Rich Lowry: "kill all the librarians next"


Here's a fun one from Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, Who Says a Shakespeare character famously said, "Let's kill all the lawyers" today we might reply to that acerbic line, "Sure – but only if we can kill all the librarians next."

He says librarians now constitute one of the country's main centers of thoughtless and unreconstructed leftism.

He adds, our unwillingness to keep vagrants out of libraries goes to the fundamental inability of leftist librarians to distinguish between maintaining minimal public standards and creeping fascism.


I loath that particualar quotation.

'First, Kill all the lawyers' is a reference to *HOW TO OVERTHROW THE GOVERNMENT*.

The rational is that if there are no lawyers, no one will know that what they are doing is illegal.

THe rest of the article is so damn insulting that it doe not even merit comment.


If somebody is evangelically preaching in the library, then they SHOULD be escorted from the premises. This is much more disruptive than homeless BO could ever be.

Please. You're twisting this.

I don't see anything in the previous post about someone "evangelically preaching" in a library. Unless you are speaking of a children's reading program associated with Christmas or Easter. I guess these would apply?

However, I have caught the wafts of a well-ripened patron.

Give me the preacher.

I'm still waiting to see some evidence of someone having their career derailed because they criticized ALA. My supervisor/coach back when I was a student library worker in the mid and late eighties has criticized ALA plenty, and is, as the saying goes, "slightly to the right of Atilla the Hun." His criticisms have appeared in print, even though some of us need a dictionary to wade through the Buckleyesque prose. Last I heard he was the Dean of Libraries at a college in South Carolina. Out of respect for him I won't say his name without his permission. Hell, if I had known ALA was so powerful I would have never let my membership lapse. And if anyone sends hate mail to someone they disagree with, or says someone is practicing hate speech because they are a Christian (although unfortunately some who claim to be Xians do this), they are an anal orifice. FWIW, I'm a Christian (as I said when I was an "anonymous patron"), and I haven't been harassed at all. And I still don't agree with ALA sometimes, and they can't do diddly squat about it.

p-man - I am personally not aware of anyone else becoming blacklisted by ALA. Nor am I accusing ALA of doing this formally. However I think it may be a bit naive to think that trumpeting anti-ALA positions will carry no consequence. I think the evidence if fairly clear on this one. Try to find publications written by librarians in Library Lit that are critical of ALA. Surely no organization can be this good??

My experience is limited, yet relevant for what it is worth. As an academic library director I have worked personally with a past ALA president. Nice person. Here's the rub.

This past ALA president has no compunction sending ALA legislative (ALAWON) updates regarding current federal issues to myself and other diretors. These updates give the ALA position, what their plan of action is, then urge us all to call our local reps to push the "party line". There is no discussion. Zilch! It's assumed that we all agree with ALA'a position. Implicitly, there is an assumption that, for the good of ALA, we all agree.

Again, this is my experience.

My advice. Leave any traces of anti-ALA publications, etc., off of your c.v.

"Take a look at the Patriot Act. Where's the public outcry??? The fact is that most Americans support the Patriot Act. This is a fact."

It is also a fact that opposition to the Act, once non-existant outside civil libertarian circles, is growing, as more and more of mainstream America learns just what intrusive new powers the government has accrued to itself. (And yes, despite what Mr. Lowry would have you believe, subpoenas obtained with no probable cause, before a rubber-stamp FISA court, do constitute a new power.)

The pattern of public opposition to the USAPA seems to be following a similar pattern to that of Congress; they, too, overwhelmingly supported it...until they found out what was actually in the thing. Since then, the movement to reign it in has grown on both sides of the ideological spectrum. After all, that wasn't a Berkeley liberal who introduced the bill to repeal the "sneak and peek" provision, it was an Idaho Republican. And the bill passed overwhelmingly, with ample support from other Reps.

"Libraries have always censored via collection development policies. Let's be honest with the public."

True enough. However, the crucial difference between collection development and internet filtering is that of local control. When you choose to buy or not to buy a book, you are ultimately answerable for that decision and the rationale. When filters are installed on a computer, the decision to block or not block a site is made by someone unknown to you, unaccountable to you, for reasons which are normally not divulged and, sad to say, often seem to be driven by that dreaded word, "agenda" (though certainly not a liberal one.)

