such organizations access to our meeting rooms is, in fact, endorsing their message by giving them a room to express it in a community center where patrons come to connect safely not just with knowledge, but also with their community. That creates a clear stance for us: The position of welcoming a part of the community that we should hope everyone is rejecting.
Black Lives Matter does not have a body count. The Muslim terrorist craze is a sham. There are no lesbian gunmen enacting mass shootings in our schools. We cannot and should not pretend otherwise, when we know that white supremacists are highly active, right now, and are looking not only for spaces to gather but also for other organizations and institutions to welcome them. Doing so does, in fact, normalize them, which is why they seek that welcome, and this policy will absolutely feed into that.
Do most of us have Mein Kampf on our shelves? Yes, probably. Will we help a patron to find it and check it out? Yes. Will we take it to the mending station or replace it, if necessary, and get it back into circulation? Yes. But we all do those things knowing why it’s there, in the first place: Because pretending certain parts of history didn’t happen causes us to repeat those mistakes, not because we agree with its contents. People might need that book for a report or essay, or to reference for historical purposes; there are other reasons besides its hatefulness that we make it available. By contrast, there is only one reason why a hate group will want to use our meeting rooms.
We are better than this.
Alex, while you raise interesting intellectual questions about what might be considered a hate group, I do not believe such gray-area groups are the concern. So far as I can tell, the argument is not for a blanket disavowal of the rights of anyone who might have been called a hate group at some point by someone with questionable authority on the matter. The argument is instead against including blanket language that prohibits libraries from denying access to any group whose activities could be designated hate speech or hate crimes under the strictest definitions of legal and social authorities. I am not concerned about letting people who might be controversial into the library. I am concerned with letting people who will definitely be violent into my library, and the fact that ALA and OIF have signaled that I must allow such people in.
We’re all librarians. Rather than speculate on vagaries, let’s use this as an exercise in determining authority. The main non-governmental organizations that define and track hate groups in the United States are the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). While questions have been raised from both right- and left- wing sources about the ways these groups assign these definitions, both are nationally recognized and they are fairly transparent and consistent on how they arrive at their definitions, so for this context I am prepared to suggest they are authoritative sources.
The ADL defines a hate group as follows:
“An organization whose goals and activities are primarily or substantially based on a shared antipathy towards people of one or more other different races, religions, ethnicities/nationalities/national origins, genders, and/or sexual identities. The mere presence of bigoted members in a group or organization is typically not enough to qualify it as a hate group; the group itself must have some hate-based orientation/purpose.”
The SPLC definition is as follows:
“The Southern Poverty Law Center defines a hate group as an organization that – based on its official statements or principles, the statements of its leaders, or its activities – has beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.”
Further on in the same document, the SPLC states:
“Vilifying or demonizing groups of people on the basis of their immutable characteristics, such as race or ethnicity, often inspires or is a precursor to violence. But violence itself is not a requirement for being listed as a hate group.”
(https://www.splcenter.org/20171004/frequently-asked-questions-about-hate-groups#violence play a role)
These definitions are neither perfect nor entirely concordant, but both of them do recognize that “violence” and “attacks” are among the determining factors in the designation of a hate group. So, while the language in this document may protect people who are not primarily violent, it evidently also does protect groups who are primarily violent. What is more, because the language in the interpretation is so general and undifferentiated, there is no way to exclude these violent groups from “hate groups” as a whole, because the ALA and OIF have neglected to provide their own definition that would support a hypothetical “case by case” approach. If a group fits either of these definitions in any regard, even the most overtly violent cases, we now must allow them access.
As an example, I work at several libraries in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The SPLC lists Vanguard America as a Neo-Nazi organization that maintains activities in my state (https://www.splcenter.org/hate-map). The ADL maintains a detailed webpage about their beliefs and activities (https://www.adl.org/resources/backgrounders/vanguard-america), which include mottos such as “Beware the International Jew,” and “Blood and Soil,” as well more formally stated expressions of hateful ideology. Such expressions, as quoted by the ADL, include manifestos that state:
“The racial stock of this nation was created for white Christian Anglo/Europeans by white Christian Anglo/Europeans. All other ethnicities, races, religions and demographics are absolutely not compatible with this nation’s original culture. With such being stated, a mass exodus, isolation, apartheid, segregation and/or separation must be implemented to retain the good order and longevity of the country[,]”
as well as assertions that “[the] glory of the Aryan nation must be recaptured.” According to an August 12, 2017 article written by the SPLC Hatewatch staff (https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2017/08/12/alleged-charlottesville-driver-who-killed-one-rallied-alt-right-vanguard-america-group), James Alex Fields, the man who deliberately drove his car into a crowd of counterprotestors after the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville and killed one person while injuring nineteen others, attended a rally that was co-organized by Vanguard America the night before he committed the attack.
Let us leave aside, appalling as it is, the fact that Vanguard America’s stated goal of “…a mass exodus, isolation, apartheid, segregation and/or separation” of non-”white Christian Anglo/Europeans” fits neatly into the United Nations’ definition of Ethnic Cleansing, as elucidated in Report S/1994/674 to mean “…a purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic areas“ (http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/1994/674). Instead, we will focus on the fact that, after attending an event organized by the Vanguard America group, James Alex Fields went out the next day and committed an act which several members of the United States Senate from both major political parties called domestic terrorism (https://www.npr.org/2017/08/12/543096579/trump-saw-many-sides-while-some-republicans-saw-white-supremacy-domestic-terrori). Now, with the current language in this Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights, if Vanguard America were to approach a library I work at and request to use a meeting room to hold a similar rally to the one that James Alex Fields attended before he drove a car at full speed into a group of human beings who disagreed with him, my library would have no standing to deny them that space. This, despite the fact that the libraries I work at are all in highly diverse urban areas, where a significant percentage of my patrons are distinctly not “white Christian Anglo/Europeans.” This, despite the fact that this organization has a demonstrated track record of holding events that lead to violence. They qualify as a “hate group” by any definition, and “hate groups” are now a protected category under the ALA’s interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights.
I could go on. I could pull up examples of libraries across the United States who include a clause in their operating policies which states that they follow, affirm, and defer to the Library Bill of Rights, to highlight how this decision has, at a stroke, been implemented as policy across the country. I could highlight the growing number of ALA Council members who are citing irregularities in the parliamentary procedure that led to this wording change in the interpretation being passed.
Ultimately, I believe that the crux of the issue comes down to one simple question. This is a question that I acknowledge is deeply uncomfortable, and reflects an extreme state of affairs. I am as uncomfortable with this question as anyone else, but I have been put into the extreme situation of having to ask it. This is a question that I have asked twice already during this discussion, once on this forum and once directly to James LaRue via email, but which I have yet to receive an answer to, satisfactory or otherwise. This is a question that I am prepared to ask this forum, James LaRue, Loida A. Garcia-Febo, Wanda Kay Brown, and the ALA at large every single day until I am given an answer, because I am literally having trouble sleeping, asking this question of myself over and over again every night since this wording was changed.
My question is this:
I am a queer librarian. If I was to suggest that I am not obligated to allow my workplace to be used by a group that will actively strategize ways to kill me in that space, does the ALA and the OIF support me in this?
I fear for our profession when so many librarians have no use for, or even basic grasp of, free speech, freedom of association, and freedom of assembly. We are public servants overseeing public spaces. The rhetoric that is circulating on Twitter is preposterous. It may be summarized as follows: “Librarians who agree with me (who happen to be on the left) KNOW who hate groups are (who happen to be on the right) and we, as a group of progressive librarians, have a duty to exclude said hate groups from reserving library meeting space because they offend us and we think they will offend other patrons, and we can accurately predict what they are going to do (threaten and kill people). More than two people sitting around in a public meeting room holding views inside their heads that I don’t like are actually attacking me or other library patrons.”
