Extreme-left librarians launch "Radical Reference" blog

conservator writes "NYC Indymedia has announced the launch of a 'Radical Reference' Web site, with a focus on the upcoming Republican National Convention.

The announcement defines 'radical reference' as 'answering questions from those who question authority,' and explains that 'Radical Reference is a service provided by librarians from all over the United States to give assistance to demonstrators at the Republican National Convention in New York City.'

The announcement gives no indication as to how such a service comports with Article VII of the Code of Ethics of the American Library Association which states, "We distinguish between our personal convictions and professional duties and do not allow our personal beliefs to interfere with fair representation of the aims of our institutions or the provision of access to their information resources.""

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No conflict of interest

The announcement gives no indication as to how such a service comports with Article VII of the Code of Ethics of the American Library Association which states...

C-sense, I think that the code of ethics refers to librarians working in individual institutions. I don't see a conflict of interest, unless of course, these folks are going to be using their employers' time and resources to help out. I see no crime or harm in trained librarians using their skills outside their workplace situations to help out a group or an individual. We probably all do that on a regular basis.

absolutely no conflict of interest

"...to interfere with fair representation of the aims of our institutions or the provision of access to their information resources." emphasis mine.

Rochelle is right, the conlficy of interest has to do with political jockeying while at work, not doing politics mixed with librarianship while not at work.

Not so fast.

It may be just me, but what reference services can protesters at the RNC convention possibly need? A good place for Chinese? Transit schedules? How much to tip your union-member doorman?


I must assume these groups have their own platforms and agenda and will spew the rhetoric they have already prepared. Yes we know Bush is terrible, Kerry will save the world, the French will love us again, Kumbaya, buy abortions not guns.... whatever their cause they have already made up their chants, silly slogans, and effigies to burn. Will they use this website for anything but echoing ABB? I doubt it.


As to the ability to separate their personal from professional lives I have seen evidence that they are clearly unable to do that. Look at the guestbook for librariansagainstbush.org . Look at all of the library email addresses. Either those librarians don’t subscribe to the ALA Code of Ethics or simply don’t care. So Jessamyn and Rochelle, I have great concerns that librarians that are so rabidly anti-Bush as to start a Radical Reference blog will be unable to separate their professional practice from their political selves. I am all for supporting the candidate you choose, but to abuse one’s position of public trust is a violation of what we as librarians hold sacred.

Re:absolutely no conflict of interest

Jessamyn, the text you cite and highlight is a separate clause and only half of the complete article (there's the small matter of the word "and"). The relevant and more important half reads, "We distinguish between our personal convictions and professional duties." This clause clearly and unambiguously renders politicized reference unethical.

The attempt by leftist librarians to politicize American librarianship is nothing new. You are probably aware that the Progressive Librarians Guild's Statement of Purpose explicitly rejects "the sterile notion of the neutrality of librarianship" -- a stance that is aimed directly at the primary statement of Article VII.

It is well known that the academic left in America has sought and will continue to seek to politicize everything from algebra to zoology, and so it would be surprising if leftist librarians were not attempting to politicize librarianship. (I am quite sure that you will not hear Greg, Matt, me, or anyone else speak of any such abomination as "conservative reference.")

What puzzles me is the definition of "radical reference" as depending upon the patrons' wish to "question authority." But of course, assessing the authority of resources is a central part of information literacy, and the announcement even mentions classes on the subject!

So then, take your pick, guys: "radical reference" is either unethical (if it means politicized reference), or else redundant (if, per the definition provided, it refers only to a standard part of reference work)....

Re:Not so fast.

Would it be okay for protesters to call libraries and ask for the same assistance from an anonymous on-duty person as they might get from an off-duty professional person? Information is information. If Library workers are using their employers' time and resources to help out a particular group, then it's a pretty clear cut case of unethical behavior. But you seem to be assuming that everyone is going to be doing this on the sly, on the clock and blowing the ALA Code of Ethics out of the water.

If there are information professionals/librarians out there who are volunteering their time to help out a cause they support by supplying information, do you have a problem with that?

I would hope that you and conservator are not implying that librarians should give up the right to have a political life outside of work.

Re:Not so fast.

I would hope that you and conservator are not implying that librarians should give up the right to have a political life outside of work.

I guess I'm assuming that if you say you're doing "reference," then you're working as a librarian. Doesn't this make sense?

Why would leftists need to put a label on what they do outside of work?

Re:Not so fast.

I guess I'm assuming that if you say you're doing "reference," then you're working as a librarian. Doesn't this make sense?

Not really. I do on-the-fly reference for all sorts of people outside of work. They know I'm very good at what I do, so they ask me for help. I don't see how that is any different than what these folks are organizing themselves to do.

Why would leftists need to put a label on what they do outside of work?

Cripes! Because we can't stop using jargon.

Re:Not so fast.

No, of course not, librarians as well as everyone else are entitled to do whatever they want off work hours.


If someone were to call a library and ask a reference question would you know if they were radical, liberal, conservative, or communist? Of course a librarian can and should answer any question put to them while working.


However blogging, be it personal, political, or otherwise not related to one's job should not be done on the employer's time, or with the employer's resources. To paraphrase the McDonald's if ya got time to lean, ya got time to clean; if you have time to blog you have time to do library related work.