I'm sorry but I don't see this swelling opposition you speak of. Unless your speaking of folks within library circles.

I serve on both a public library board and as a director of an academic library. I have not had one patron/student contact me about their concern for privacy. Nada.

Your justification regarding filtering v CD policies is well taken. I don't disagree, though I am not sure one is necessarily better than the other. One could argue than an automated filtering program may be less biased than a person. Who knows?

Here's a thought. Which of the following would the non-library public be most familar with; the US Patriot Act or a collection development policy?

My contention is the way ALA portrays this issue to the non-library public. ALA maintains this is an issue of "free and open access". CIPA is not the first federal law to affect library collections. Nor does the Patriot Act represent the first time Uncle Sam can snoop on a library patron.

Again, my issue is honesty with the public, as well as our perception. Like it or not, we are being characterized as a liberal movement and risk alienating our core constituents, i.e. taxpayers.

"Like it or not, we are being characterized as a liberal movement and risk alienating our core constituents, i.e. taxpayers."

Please be courteous by not making such broad, sweeping, and incorrect statements as this. I understand your position, but you imply that taxpayers never have a liberal bent. Taxpayers in your community may be 100% non-liberal, not in my community. Thank you.

tomeboy, thank you for taking the respond to my comments. Allow me to do so in turn.

I have mixed emotions about your assertion that the librarian's image hasn't changed for the better. You say that "we no longer enjoy the public image we once did." Are you referring to the public image that "introduced us in our youth to the "Hardy Boys" stories and preside over a sanctuary of neighborhood quiet?" Or the one reflected in the now infamous library action figure? Quite frankly, these are public images I can do without.

That said, you make a reasonable assertion: that we are a group of incestuous debaters. I don't disagree and I too resent the ALA's unwillingness to consider and reflect differences of opinion within the profession's ranks. However, consider that, on the flip side, our general inability to reach consensus and present a unified front does damage to our profession in other ways that are outside the domain of this particular discussion.

Anyhow, I find it ultimately difficult to enter a broader interprofessional dialogue that begins with inflammatory comments and accusations of "thoughtless and unreconstructed leftism." As I suggested originally, the objection to the power grab and potential privacy compromises reflected in the PATRIOT ACT is more politically conservative in origin than liberal. But true discussion is stymied by the construction of any objection to Bush administration policies as leftist, regardless of the ideological basis.

As for the public outcry, come on now. To make an inflammatory (and somewhat specious) argument of my own: Where was the public outcry over the spread of AIDS? The fact is that most Americans supported a disease that ran rampant through homosexual and drug-addicted communities (some more vocally than others, of course). That certainly doesn't mean people should have stopped working towards a cure long ago, does it? Or stopped promoting AIDS awareness?

Sadly, most people don't care about issues until they feel the direct impact. Many people felt the direct impact of 9/11 and care about measures to make sure it never happens again. Thus the initial support for the PATRIOT ACT.
But, as you mention repeatedly, it's all about honesty with the public. Therefore we should remain committed to informing people about things that the government has an interest in obfuscating, such as the inefficacy of current filtering technologies and the extension of federal investigatory power granted by the PATRIOT ACT. Of course neither CIPA nor the PATRIOT ACT are the first laws of their variety, but they are the farthest reaching in their respective categories and people should have the information necessary to decide whether that's a good thing.

Look, to directly take on the policies of a political entity, the ALA has to play a political game. It's never clean, conciliatory or forthright, but it's probably the most viable and realistic choice to influence opinions. That any presented opposition will be characterized as liberal/leftist is a standard consequence of challenging the US government.

I guess what I'm saying ultimately (and finally, yay!) is that being a politically benign profession is unrealistic in the current climate and no longer enough to secure the future of the profession. I'm espousing a public image of the librarian as proactive, not inactive.

"I have not had one patron/student contact me about their concern for privacy. Nada."

Obviously, I am in no position to comment on that. You are the best judge of your own situation/constituency.

In response, I can only offer an anecdote from my own situation. I work in a small public library in a very conservative town, one where the registered Republicans outnumber Democrats at least two to one, and probably closer to three to one. This town, not coincidentally, is quite close to another where our President has one of his vacation homes. He is extremely popular here. In other words, these folks are not in any way, shape, or form, liberal idealogues.