Let’s extend this illogic to public parks. Park rangers, by this same argument, have a duty to create an online park reservation application that includes questions about the hatefulness of groups who want to reserve a picnic shelter. It is the park ranger’s duty to research applicant groups to find out how hateful they are. The park ranger needs to think about the possibility of other groups who might get offended in other picnic shelters and assume that if Nazis grill hamburgers in a picnic shelter they will, at any moment, up and kill Jewish picnickers nearby. In fact, their very presence means that the park ranger is anti-Semitic and is endorsing, welcoming, normalizing Nazis. Because public parks have never been neutral. At some point they were full of white people on purpose, which requires a special picnic shelter reservation policy now.
I support James LaRue and the ALA OIF in this matter. I have long supported ALA OIF as these cases arose over the years and have published as much about half a dozen times.
The #NoHateALA librarians are doing the ALA harm by setting up a free speech double standard. Who can take Banned Books Week seriously if the people decrying “banned” books are banning conservatives from speaking–and we all know that’s what they mean by “hate groups.” How can OIF complain about book challengers who don’t read the books if libraries are blanket blocking conservatives? I suppose I could go on.
For the sake of the profession, I hope this resolves quickly, and in ALA OIF’s favor. Bullying tactics are just as bad from inside ALA as they are from outside. Let’s hope the bullying doesn’t win and the meeting rooms stay open to all.
To ensure that the library is open to all community needs and to sustain the library’s role in our community, it is the policy of this library to welcome community-centered groups to reserve library spaces. However, if the goal of your organization is to eliminate the civil or human rights of any library user or staff member due to their immutable characteristics, or to make any library user or staff member feel unwelcome in the community in which this library is located due to their immutable characteristics, your organization is not community-centered and may not meet at the library.”
Why is that so hard? ALA: find a better lawyer to put this in defensible legal-ese.
I would like to add my expression of concern to those of others who have already written so eloquently here, and in particular to support the above comment by Andromeda Yelton and Morgan Mullins. I urge ALA to do much, much better in future.
Dan Kleinman, I’m confused by your statement? I’ve followed the website link to the SafeLibraries and checked out your twitter and it seems like you’ve been retweeting and supporting a lot of the #NoHateALA members and SafeLibraries is very much a movement that runs somewhat counter to OIF’s current stance.
I disagree as well with your statement that this type of argument against hate groups is bullying (see Stephen Toropov’s comment above yours for clarification on how hate groups are defined). When both employees and patrons are logically and calmly pointing out an issue with a revision that’s hardly bullying.
Finally, I would love to know your justification for equating Republicans with hate groups. No one is stopping conservatives from speaking and I have yet to see any Librarian indicate otherwise. I know a number of Republican / Conservative librarians and while we don’t agree on a lot of things we work to make welcoming spaces for all and they also have a problem with the ALA OIF inclusion of hate groups by name. Why are /you/ equating the KKK with Republicans?
Jill Martin: With due respect, “ridiculous” is indeed the word for the sort of disingenuous and reductive commentary displayed in your comment. We do, in fact, know who hate groups are and should feel a moral and ethical obligation to exclude them, not to encourage them with a platform. White supremacists, specifically, and other hate groups in general do threaten and kill people; this is a verifiable and observable function thereof, and tragically an increasingly common occurrence that has nothing to do with “holding views inside their heads,” and everything to do with neo-nazis, the KKK, and others violently announcing and enacting those views. White nationalists, etc., are not sitting quietly in our meeting rooms, but are loud and proud in our streets, as seen in Charlottesville, NC.
White people are not under attack, as you seem to suggest, nor are we marginalized in our own society. And yes, in point of fact, nazis absolutely will “up and kill Jewish picnickers nearby;” that is what they do, and what they wish to be able to do without question or consequence. Suggesting otherwise is active complicity in the oppression of black, brown, queer, Jewish, and other minority members of the public who live in fear of this every single day of our lives.
Organizations such as LGBTQ+ Pride or Black Lives Matter exist only in reaction to violence against those communities from outside, while neo-nazis exist only to enact said violence. There really is no comparison, and that is a historical and sociological fact that we all can verify, but should hardly need to. If we are discussing the safety of patrons, then let us at least avoid using the condescending tone of those who deride “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” as though these things are at all shameful or unnecessary. These are times when, completely without hyperbole, we must remember that the best nazis were not those who came in jackboots to drag Jewish, queer, and Rromani people to the gas chambers, but their neighbors who looked the other way and did nothing. If that sounds extreme, then that is indeed why we refer to white supremacists and white nationalists as “extremists”: Because that is the world they want, and they are very open about it. Let us at least not permit them to be so open about it in our libraries, perhaps considering that one of the first things that history’s most notable fascist regime did, early in its infancy, was burn quite a staggering amount of the books we’re supposed to be protecting and circulating.
Those are the people we are discussing. They really, truly are. Let us not, then, be allies to those people.
I am adding a slightly shorter version of my email sent last week to these comments (full letter here: https://katieanderson.camden.rutgers.edu/2018/07/12/letter-to-ala-oif/)
I have reached out to several people from organizations who track and report on hate groups (specifically white supremacists) and most of them echo the same concerns that have been brought up here and on social media; that the wording as it stands is very problematic. I certainly hope that similar important voices along with the many concerned voices of my colleagues are taken into consideration during the discussion. I am hoping to share those responses soon.
While I have read that the intent was not necessarily to place hate groups on the same level as religious, social, civic, partisan political groups, I have some very deep concerns with a statement on inclusion that includes hate groups. This is the opposite of what it means to be inclusive. The wording is not simply “controversial”, it is dangerous and alarming. It validates hate groups by including them in the same breath as other legitimate groups. While your interpretation of the law indicates that these groups must be tolerated, they do not by any means have to be acknowledged, legitimized or validated. The inclusion of them in that sentence does just that.
I am also very concerned with when this wording was added. The document that went to conference did not contain these terms and many of the ALA Council members have spoken out about how this change was not brought to their attention. When I first questioned it, I was told by an ALA representative that the vote was unanimous, however, a council member spoke up to note that they had voted no. Expressing this decision as unanimous, while possibly an error, was not fair to this council member who spoke up nor to those of us who had many questions about the process. Furthermore, while it has been disclosed that the language was inserted during the last there is still a lack of clarity of these details, specifically who added it and how many were even aware of this addition. This lack of transparency is disturbing and makes me question the motive.
I have seen the response that attempts to clarify that this addition was to simply provide guidance for avoiding lawsuits by these groups. It is entirely possible to provide guidance without actually putting these groups on equal ground with other legitimate groups. A different wording must be considered, a phrasing that separates hate groups in some way to make it abundantly clear that they are being tolerated but not welcomed. My current research is on white supremacist groups and I have seen how they are weaponizing the first amendment in order to gain attention and further spread their message of hate. They actively seek out the policies of locations in order to either exploit them or abuse them. Their threats of lawsuits should never be answered by an acknowledgement of this tactic, even in the name of protecting libraries from these lawsuits. It is a capitulation to their terroristic demands and unacceptable. Including them in the sentence empowers them and plays to their hands. Again, I will point out that it IS entirely possible to guide libraries on the law without validating hate. It is possible to both uphold free speech and protect those who that speech threatens and I expect that my professional organization is both willing and capable of doing this without overtly bowing to the demands of those who weaponize free speech in the name of hate.
In my research on white supremacist groups (see full letter link for more details regarding this research), I have found that plenty of these hate groups are using libraries. They have access to the information like any other individual or group. They are printing their propaganda on our computers, hanging fliers on our buildings, finding out when groups of targets are meeting and purposefully placing their hate during those times. They malign our displays on diversity and speak violently about workers and patrons. Their intellectual freedom is not being compromised in ways that would require the organization to go out of its way to state that all groups are welcome and yes, especially hate groups.
In closing, I am requesting the following:
*Specific details as to the addition of the words “hate speech” and “hate groups”. This is owed to the members of our council who were presented with changes that were not brought to their attention. This is owed to all of us who, despite your attempts to dismiss it, are hurt and upset by an inclusion of hate groups in a statement on inclusivity.
*Immediate rewording of the interpretation so that it does not verify hate groups. This is not merely controversial, it is dangerous, and a refusal to acknowledge the danger is tone deaf and dismissive to the patrons and workers who are at risk from these groups.