What a librarian does on his or her time assuming it is not illegal is none of the library's concern. In contrast, what the librarian does on the taxpayer's (or school's or whoever funds the library's) time is the public's concern.


If the commies or the Krishnas call me for an answer I'll give them the same service I would give the Republicans or the conservatives, but from what I have seen on the librariansagainstbush website I'm not so sure everyone would. If they'll use their library email for political purposes how can we be certain they will be objective?

Define your terms

In that diverse country [India] that welcomes foreigners with the same equanimity that allowed it to absorb foreign cultures for centuries and yet remain unique, the students at the women's college of the University of Delhi accepted me as one of two Westerners to live there. They taught me to wear saris and were generally more instructive about India than was the curriculum, which was still shaped by the english system. In the same period, I was also befriended by a group of gentle activists
and intellectuals know as the Radical Humanists. From listening to their energetic analysing of world events, I learned that "radical" didn't have to mean violent, extremist, or crazy, as a reading of U.S. newspapers had led me to believe. It could mean exactly what the dictionary said: going to the root.
--Gloria Steinem, Doing Sixty, and reprinted in Beyond Words, pg 264

Wacky URL

I wonder why the URL I pasted does not work. The correct URL for the guestbook at librariansagainstbush is http://www.librariansagainstbush.org/guestbook.htm l

Re:Not so fast.

I don't see how that is any different than what these folks are organizing themselves to do.

Well, that's easy. The difference is that you haven't trotted out a politicizing little slogan for what you do in your free time.

Freedom of speech??

Isn't this blog a form of free speech? One cannot certainly deny anyone that freedom?

The posting on our listserv....

For my alma mater suggested that this was a good volunteer opportunity for library school students... What would happen if this was suggested by a far right group protesting the DNC? It would have made a lot more fuss. Besides, I do radical reference on my own time and I vote Republican (one of the few things I share with Kerry is being a Navy veteran).

Since I'm actually involved, I guess I'll comment

Point taken about the name, with which I had nothing to do. I don't think it's a particularly good name, but if it's eye-catching, then at least it's doing part of its job. (Also, I don't think I'm particularly radical, but then, "Fairly Moderate and Occasionally Downright Contrarian Lefty-ish Reference" doesn't have that ring to it.)

I'm treating it as a challenge - there's a lot of stupid propaganda out on the left, just like on the right, with the same made-up "facts", wacked out ideas, etc. If I'm providing good, objective sources to help people explore and (god forbid) back up their claims, then I'm also reining in baseless speculation and inflammatory stupidity. I'm in favor of neither, so I'm thinking of this project as my contribution to rigor among people with whom I (somewhat? mostly? frequently? occasionally?) agree; using an apolitical skill set to help strengthen a movement I agree with.

Stay Informed About the ALA and Your Government:

Have any of you read the ALA's Resolution on the USA PATRIOT ACT and Related Measures that Infringe on the Rights of Library Users?

I feel that it is my duty to inform the general public of the current Administration's disregaard for the ALA's Code of Ethics and Bill of Rights:

Librarians’ professional ethics require that personally identifiable information about library users be kept confidential. This principle is reflected in Article III of the Code of Ethics, which states that "[librarians] protect each library user’s right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received, and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired, or transmitted." Privacy: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights, notes that "[p]rotecting user privacy and confidentiality has long been an integral part of the mission of libraries."

In addition, the current Administration's USA PATRIOT ACT restricts our constitutional rights:

  • Violates the Fourth Amendment, which says the government cannot conduct a search without obtaining a warrant and showing probable cause to believe that the person has committed or will commit a crime.
  • Violates the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech by prohibiting the recipients of search orders from telling others about those orders, even where there is no real need for secrecy.
    Violates the First Amendment by effectively authorizing the FBI to launch investigations of American citizens in part for exercising their freedom of speech.
  • Violates the Fourth Amendmentby failing to provide notice - even after the fact - to persons whose privacy has been compromised. Notice is also a key element of due process, which is guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment.

- ACLU


Why can't I, as a librarian, advocate for America's libraries on my own time?

Re:Not so fast.

It's obvious from reading these comments that there are some people who havn't visited the site or looked through the answers to the questions and haven't asked us what it is we are really providing.

If they had taken the time to investigate -- rather than getting caught up with the term "radical" -- they would have seen that we provide services regardless of political leaning. Remember, language is not a static thing; rather it is a place where social struggle takes place. The term itself is interpreted within a specific social context. By using the term "radical" to define our service, we are challenging maintream meaning which largely marginalizes the term and along with it certain groups.

We face a society where citizens are less and less informed due to consolidation and corporatization of media. I think it is our core code of ethics to help to inform citizens so that they can participate fully in the democratic process. In this way, we are forwarding the profession by reaching out to the community. Every librarian should go out to his/her own community and use his/her information skills to affect positive change. If this is radical, then by all means I am radical.

Re:Since I'm actually involved, I guess I'll comme

We're simply doing what we were taught to do. We're providing answers to
questions. Anyone can ask us. I do the same thing every day at the reference
desk, in our e-mail service, and in our chat service. I just consider this another
access point. As a home support member, I'll answer questions as I receive
them. It seems to me that this is a reference librarian's basic ethic.

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