Yet I have had several patrons question me about the Patriot Act. People have demanded to know why we keep any records at all beyond their name, address, and library card number. My library director, who denied my suggestion to put out pamphlets informing the patrons about the ramifications of the USAPA, ended up having to rewrite the library's privacy policy so that it mentioned the Act...not in response to anything I said to her, but because of questions she was receiving from patrons.

Again, I must repeat that this is not a liberal place at all. The folks here are, by and large, staunchly conservative. They support President Bush and generally hold a positive view of his policies, both here and overseas. But they are genuinely concerned about the powers accrued to the DOJ since 9/11 and their possible uses. And I don't blame them.

Simple question. Are librarians/libraries perceived by the general public differently today than, say, 30 years ago?

Well some of this is getting a little wide of the point, but I think the essential point holds.
ALA (and the higher education environment generally) do have a left wing slant. This is supported by a number of surveys and just observing the situation.
ALA doesn't have a blacklist. However, it's position is such that people who publicly disagree with the organization probably will suffer some kind of problems -- even if it's nothing more serious then a certain amount of professional tut-tutting. "Gee you don't belong to ALA. Why is that?" As the earlier poster said it's just not a good idea to put these kinds of things on your c.v. It's more a sociological thing than anything e.g. If you want to be successful you're expected to belong to the "right club" e.g. ALA.
ALA is a big organization that's been around for a long time and like all such groups it tends to get a little set in its ways. The reality is that the ALA, more than a librarian's group, is actually more a lobbying organization for the profession as a whole. That's probably a distinction that many people miss and it results in a great deal of discontent and trouble.

It is kinda ironic that Mr. Rick is busy making librarians mad and he's got a new book coming out. Hmmm... can we say the publicity wagon is coming around the bend???

Where to begin?

Let's start with perception and reality.

For the sake of argument let suppose we (librarians) agree that most of what Mr. Lowry states is, as you characterize, "specious". Ok.

And as librarians we collectively pooh-pooh Mr. Lowry. As demonstrated in your articulate albeit acerbic rebuttal.

So what?? You are missing the bigger issue.

The issue here is the public perception of libraries and librarians. It has changed. And not for the better.

The truth is that we are fast becoming recognized by mainstream America as a movement for liberal agendas. Don't shoot the messenger. This is fact. Mr. Lowry's thoughts, although anathema to you, reflect the feelings of many Americans.

The problem is WE DON'T LISTEN TO OTHERS OUTSIDE OF OUR PROFESSION!!!!!!! We know better.

Sure we don't mind taking public money, or the Feds dough for that matter, but that's it. No seat at the table.

My point is, like it or not, we no longer enjoy the public image we once did. What was once a politically benign institution and respected profession is now viewed by many as tools to further liberal agendas. Why?.

Take a look at the Patriot Act. Where's the public outcry??? The fact is that most Americans support the Patriot Act. This is a fact. The same with filtering. The ALA has couched the filtering issue as an unprecedented encroachment to free and open access. This is misleading at best. Libraries have always censored via collection development policies. Let's be honest with the public.

We need to stop the incestuous back slapping within our profession and encourage real dialogue. Even with, "non-library" types. They aren't as dumb as we think.

Lowry is absolutely correct in what he says. The library profession is dominated by the ALA which is run with a distinctly left wing agenda.
The librarian response to the Patriot Act is a perfect example. The response of the ALA has been one of hysteria, invoking images of the Gestapo coming to knock on one's door at night. It ignores the fact that, leaving state laws aside, one has no expectation of privacy in library circulation records. The information has already been revealed to a third party so they are no different than credit card records -- which the government can look at at will.
It may be that the Patriot Act needs to be rewritten. However, that can be said of most legislation. The ALA response makes the library profession look like a bunch of crazed 60s radicals and conspiracy theorists.
As to the other comments of Lowry: he's correct. Most public libraries in large metropolitan areas are cesspools -- an oasis for crime and perversions of all sorts. They are, in effect, homeless shelters where the librarians spend most of their time doing social work.