Response To Adlai Ross and All Others Interested:
I’ve been retweeting and liking #NoHateALA tweets because I retweet all sides of all arguments since I feel my readers are better informed that way and can better make up their own minds. And I want my readers to see librarians so glibly discussing censorship of people they oppose, even hate.
By bullying I mean the manner in which #NoHateALA attempts to achieve its goals amounts to bullying and perhaps worse. For example, one bully refers to James LaRue in extremely derogatory words that amount to racism and may even be defamatory. Using racist terms to attack a person just to promote #NoHateALA goals is bullying, at a minimum. The ones respectfully discussing the issues are not the bullies. But many are outright vicious, and to their own leadership, no less.
As for equating Republicans with hate groups, that’s not me, that’s ALA. ALA has a page on hate groups that cites to the Southern Poverty Law Center. SPLC has a list of supposed hate groups. Those lists include targeting Republicans, and I mean target, including, for example, Dr. Ben Carson. People have been shot at as a result of those lists. SPLC just paid out millions in settlement over defamation of another so called hate group that isn’t in reality. SPLC uses it hate group lists to silence those it targets. Yet ALA cites SPLC, and SPLC targets Republicans. So if #NoHateALA gets what it wants, SPLC’s censorship targets will be used by ALA to implement censorship in public libraries nationwide. Indeed, read the Facebook posts by librarians discussing the issue and you’ll see censorship is already well underway, and SPLC is often the road map. If anyone is going to change any language, perhaps it’s time ALA removes SPLC as one of its sources.
“No one is stopping conservatives from speaking….” Please. ALA blocked one of the SPLC-listed groups from speaking at an ALA conference after it invited him then was bullied into dropping him. ALA librarians gleefully joke about blocking books like “No Go Zones” in libraries since the librarians say such places do not exist. They just call it selection. And how often does ALA invite a conservative to speak at its conferences? But a person who files a fake FISA request against her party’s political opponents to launch a massive investigation is welcome despite ALA’s claimed concern for privacy and freedom of speech.
This “hate groups” debacle is a huge problem for ALA. Huge. Even main stream media like Los Angeles Times is beginning to take notice. #NoHateALA is strangling the goose that laid the golden egg.
I object to the characterization of equity/diversity work as opposed to the preservation of intellectual freedom. Equity work IS intellectual freedom work. Equity work ensures that we are not squashing the voices and choices of folks who are underrepresented or marginalized. See: http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/librarybill/interpretations/EDI
The characterization of equity and intellectual freedom as separate and opposing forces is a serious and harmful misunderstanding.
I agree with Robin Harney above, “If the current OIF is unable to make a distinction between Black Lives Matter and the KKK, then hand over the work to people who can.”
I’d like to add my voice in with the people urging the ALA/OIF to reconsider and revise this language, and to do so posthaste rather than waiting for the mid-winter conference. I understand that these issues are complex, but you are getting pushback on this from marginalized voices and allies because the new amendment language is dangerous. Libraries cannot consider themselves inclusive when the ALA is using language that implies endorsement of hate groups, even if clarifying statements say that’s not the case. I stand with the disenfranchised populations who are being made even more vulnerable in our libraries by this new amendment and urge the OIF to begin revisions on the language as soon as possible.
It is a fact that any group brought together by a sense of hate exists to promote something that is unfair. I was dismayed to see that hate groups now have a place specifically protected alongside religious groups and political groups. Libraries must remain committed to upholding the values of intellectual freedom and ethical service to our communities. I do believe that there is a place for everyone in the library. I do not believe that the wording in this document, however, will help libraries to do that.
I request that you revisit the wording of the document of which you are providing an interpretation with the understanding that “equitable access” does not bear quite the same meaning as “equal access”. Equitable access implies an element of fairness. How can we maintain integrity as institutions of public service when we issue an open invitation to groups whose sole purpose is to undermine fairness? I think what bothers me the most is that the wording used in this interpretation seems to add to the legitimacy of groups who exist to promote hate. I would be more comfortable with a statement that asserts the rights of speakers with “radical or extreme ideologies” because that phrase does apply broadly. “Hate group”, by contrast, seems strangely specific and normalized in its use alongside religious and political discourse.
After wading through Morgan’s arguments that:
1. hate groups are easily defined,
2. they truly truly are evil incarnate and exist solely to commit murder, and
3. I in my complicity am actually more evil than a Nazi,
I am left in response to my hypothetical scenario with a YES, our parks are another public space from which these readily-defined hate groups must be excluded, after a (very easy) vetting process that should be in a park ranger’s job description, or park rangers are as worse-than-Nazis as I.
One more question.
The Bill of Rights ensures the right of peaceable assembly belongs to citizens *because they are citizens.*
If law-abiding citizens (by virtue of being citizens) do not have freedom of peaceable assembly in public spaces…
…where DO they have that right?
My apologies for some of the delays in responding here. ALA has been in many discussions about these issues. I am not the only ALA voice, nor should I be. But I thank you all for posting your concerns and questions. Today, I hope to add links or blogs that will, I hope, move the discussion forward and address some of the concerns.
Two updates. First, I’d like to point readers to a blog post by my colleague Jody Gray, Director of the Office for Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services. ALA has many perspectives. Jody is a respected colleague, with deep expertise, and her thoughts are well worth reading. You can find her blog here:
Second, at the request of ALA leadership, my staff have reconstructed the timeline through which the Meeting Room Interpretation was adopted by Council. You can find that here:
https://www.oif.ala.org?p=14997#timeline (it has been appended to the original blog post in which this comment appears).
I appreciate the update.
I feel if people knew that the inclusion of specific reference to some variant of hate groups (whatever the wording was at the time) was “the elephant in the room” it might have been prudent to mention that specific change to the Councilors when they received the documents prior to Council II. Ultimately this was their responsibility, but I’ve heard from at least a few that this inclusion came as a surprise to them and they would have appreciated the change to discuss this in a public forum with their colleagues. I’ll also note that at least one councilor has said they did vote against this in Council II and is unclear why that vcote seems not to be part of the official record.
There seems to be some confusion about how to distinguish hate speech is from unpopular political opinions or otherwise objectionable speech. Fortunately, such a distinction is quite easy to make!
First we’ll look at a couple definitions, to gain a basic understanding of the subject area. Then we’ll look at some examples of hate speech and hate groups in comparison with speech and groups that some may find distasteful, but don’t qualify as hate under any reasonable definition.
Dictionary.com defines hate speech as “speech that attacks, threatens, or insults a person or group on the basis of national origin, ethnicity, color, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability.” Merriam Webster defines it as: “speech expressing hatred of a particular group of people.” As we can see, neither of these definitions suggest anything akin to simply unpopular or controversial opinions. Hate speech has very clear and identifiable traits.
Here’s three examples of hate speech to further clarify what the term means:
(Warning: the quotes below include language that may be found offensive or even traumatizing.)
“For the Aryan Brotherhood, murder is a way to make a social statement. If blacks attack whites, we send a message. We go pick one of their shot callers. We catch them walking across the [prison] yard under guard escort in handcuffs. It don’t matter. We’re going to butcher him in front of God and everybody at high noon in the middle of the yard. And it’s not just going to be a few clean stab marks. It’s going to be a vicious, brutal killing. Because that’s how brothers [AB members] take care of business, and a brother’s work is never done.”
“I hate white people. All of them. Every last iota of a cracker, I hate it. We didn’t come out here to play today. There’s too much serious business going on in the black community to be out here sliding through South Street with white, dirty, cracker whore bitches on our arms, and we call ourselves black men. … What the hell is wrong with you black man? You at a doomsday with a white girl on your damn arm. We keep begging white people for freedom! No wonder we not free! Your enemy cannot make you free, fool! You want freedom? You going to have to kill some crackers! You going to have to kill some of their babies!”
“We believe the United States is a European country and that Americans are part of the European people. … We therefore oppose the massive immigration of non-European and non-Western peoples into the United States that threatens to transform our nation into a non-European majority in our lifetime. We believe that illegal immigration must be stopped, if necessary by military force and placing troops on our national borders; that illegal aliens must be returned to their own countries; and that legal immigration must be severely restricted or halted through appropriate changes in our laws and policies. We also oppose all efforts to mix the races of mankind, to promote non-white races over the European-American people through so-called ‘affirmative action’ and similar measures, to destroy or denigrate the European-American heritage, including the heritage of the Southern people, and to force the integration of the races.”
Here are three examples of potentially controversial political opinions:
“We are a nation of individuals held together by a common vision. We are not servants of the government; we are not dependent on the benevolence of society for our survival. Our possibilities are limitless where a free market is allowed to operate without government distortion; they should not be limited by our local, state and federal government. We are citizens of our country. We as individuals are responsible for our successes and failures.”
“A growing number of people are seeking socialist answers to our health care crisis. Medicare for All is a demand that can catalyze an emergent working class base. It attracts broad support within and beyond the labor movement, finally establishes health care as a universal right, and eliminates the multi-billion dollar parasite known as the private health insurance industry.”
“i believe that some people are simply not meant to be great, or even successful. not that those who aren’t are ‘wasting their potential’ but they simply don’t have what it takes: either the intelligence, the charisma, or the willpower. some people are simply meant to be working the checkout line, and that’s okay.“
Hopefully these example help clarify what a common term like hate speech mean in concrete terms.While there are more subtle forms of hate speech than those given above, hate speech still remains distinguishable from other forms of speech in its intent: to advocate the subjugation or extermination of specific groups of people due to intrinsic traits or religious beliefs. We all disagree with some unpopular opinions. Heck, at least one of the ones I cite above makes me cringe, but I wouldn’t call it hate speech. With unpopular opinions, people’s sensibilities are on the line. With hate speech, people’s lives are on the line.
As for what the term hate group means, that too is fortunately clear. The Southern Poverty Law Center defines hate groups as organizations that “vilify others because of their race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity.” Wikipedia offers this definition: “A hate group is a social group that advocates and practices hatred, hostility, or violence towards members of a race, ethnicity, nation, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation or any other designated sector of society.” Again both these definitions are pretty straight forward. Groups like the Klu Klux Klan, Blood & Honour, and the Nuwaubians Nation of Moors who express and encourage hatred toward other social groups qualify as hate groups. Any organization that does not do this, such as Royalist Party USA, NORML, or No New Oklahoma Taxes, no matter how otherwise controversial its positions are, could not reasonably be considered a hate group.
We need to stop pretending that there is merit to the claims that Black Lives Matters is a hate group or that Martin Luther King engaged in hate speech. We need to stop pretending that the terms hate speech and hate groups are merely political slurs without any real meaning. These claims do not stand up to any amount of scrutiny. Instead of indulging fatuous arguments like these, we should start using the information literacy skills we so valiant strive to teach others.
Thank you for the much more detailed timeline, this is something many of us have been requesting. I agree with jessamyn’s statements that if the words were debated as indicated than they certainly should have been highlighted when the changes were reviewed.
Following up on my comment above, I reached out to different people who are familiar with different hate groups and asked for their thoughts on the wording. I have provided their responses here: https://katieanderson.camden.rutgers.edu/2018/07/16/remove_hate_from_interpretation/
The Discord servers that I linked to are just a small sample of what I research and I provided them as quick glimpse for anyone interested in what is being said by hate groups, specifically about libraries. My statements were not intended to attempt to represent a full study. After you search on the terms, clicking view will put the comment in wider context and that is necessary to find the evidence that I found for each of the statements that I made. I am quite surprised to be honest that anytime spent looking at those posts was not met with some concern given that the servers and their content was banned and disavowed by Discord immediately after they were leaked (https://twitter.com/discordapp/status/897170310348263426) . The ones I linked to were used by several different groups: Patriot Front, Vanguard America, Identity Evropa, Trad Workers Party, Nationalist Initiative, and Unite the Right, I did not misrepresent the number of groups on these servers. I believe many of our colleagues would disagree that white supremacist groups hanging flyers in the libraries is irrelevant to everyday library work, especially those who are targeted by these groups. I also think our colleagues in Charlottesville would also disagree as to this irrelevancy given that Jason Kessler, a major voice in these servers as the organizer of Unite the Right (maddimension in the server) has repeatedly harassed patrons and librarians. I do not have an answer to your question regarding meeting rooms as my focus is on an entirely different project and has only come to overlap with libraries through this discussion. My point was that there is evidence of white supremacist groups using the libraries and thus their intellectual freedom is not being compromised enough for the statement to go out of its way to include them. Your final question is odd and shows that you did not read my entire letter where I provide my reasons for this research and quite frankly I find it offensive. I will say that I did not sit down one day and decide to research this population, the research was presented to me in the daily headlines and in the specific project I was working on. As a librarian, I seek the most information on a topic in order to inform and understand, and in this case, this understanding helps me to better stand up and speak out against the indefensible ideology of white supremacy.
Jill Minor: Once again, the language you use is disingenuous. This kind of strawmanning and reactionary response is precisely the sort of commentary that derails useful discussion. It’s obvious that this is a subject many people feel quite strongly about, and rightfully so; it’s also something that needs to be addressed constructively. As Wesley Teal points out, above, our own and our patrons’ safety and potentially even lives are on the line with this discussion, particularly for those of us who belong to the ethnic, cultural, gender, or other minorities that hate speech and hate groups seek to injure.
We need to take this seriously with that point in mind, and those of us who might not feel threatened should still at least have the integrity to genuinely consider the positions and perspective of those who do, just as we have patience and understanding for our patrons.
I would like to ask my social justice colleagues a question regarding the below words of two different civil rights icons. Which quote(s) from Malcolm X could or should be labeled Hate Speech and worthy of censorship or non-protection by the Library Bill of Rights, or at the local library level, in any way, in any era, meeting room or other type of suppression, using your many points above? The same question re: MLK, Jr.s statements at bottom, criticizing white society and his charge against moderate whites compared to hate groups.
ON WHITE PEOPLE: (See: https://sorrytelevision.wordpress.com/2013/09/06/42-quotes-from-the-autobiography-of-malcolm-x/ )
“I don’t care how nice one is to you, the thing you must always remember is that almost never does he really see you as he sees himself, as he sees his own kind.” 
“…the collective white man had acted like a devil in virtually every contact he had with the world’s collective non-white man.” 
“For the white man to ask the black man if he hates him is just like the rapist asking the raped, or the wolf asking the sheep, ‘Do you hate me?’ The white man is in no moral position to accuse anyone else of hate! Why, when all of my ancestors are snake-bitten, and I’m snake-bitten, and I warn my children to avoid snakes, what does that snake sound like accusing me of hate-teaching? ” 
“I can’t turn around without hearing about some ‘civil rights advance’! White people seem to think the black ought to be shouting ‘hallelujah’! Four hundred years the white man has had his foot-long knife in the black man’s back – and now the white man starts to wiggle the knife out, maybe six inches! The black man’s supposed to be grateful? Why, if the white man jerked the knife out, it’s still going to leave a scar!” 
“Here was one of the white man’s most characteristic behavior patterns — where black men are concerned. He loves himself so much that he is startled if he discovers that his victims don’t share his vainglorious self-opinion.” 
“The black masses want not to be shrunk from as though they are plague-ridden. They want not to be walled up in slums, in the ghettos, like animals. They want to live in an open, free society where they can walk with their heads up, like men, and women! Few white people realize that many black people today dislike and avoid spending more time than they must about white people. This ‘integration’ image, as it is popularly interpreted, has millions of vain, self-exalted white people convinced that black people want to sleep in bed with them – and that’s a lie!” 
“The black man in North America was economically sick and that was evident in one simple fact: as a consumer, he got less than his share, and as a producer gave least. The black American today shows us the perfect parasite image – the black tick under the delusion that he is progressing because he rides on the udder of the fat, three-stomached cow that is white America.” 
“That morning was when I first began to reappraise the ‘white man.’ It was when I first began to perceive that ‘white man,’ as commonly used, means complexion only secondarily; primarily it described attitudes and actions.” 
“The whites of the younger generation, in the colleges and universities, will see the handwriting on the wall and many of them will turn to the spiritual path of truth.” 