  Librarians complain that public libraries are underfunded. Has it ever occurred to anyone that libraries are underfunded because taxpayers don't like spending money on dirty unsafe public facilities that they don't get any benefit from? Want support for public libraries? Kick out the homeless/psychotic people and keep them out, put filters on all the computers, and clean your build

Just a note that some public libraries, because they are a PUBLIC INSTITUTION, cannot kick out homeless people just because you might catch a whiff of an unwanted odor. The only way most can kick someone out is if they are creating a security hazard/extreme public nuisance (ie. begging). Check the library's policy on what type of people are permitted in the library (if there even is one) and the local laws on what constitutes discrimination. Most of the whackos my mom deals with stem from the use of public computers rather than a person being homeless. At times it sounds like she'd rather have to deal with a homeless person rather than the people she gets at the computers ("my 30 minutes aren't up yet! I have to win this auction on eBay!!").

[Preface: this is Greg (151, I think). I don't know my password and can't get to it from work, lest you think I mean to post anonymously.]

This should get ugly before day's end. Mr. Lowry betrays his ignorance many times in the course of one column (as does our most recent anonymous poster - "Lowry Rocks!"). Let me throw a few examples out there and let others carry on accordingly.

"preside over a sanctuary of neighborhood quiet" - Maybe he meant presided, which would not only be more accurate, it would provide some much needed verb tense agreement. Still, when was the last time Mr. Lowry visited a public library?

"making an otherwise worthy profession seem a blight on the republic" - Based on the recent press, I'd say that was OCLC's job (sorry, a bit snarky).

"vagrants are allowed to treat libraries as quasi-homeless shelters" - Much like parents are allowed to treat libraries like day-care centers, but I don't see Mr. Lowry bemoaning that.
Anyway, the point is that "vagrants" (tasteful choice) are governed by the same rights and policies as any other person who walks through the doors.

"the fundamental inability of leftist librarians to distinguish between maintaining minimal public standards and creeping fascism" - Again, we set standards and everyone is held to them. That these standards do not meet the expectations of the columnist says more about the columnist (and the anonymous poster, for that matter) than the librarians. Whatever happened to "equal under the law?" Or is that fascist?

(in reference to subpoena powers) "This power has always existed in criminal cases." - Right, Mr. Lowry, the power exists when there is a case. This is about expansion of federal powers and, last I knew, a conserative philosophy would not espouse such a power grab.

Anyway, these are but a few examples. I expect those with stronger grounding in law and civil liberties to rip Mr. Lowry, to tear his specious arguments to shreds.

Actually, that's only since 1995-96ish (I'd have to check records). You *used* to be able to have a reasonable expectation of privacy in this country.

> They are, in effect, homeless shelters

        Only because there is *nowhere* else for homeless people to go. When you can get arrested for sitting on the sidewalk, you find somewhere else to go.

        Unless you're willing to kill the poor, you're going to have to put them somewhere. And if you eventually manage to eliminate every legal place for them to go to, you will leave them no resort but to kill you for living space. I wish you neocons would just come clean.

-- Ender, Duke_of_URL


So then the quote works nicely! Librarians make sure that their libraries are sources of information about citizens' rights and government responsibilities.

If you want to undermine the constitution (I.e. overthrow the government, if not the administration) than killing the librarians is a fine idea.

Or at least discrediting them with sexist stereotypes. We are a bunch of hysterical old biddies, aren't we?

Where are these public libraries that are cesspools? I've worked in urban public libraries for the last ten years, and I've yet to see one. Also, we were underfunded before the Internet even made its first appearance in a library. A moment's thought should have made this obvious. And if Mr. Lowry is so concerned that one of his blue-blood buddies may catch a whiff of someone who has limited access to bathing facilities, why doesn't he do something to improve that access. While he's at it, he can rail against corporations who are spewing out pollution more noxious than any BO into the air and water both here and abroad. Wait, in the neocon world free enterprise is king. Freedom is for those who can afford it.

Anonymous - I concur. Completely.

I would ask that you consider posting under a login. I understand that criticizing the ALA is tantamount to heresy. But it's healthy, democratic and, most of all, needed.

Hypocrisy is problem, well perhaps one of the problems, I have with the ALA. Diversity, Cuban libraries, censorship, filters, etc.. More later.

For now, consider this. I posted this a few days ago. Perhaps a second look is worthwhile?