“In the past, yes, I have made sweeping indictments of all white people. I never will be guilty of that again – as I know now that some white people are truly sincere, that some truly are capable of being brotherly toward a black man. The true Islam has shown me that a blanket indictment of all white people is as wrong as when whites made blanket indictments against blacks.” 
“It isn’t the American white man who is a racist, but it’s the American political, economic and social atmosphere that automatically nourishes a racist psychology in the white man.” 
“The white man is not inherently evil, but America’s racist society influences him to act evilly. The society has produced and nourishes a psychology which brings out the lowest, most base part of human beings.” 
“Where the really sincere white people have got to do their ‘proving’ of themselves is not among the black victims, but out on the battle lines of where America’s racism really is — and that’s in their own home communities.” 
“Today’s Uncle Tom doesn’t wear a handkerchief on his head. This modern, twentieth-century Uncle Thomas now often wears a top hat. He’s usually well-dressed and well-educated. He’s often the personification of culture and refinement. The twentieth-century Uncle Thomas sometimes speaks with a Yale or Harvard accent. Sometimes he is known as Professor, Doctor, Judge, and Reverend, even Right Reverend Doctor. This twentieth-century Uncle Thomas is a professional Negro —by that I mean his profession is being a Negro for the white man.” 
“No sane black man really wants integration! No sane white man really wants integration!” 
“Since Western society is deteriorating, it has become overrun with immorality, and God is going to judge it, and destroy it. And the only way the black people caught up in this society can be saved is not to integrate into this corrupt society, but to separate from it, to a land of our own, where we can reform ourselves, lift up our moral standards and try to be godly.” 
“We reject segregation even more militantly than you say you do! We want separation, which is not the same! The Honorable Elijah Muhammad teaches us that segregation is when your life and liberty are controlled, regulated, by someone else. To segregate means to control. Segregation is that which is forced upon inferiors by superiors. But separation is that which is done voluntarily, by two equals — for the good of both!” 
We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jet-like speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness” — then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.
First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
There are a few threads that may need to be drawn out here:
1. As a white cis woman, I am reticent to speak for those who have already spoken, but my fear is that there are a growing number of members who are not being heard, or if they are being “heard,” they are not being validated. What I am seeing on social media is ALA members expressing fear and anxiety that “their” professional organization is setting them up to be unsafe given the specificity of this new policy. They are rightfully upset if they feel that ALA is not acknowledging their humanity. Timelines can clarify and make the process more transparent intellectually, but they do not heal the hurt — and this approach may further alienate any ALA member. I’m not hearing ALA leadership express concern for the wellbeing of its members in this debate. I understand that some were caught off guard by the pushback, but even if the intent was not to hurt, the impact was that members are hurt. I also hypothesize that the meeting room policy is not the first time that our colleagues have felt unheard, hurt, and angry.
2. This ALA policy does *not* give employer libraries the right to expose their employees to unsafe working conditions. Safe working conditions are required by the OSH act (that created OSHA). A reference: https://www.osha.gov/OSHA_FAQs.html#!workplaceviolence . The issue of safety may not be for OIF to address, but it’s the law that all employees have a safe workplace. It sounds like ALA leadership would do well to reiterate this message. If a publicly-funded library may not ban anyone from using their meeting rooms without going bankrupt from a lawsuit (see below), I think people will recognize that (or actively lobby as individuals for changes to the law if they prefer). But there’s absolutely no reason why libraries should not set up procedures to protect the hearts and bodies of its employees. If there is no policy for employee safety, that should be on the to-do list.
3. I work for a public university that, because of its status as a public institution, MUST provide event space to all. The law does not stand with a public university if it refuses to rent event space to hate groups et al. There is a trail of lawsuits that have ruled against public institutions. Said event need not be at the time or campus location of the speaker/group’s choosing, but a public university legally must extend use of the space to all if it extends it to anyone. (This is part of why Richard Spencer has been able to speak where he has.) What’s hinted at in the new policy — but never stated explicitly — is that this is a *legal* requirement of public libraries as well. I’m not an attorney, so please don’t take my word for this, but this is why there are legally-permitted KKK rallies in cities to this day — though there *can* be public safety measures put in place, a rally can be scheduled in or away from particular neighborhoods, at particular times, etc.
Suggested action steps:
1. Acknowledge the real pain and hurt expressed by a growing number of members. See them as a person, not as a policy complainant.
2. Make it clearer when ALA Council votes that last-minute changes have been made. Allow adequate time for questions and response.
3. Ask ALA’s legal counsel weigh in on what is required by federal law, including the citations that libraries need here? That will help us all know what is ALA policy (non-binding), what is law (with potential legal/financial consequences), and what is the healing work that needs to be done.
4. Due to the confusion, the timing, the testimony of Council members not realizing what they voted for, and the fact that ALA’s legal counsel does not appear, per the timeline, to have reviewed the final wording (personally, I oppose spelling out “hate groups” for the reasons April Hathcock has spelled out), and schedule a new vote.
I apologize in advance if I have worded anything awkwardly in my efforts to add clarity.
As member of both in both Intellectual Freedom and the Social Responsibilities Round Tables, I am concerned about the overly quick charge of false equivalency and some other responses to James LaRue. Equally, I desire a collaborative re-wording of the document and believe in strengthening an activist social justice arm of ALA, while fully supporting a necessary wide scope to Intellectual Freedom.
Mr. LaRue’s statement was centered on longstanding US law and the legal impact, and was 1) correct in terms of the centuries of evolving progressive oriented jurisprudence AND longstanding library intellectual freedom principles; and 2) in line with how each has not only made possible, but been essential, to the vast expansion of social and environmental justice as we know it today. To counter and imply, or give the appearance that, we now must lessen historically strategic national and institutional IF principles to defend or further social justice progress, or protect feelings of safety and psychological well-being, without also speaking to more forceful avenues of action, collaboration and need, is dangerous — a slippery slope toward empowering fascism and other forms of authoritarianism we oppose.
At the same time, I respect and applaud those who spoke of their personal histories, and why the document wording should be edited. I think it fair to state where I come from politically, which is different from, yet still integral to my intellectual freedom values. First, I am outraged and worried as anyone about the rise and support of hate groups and fascist directions in this country, and the actual false equivalencies and disinformation coming from our national leadership re: Charlottesville, Climate Change, etc. In the past, I marched against the Iraq War. A longstanding member of the Green Party, I supported a platform that still is one of the most socially progressive of any party. Only recently did I change affiliations to do my small part in a hoped for Democratic Party swing to the Left. Last year I chaired the Intellectual Freedom Committee for the Florida Library Association, and worked with colleagues to build a website for anonymous reporting of censorship and related occurrences, to keep people safe while bearing witness and speaking truth to power. I am concerned about the rise of increasingly diverse and insidious forms of US and world censorship – whose intent, largely, is to turn back social and environmental justice gains. ALA is filled with other diverse political and activist histories. Let us share them, and strive collegially to recognize and sustain historic common goals and values. Let’s not reduce each other to dangerous mutually exclusive terms, and instead re-visualize a connection between intellectual freedom and social justice.
One discourse that reflects our tensions, and hopefully some bridges: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/13/opinion/berkeley-dean-erwin-chemerinsky.html
Re: a repeated call for safe spaces and being threatened: I feel this is one of the most problematic arguments when it exists in relative isolation from the long history of social justice, or comes across as intimidating, linked with Ad Hominem, allegations of “privilege” etc. I say this while fully recognizing the very human desire, need and fundamental right to feel safe, and make our patrons safe, where we can. But micro safe zones are not, I believe, the way to assure safety historically or enlarge social justice. They are and always will be very different from a town, city, state or world as a safer place. And such islands are unproven over time as successful resistance against malicious forces, and stand in stark contrast to other types of activism that have worked, and are needed, especially today.
As social responsibility advocates we should deal substantively with how State Republican party organizations HAVE been discussing labeling Black Lives Matter as a Hate Group; and not “shoot the messenger,” an IF aligned colleague, over his only recognizing injurious labeling actually being created by members of a ruling party. We might focus instead on how many in the Right increasingly have no interest at all in admitting the important ethical distinctions as argued, and think how to address this. Social responsibility proponents also might recognize that philosophical partners – including environmental activists — have been in some cases inappropriately labeled terrorists. Can we all imagine a small rural town library, in an area that voted overwhelmingly for Trump, declining to provide a public meeting room to a speaker on Black Lives based on a tactical pejorative hate label? Or a western ranch town library refusing a talk on the benefit of federally managed lands for sustaining wolves, under a guise of environmental terror? I can. Conversely, I can also envision a library in a relatively progressive community, that largely voted for Clinton, allowing the KKK to come in and speak because they believe in the larger IF strategies at stake. We must not empower the first two examples; nor dis-empower the latter. If we are to change the wording and remove “Hate Groups,” (and I think this can be done successfully), let’s not lose site of the forest for the trees.
What can social responsibility and justice advocates do in a KKK or neo-Nazi scenario? Sun Tzu, in the Art of War, advised to keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. I ask: Is it better to have hooded white foes in the woods planning hate crimes and burning crosses anonymously, or to get…them…in…to…the…Library!? Plan to mount your horses and draw your swords — at the appropriate moment. Opt for one or more options: Strive to educate potential adherents; bear peaceful witness, like Quaker activists and investigative journalists; invite a reformed neo-Nazi turned hate counselor to talk on the same day; use public records law to let sympathetic journalists and protesters know of the Klan or neo-Nazi event, and the sponsors. Take pictures and identify those attending, if you want. Fill the room with opponents, if you can. Ask the hard questions of the speaker; and vocally disapprove when and where fitting. Create opposing reading lists, fact sheets or book displays; warn those needing to feel safe to stay away for the few hours. But think twice before taking what seems a just censorship role.
I’ll end by saying that, in the 1960s, activists succeeded in many ways because they did not focus narrowly on making people feel safe. In fact, they succeeded because people did not feel safe. And because activists were willing to put themselves in danger. So too with MLK Jr.’s pacifism. Can one imagine a bus of Freedom Riders traveling through the Deep South under a guiding philosophy of social justice group members feeling safe? Instead, they underwent danger so others could feel and be safe in the future. That era’s social and environmental activists also succeeded through direct political, legal and in some cases extra-legal actions to safeguard people and their environment, ecosystems and other species; and they joined forces with free speech advocates to shift the status-quo. They partnered where they could with like-minded yet different groups. Let’s move on from the blame game. Respect and protect those who need to feel safe. But let us not use tactics that the very groups we oppose would make law and use against us. Instead, envision collaborative responses and partnerships between social responsibility and intellectual freedom that are possible, while reconstructing bridges of understanding for a new and dangerous era.
Bryan, I find your willful misreading and decontextualizing of the words of both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King surprising, disappointing, and disingenuous. It is also unhelpful and unproductive. Frankly, it looks a bit like trolling and it’s not furthering the conversation. Please see Wesley Teal’s post, above, for useful examples of how to distinguish hate speech from controversial opinions.
We all want the same thing. To that end. there are a number of important points that I believe we must focus on:
1. If we create a mechanism for censorship, it will eventually be used in ways we didn’t anticipate, against people and views we personally support. That is the nature of mechanisms for censorship.
2. Librarians are not courts, and cannot decide what is and is not legal. Illegal behaviors are still illegal and legal speech is still legal, no matter what we may say, wish, or do. Our responsibility is to understand to the very fullest exactly what that means.
3. This is extremely important: in order to PROTECT minorities, we must protect ALL speech–so that those very minorities can speak out when they are oppressed. I can’t put it any better than this:
“History teaches that the first target of government repression is never the last. If we do not come to the defense of the free speech rights of the most unpopular among us, even if their views are antithetical to the very freedom the First Amendment stands for, then no one’s liberty will be secure. In that sense, all First Amendment rights are “indivisible.”
Censoring so-called hate speech also runs counter to the long-term interests of the most frequent victims of hate: racial, ethnic, religious and sexual minorities. We should not give the government the power to decide which opinions are hateful, for history has taught us that government is more apt to use this power to prosecute minorities than to protect them. As one federal judge has put it, tolerating hateful speech is “the best protection we have against any Nazi-type regime in this country.”
At the same time, freedom of speech does not prevent punishing conduct that intimidates, harasses, or threatens another person, even if words are used. Threatening phone calls, for example, are not constitutionally protected.”
The Intellectual Freedom Committee has formed a working group to revise the recently adopted Meeting Room Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights. These volunteers bring multiple voices and a broad range of perspectives to the table from throughout the association. But ultimately, we are united in providing a document that will uphold core values, is responsive to the concerns raised by library workers, and supports the communities of America’s libraries.
The working group members include:
Shauntee Burns-Simpson, New York Public Library, Chair of the Committee on Diversity
Sara Dallas, Southern Adirondack Library System, Chair of the Committee on Professional Ethics
Martin Garnar, University of Colorado Colorado Springs, Chair of Office for Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services (ODLOS) Advisory Committee
Ray James, Institutional Survey, member of the Intellectual Freedom Committee
Emily Knox, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Vice President of the Freedom to Read Foundation and member of Association of College and Research Libraries Professional Values Committee
Johana Orellana, North Richland Hills Library, member of the Intellectual Freedom Committee
Kim Patton, Kansas City, KS Public Library, member of the Intellectual Freedom Committee
Brooke Sheets, Los Angeles Public Library, Public Library Association liaison to the Intellectual Freedom Committee
John Spears, Pikes Peak Library District, member of the Intellectual Freedom Committee
Julia Warga, Kenyon College, Chair of the Intellectual Freedom Committee
Staff liaisons to the committee will be Jody Gray, Director of the Office of Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services, and James LaRue, Director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom.
The group will begin immediately revising the document with thoughtful consideration of the concerns and opinions expressed by ALA members and the library community. Our intent is to have a draft for public review no later than September 4 (the day after Labor Day). At that time, we will share the document with Council, divisions, round tables, affiliate organizations, members and the library community for review and comments.
After an estimated public comment period of 10-14 days, the working group will reconvene to review all of the feedback and incorporate additional edits into the draft. The final document will be presented to Council no later than October 1, 2018. If Council wishes to act before Midwinter, the ALA Executive Board would then have to authorize an electronic vote on the proposed update to the Meeting Room Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights.
I would like to publicly acknowledge and thank the working group volunteers for their willingness and commitment to take on this important work.
Julia Warga, Chair
Intellectual Freedom Committee
I started the Google Doc discussion in June about this topic, although I did not suggest a language change. I felt like there was a vagueness to the language that was causing a disconnect between the ALA guidelines and interpretation in libraries. Obviously, I was correct and there is much to consider.
My question came from the realities of working in a public library. Specifically, I was thinking about a library in Virginia where I previously worked that allowed the Sons of Confederate Veterans to use their meeting space. The SCV probably doesn’t consider itself to be a “hate group,” but do say the “Salute to the Confederate Flag” as part of their meetings. Here is this salute: “I salute the Confederate flag with affection, reverence and undying devotion to the cause for which it stands.” Of course, a Confederate battle flag is usually there to salute. As a society, most of us now understand that this salute and the presence of the Confederate battle flag would be seen as unwelcoming to many library patrons and staff. And yet, I know many library patrons who are members of the SCV.
As Mr. LaRue suggests, there are other community groups that would be, both historically and today, considered hate groups or even terrorist groups. We know that marginalized voices frequently get labeled as such–but often are the very people public libraries aim to serve. Can libraries allow Black Lives Matter to use their meeting rooms, but deny the SCV? It gets murky really quickly. Personally, I want ALA to be specific to guide librarians in making these tough decisions. Now we have specific guidelines. (Be careful what you ask for, right?)