A nugget from ALA's Patriot Act

Resolution..."RESOLVED, That the American Library Association urges all libraries to adopt and implement patron privacy and record retention policies that affirm that “the collection of personally identifiable information should only be a matter of routine or policy when necessary for the fulfillment of the mission of the library�

Another nugget from ALA's web site..."The American Library Association grants permission to outside organizations, institutions, or individuals, to use its membership lists. Such permission is for rental only (a price list is then given) The lists are not sold and they may not be duplicated."

Perhaps the Attorney General should promise not to make any copies???

Unfortunately, I'm a working librarian. To publicly criticize ALA would put my job and professional future at risk. I also, probably, would be subjected to a great deal of hate e-mail and other abuse.
It's unfortunate that I have to be this way and give into this left wing tyranny. Unfortunately, because of the ideological and practical stranglehold that ALA has on the profession I have no choice. I and my family need me to work to survive.
Personally, I think it's sad that ALA forces people to be closeted about their identity when their views conflict with the liberal norm. However, that's the way things are. Perhaps someday it will be different and conservative views will be allowed to be publicly acceptable.
Look at it this way -- It's no different from the fact that, because I work in a publicly funded institution, I have to hide the fact that I'm a Christian -- because being a Christian is considered a hate crime and can get you in trouble.

"It's no different from the fact that, because I work in a publicly funded institution, I have to hide the fact that I'm a Christian -- because being a Christian is considered a hate crime and can get you in trouble."

Huh? I'm a Christian working at a public institution with a lot of other Christians (and people of other faiths or non-faiths, as well), and none of us have ever been accused of committing a hate crime or getting into trouble because of our faiths. I don't know what kind of place you work in, but where I'm at, a hate crime is something you do not something you are. Also, just because you are a librarian doesn't mean you have to agree with the ALA over everything. We may be information professionals but that doesn't make us mindless clones.

Frankly, it sounds to me that you have a chip on your shoulder that you might want to examine before brandishing further broad generalities.

well the rule here is left is right and right is so wrong!!! You can have protests about how 9/11 was a great thing for the world -- no problem, but if you are an evangelical preacher you will be escorted off the property by the police.
Disagreeing with the ALA?? Go ahead. Do it. And enjoy your life at McDonald's because you'll never get another library job.

What the???? Why would criticizing ALA put your professional future at risk? Are you employed by ALA? I've criticized ALA, and it has had no effect one way or the other on my career. You need an ALA-accredited MLS for most professional library jobs, but beyond that I don't see that they have any authority over any library or librarian. Do you have any evidence of anyone disagreeing with ALA being subjected to anything besides ridicule? I agree with ALA on some things and disagree with them on others. I let my membership lapse because my wife and I share one full-time job and I don't feel like having both of us pay dues. I'm pretty confident that I could stand up during our system's staff day and say "ALA s*cks" and nothing would happen to me. Neither have I been subjected to anything unpleasant on the job for being a Christian. If I tried to convert people at work I'd probably be in trouble, and rightly so in my opinion. I've never been accused of being a hatemonger, not even by my liberal, Jewish, ALA-member wife. I anyone can provide concrete evidence of ALA ruining anyone's career, I would love to see it. If so, I will be happy to never renew my membership in protest.

Greg - again, well stated though I don't agree.

The image I am referring to is one of an apolitical enterprise. This has changed. I believe there is a degree of truth when Lowry talks of "unreconstructed leftism".
((Sidebar)) I just received an email from an anonymous past ALA president speaking about this article. It was forwarded to him by an ALA councilor, whatever that is. Here is where Lowry has a point.

The councilor, in his/her email says, "Hardly unexpected commentary from the National Review, but still..." Now what should I take from this comment? Furthermore this past ALA president states in his/her email to our group, " of a very hostile editorial in the National Review."

What's the implicit message here?

((end of sidebar))
As for the action figure, the last I remember was my Stretch Armstrong. 70's kid. Once the syrup oozed out I lost all touch with action figures.

As for AIDS. Respectfully, I think this is a reach. In fact I really don't understand your point and so it may be better left alone.

Lastly, though encouraged, I would ask you to reconsider your position regarding your opinion that ALA does not invite true dialogue. As the intelligent person I believe you are, I am disappointed that you are willing to concede this sad reality. We all know the adage, "Evil triumphs when good men do nothing." I thought that the strength of a Democratic institution was built upon the open exchange of ideas??

Well enough. We obviously don't agree, but that's ok.