So what are libraries to do? Is there a way to create welcoming spaces and still not censor free speech? I believe there is a difference between who gets to use library meeting spaces and what occurs in the room. In many libraries, groups may use meetings rooms only for public programs, but not for private meetings. With this type of policy, the KKK could not use a library’s meeting rooms to plan a rally because that would not be a program. However, the KKK could request the use of the rooms to present a program on the history of the Klan, for example. Could library policy be crafted to required all programs in meetings rooms to follow the library’s own guidelines for programming? If so, the library could reject the KKK’s meet room request because the proposed program did not fit within library’s policies which call for inclusivity. But I am not sure if that interpretation would hold up in court–because it clearly would still be censorship. This would be a legal point where we would, again, need ALA guidance.
Another choice for libraries is to allow the use of meeting rooms only for library or library co-sponsored programming. This would allow the library’s programming guidelines to direct decision making–and gives library staff maximum control over what takes plan in meeting rooms. Does this limit how the public uses the rooms? Absolutely, but this practice has been implemented without problem at libraries where I have worked–not as a type of censorship, but as a response to limited programming space for library events. Could this work in your library? Are they other ideas as to how we can be welcoming, but not prohibit free speech?
Melissa (Wesley and All):
I have some difficulties following the charge of “decontextualizing,” “misreading” and being “disingenuous.” Most know of King’s life and pacifist approach while strongly challenging that era’s status quo. With a quick googling, you can see he wrote some of those words from jail, after being arrested following his refusal to adhere to the city of Birmingham’s denying his First Amendment rights to gather peaceably in public. This was done because he was labeled an extremist whose views would bring on open race warfare. I also had provided a link to the site of Malcolm’s quotes, so you can visit and see them in some larger context. And I alluded to his evolving views, which one can research, or better yet, read his amazing Auto-biography. Regardless, we can all benefit from some research for more context. And it would not hurt to understand that Malcolm is one of the fathers of the Black Nationalist Movement, and his words are essential to today’s most militant philosophies.
I also think we should be careful to not shift the stereotype of the shushing librarian toward a shaming librarian. Melissa, in your first posting, you seemed to critique the weaponizing of words to de-legitimize. That is what you appear to be doing while fleeing from my sincere request to review the words of Malcolm and Martin in the context of previous logic, definitions, etc. Expressing emotional reactions like “surprising,” “disappointing,” “unhelpful,” “unproductive” and “trolling“ as vituperative response is something you can of course do. Yet all words, and especially the latter, perhaps imply being more comfortable in an echo chamber than in some of the difficult work required ahead for sustaining and expanding social responsibility AND reaching some degree of needed collaboration with the OIF, unless you think the latter unproductive(?)
I hoped some individuals in this important debate might think more seriously about the assumption that it is a simple thing to define and deny hate speech and hate groups in libraries. You and Wesley appear adamantly sure in your ability to define and do this, and such is a central point in your argument; and, also, it seems, that somehow the rest of US public, library communities and governing boards can, should or will easily make the same judgments. That is a dangerous assumption, and would not protect needed minority rights on a large enough scale, as others have said. A point all along that James LaRue and others have tried to address (and we cannot hide from the increasing trend), is that larger opposing forces that stand against what Social Responsibility stands for would and have used, for example, Wesley’s first definition to censor King and X. And that, moreover, the same definition could and would be used against Black Lives, environmentalists, and other groups in need of protection. In short, I believe the words of each civil rights leader as shared can help reveal how the ALA OIF documents must be firm enough to empower librarians and governing boards to protect as fully as possible important minority groups, even it means our having to deal with groups we naturally detest.
It seems as if you are being sincere; I guess we just don’t see eye to eye. From my perspective, it would take a willful disregard of history and context to interpret the MLK or Malcolm X quotes that you provided as hate speech. I feel like most reasonable people would agree that it seems pretty easy to tell if a group is a hate group, because such groups often single out a target to disparage. However, you are correct in pointing out that people may interpret speech differently, and whether that is intentionally warping meaning to suit an agenda or genuinely misunderstanding may become less important than the ramifications of labeling something as hate speech.
That said, the words “hate speech” and “hate groups” still should be removed from the Meeting Room Interpretation.
While the stated intent is legal guidance, the potential effect of including those phrases is implicitly inviting hate groups to meet in libraries. If the ALA’s position is that hate groups should be allowed to meet in libraries, that’s fine; that’s their interpretation of 1A. However, including the language in public documents is not necessary. Advise libraries individually on a case-by-case basis. It’s better than making a policy that, whether intentionally or not, rolls out the welcome mat for hate groups and signals that the ALA cares more about the idea and the ideal of free speech than the safety, security, and sense of belonging of the library community.
I think we all care about free speech and the unfettered exchange of ideas. Of course we do not want to be censors. If an individual library decides that means they have to let the local KKK chapter use their meeting room, so be it. The argument that the library can hold contrasting programming is valid, and it may suit some communities to do so.
However, that might not work well for all communities. If a library decides that hosting KKK meetings goes against their policies around patron safety and appropriate behavior, that is their decision. And if the group sues, that is their right. Ultimately, it is up to a judge to interpret whether or each situation is in compliance with the law, not ALA, so why add those terms to the document and send this message to the library community? While I trust that these terms were added to the interpretation with good intentions, the potential effects are deleterious.
Remove “hate speech” and “hate groups” from the Meeting Room Interpretation. Libraries make their own policies; provide guidance if asked.
Julia Warga sends this update:
For those who would like to make specific recommendations of alternative language for the revised interpretation (or useful resources to consult for language, or specific meeting room questions the larger library community might want to get addressed in the near future in other documents) , the Intellectual Freedom Committee has created a comment form. Feel free to share it around.
The new language in the meeting rooms policy is to be applauded. It explicitly aligns ALA with its stated core value of intellectual freedom and simultaneously protects libraries by showing deference to well-established 1A precedent.
Melora hit the nail on the head:
1. If we create a mechanism for censorship, it will eventually be used in ways we didn’t anticipate, against people and views we personally support. That is the nature of mechanisms for censorship.
2. Librarians are not courts, and cannot decide what is and is not legal. Illegal behaviors are still illegal and legal speech is still legal, no matter what we may say, wish, or do. Our responsibility is to understand to the very fullest exactly what that means.
3. This is extremely important: in order to PROTECT minorities, we must protect ALL speech–so that those very minorities can speak out when they are oppressed.
So many people with knowledge and experience have written about this. I’m writing to express my thanks and support. The hate group language needs to be removed, and arguments for inserting and keeping it have been roundly discussed and shown to be incorrect. A small selection:
(1) Using the word “white supremacists” is too in-your-face, let’s broaden it to hate groups. Example: OIF’s timeline on why the language was changed to “hate groups” from “white supremacists”.
Why are you uncomfortable naming the problem? If OIF is writing this in response to lawsuits around white supremacists using the library, then talk about white supremacists. See April Hathcock for more on this issue, and Katie Elson Anderson on the unwise use of the term “hate group.” By expanding the language to “hate groups”, OIF has actually made the resolution less helpful.
(2) If we remove the word hate groups, it’s just a slippery slope until we ban conservatives and suppress all speech with which we don’t agree. Example: https://www.oif.ala.org?p=14997#comment-562761
It is NOT difficult to tell the difference between opinions we disagree with and hate groups. Fighting words, words that will lead to imminent violence, are not protected. See Wesley Teal for more: https://www.oif.ala.org?p=14997#comment-563499 . Librarians can fight for first amendment rights AND understand and use a robust definition of hate speech at the same time. It is totally possible. One might say OIF should lead in this area.
(3) BLM/MLK/Malcolm X have also been labeled as using hate speech, do you want to ban them? Example: https://www.oif.ala.org?p=14997#comment-563618
WOW, this is particularly enraging. Refresh your memory on the definition of hate speech. Now where do you see MLK/Malcolm X calling for harm to come to white people? They share their disappointment, their pain, their fear of white people. There is NO wording that calls for attacks on white people. It’s obvious this is different than hate speech, and completely unfair to compare the two. Yes, censorship often affects minority groups and that’s a potentially slippery slope, but again this isn’t about censorship of speech. It’s about words that will lead to violence — not protected speech. From the ACLU , quoted above: “freedom of speech does not prevent punishing conduct that intimidates, harasses, or threatens another person, even if words are used. Threatening phone calls, for example, are not constitutionally protected.”
(4) This wording will help prevent lawsuits. Example: above blog post.
Again, see April Hathcock on this: https://twitter.com/AprilHathcock/status/1017063913240883200 and be thankful she’s put so much energy into thinking and writing about this issue. Also see Katie Anderson in the thread above, particularly: “Their threats of lawsuits should never be answered by an acknowledgement of this tactic, even in the name of protecting libraries from these lawsuits. It is a capitulation to their terroristic demands and unacceptable. Including them in the sentence empowers them and plays to their hands.”
I really appreciate all the people that have taken the time and energy to respond to this, and I’ve learned a lot. I’d like to add my voice to those expressing deep disappointment and calling for removal of the “hate groups” language. OIF and ALA are not leading on this issue, they are simply reacting. I’m more and more feeling as though my professional home is in other groups, and this is making me that much more certain.
That was some killer whitesplaining.
US laws have ALWAYS been used against POC.
I don’t expect protection from you, but I expect you to be human.
Your legalspeak sucks and it hurts my feelings.
It isn’t just ideas–it is terror and violence.
This isn’t a thought experiment for a white man.
It is the reality of so many POC in the US.
Please read my blog post from last year on this.
I want to challenge the idea advanced by some that the First Amendment is ONLY a tool for oppression, and that hate speech is the same thing as imminent danger. It is certainly the case that many people in positions of power use whatever tools they have to maintain power. But the First Amendment (and the Library Bill of Rights, which is based on it) ALSO gives people who challenge power the right to access public space, to begin to “peaceably assemble” and to seek “redress of grievances.” For those interested in social justice: free speech is where it begins. Second, as a former administrator, I try to imagine how a ban on hate speech would actually be administered in libraries. Above, some librarians have said it’s easy to tell who is and isn’t a hate group. The Southern Poverty Law Center, cited as a credible source for such identification, paid out at $3.2 million settlement and apologized to one group it mislabeled. (See https://www.splcenter.org/news/2018/06/18/splc-statement-regarding-maajid-nawaz-and-quilliam-foundation.) The point here is not that the law is inhuman. The point is that such labeling of speech moves into NOT easily identifiable beliefs and dangers. In practice, people requesting meeting rooms usually won’t identify themselves as belonging to an identifiable group explicitly calling for violence. Is it the obligation of the librarian to vet the group, to interview the applicant, and then to make a determination about how extremist they are? By what standards? Do groups have the right to appeal that decision if they have been misrepresented by librarians? “Imminent” danger isn’t the same thing as not feeling safe, both in law, and in countless daily situations. It’s a distinction that has a lot to say about who gets to silence whom, and how people of good faith can reach agreement on the facts.
I’ve also been thinking a lot about a continuum of safety within public spaces. I’ll probably post that as another separate blog. But I think our profession still has a lot to sort out. I appreciate people thinking about it together here.
I want to see a lawsuit against a library for creating a hostile work environment and patron environment. If things don’t get better POC and others will organize to do jus this.
I appreciate all the efforts people are making here, but I feel like some of our colleagues are being heard but not getting the response they were hoping for. I think what our under-threat colleagues keep trying to say to the majority of us who are white and cis is this: treat us like humans first and acknowledge our pain and our welfare before jumping into an intellectualization of the situation.
I would like to hear ALA say, “All library workers have the right to feel and be safe, and we have done something that threatened your safety, and that’s not OK, and we are sorry and working to repair that and consider how we can balance our legal responsibilities to meet the First Amendment with the reality that many among us are frightened and feeling imperiled.”
There is a difference between intent and impact. I don’t think anybody associated with the meeting room policy *meant* to cause harm to others. But the fact remains that many among us were negatively *impacted*. I would encourage ALA leadership to focus more on the impact than the intent. ALA claims to support diversity of backgrounds, viewpoints, and ideas … so I would counsel ALA leadership to show some heart as our colleagues report their front-lines reality of how policy decisions may be impacting them. This is what I have yet to hear from ALA leadership.
The argument inevitably turns to parsing the First Amendment and away from workplace safety. Workplace safety isn’t negotiable — it’s federal OSHA policy. Employees have the right to be safe, and that is what is being repeatedly lost in this conversation. Is ALA committed to safe workplaces? I have to admit I’m dumbfounded that this is devolving into a weird argument about who benefits from the First Amendment while ignoring the issue of safety.
Let’s not let academic arguments on the First Amendment (also federal policy, period, because it’s reality that a library can be sued for turning away one organization but not another without some other mitigating rationale) get in the way of hearing and addressing the anxieties and pain of our membership, lest ALA grow less diverse than it is already.
I hope I am capturing the gestalt accurately here; apologies in advance for awkward turns of phrase. I didn’t realize that being an ALA member would require this kind of plain talk, and I am underprepared for it.
The “idea advanced by some that the First Amendment is ONLY a tool for oppression” is a strawman argument. I don’t believe I’ve seen anyone make that argument. Many, including myself, have been arguing on behalf of the free speech rights of oppressed and marginalized peoples.
Free speech is important and must be defended. Adding unnecessary language to the meeting rooms interpretation that welcomes groups that seek to deprive others of their free speech rights shouldn’t be defended. We can do better.
It’s true that people requesting meeting rooms usually won’t identify themselves as belonging to an identifiable group explicitly calling for violence, which makes the addition of “hate groups” to the meeting rooms interpretation all the more questionable. If they don’t identify that way, why label them that way in official ALA publications? They would likely consider their speech and groups as “political” a class of speech already protected by the meeting rooms interpretation. And they would be right. Hate speech is political. It seems like there’s a logical disconnect between the argument that adding “hate speech” and “hate groups” to the meeting rooms interpretation is important and defensible and the arguments that such people don’t label themselves hate groups and that libraries shouldn’t label them as hate groups or define what hate groups means.
I’m not sure citing one mistake in the SPCL’s 47 years of invalidates all the good work they have done and continue to do, but they were offered as a starting point. If you’d like a better method or methods, I’d be happy to help explore ideas.
I agree there are still open questions in how libraries will craft policies that defend free speech and defend staff and patron safety. However, I am confident that our thoughtful colleagues are more than capable of coming up with reasonable, constitutionally-sound policies. We tend to be a pretty smart bunch.
As people working to uphold library values we should be working to use language in our policy interpretation and create spaces that foster the real freedom and diversity our disproportionately-white profession claims to value. Instead of producing policies that explicitly welcome anti-free-speech hate groups, we should be crafting policies that create a safe space for a wide variety of diverse voices that will help make libraries the cornerstones of democracy we claim they are.
We also must remember that discussions of ethics are necessarily grounded in real world consequences. When we discuss hate groups, to use the OIF label, that conversation cannot ignore their actions, which includes the murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, VA, and the murder of Cleminta C. Pinkney, Myra Thompson, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Daniel Simmons, Tywanza Sanders, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Ethel Lee Lance, Susie Jackson, and Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charlston, SC. These people were killed by individuals immersed hate speech died practicing their First Amendment rights. They have been permanently deprived of free speech.
Any free speech discussion that ignores the real world consequences of hate speech and hate groups isn’t really about free speech. Any free speech discussion is more focused on defending the speech of those seeking to oppress others, rather than uplifting the speech of the oppressed and marginalized isn’t really about free speech. If we have a sincere interest in true free speech, let’s begin to make room for more speech from those members of society whose voices are most often silenced, ignored, and ridiculed. Let’s make room for those who are often harassed, threatened, attacked, and slandered for speaking out publicly. Let’s make sure libraries are places where black speech matter as much as white speech. Let’s make sure libraries are places where LGBT+ speech matter as much as cis-het speech. Let’s make libraries a place where women’s speech matters as much as men’s speech. Where Muslim speech matters as much as Christian speech. Let’s make libraries a place where the speech of disabled people matters as much as the speech of able-bodied individuals. When we ensure that all people from marginalized racial, ethnic and religious communities and those from all other marginalized groups have equal access to and protection of their free speech rights as folks like you or me, James, then I’ll be happy to discuss how hate speech increases everyone’s free speech.
For those interested in free speech, social justice is where it begins.