Daily Archives: April 21, 2014

ALA’s Vision for the Library’s Future is Not Even Its Own


The Libraries Transforming Communities vision is not even a vision that ALA created. It appears to be a vision adopted from one of The Harwood Institute’s programs with whom ALA is partnering to transform America’s libraries. What were they thinking? Obviously grasping at straws, but buying magic beans? SERIOUSLY?

ALA’s State of America’s Libraries Report 2014 includes a disturbing revelation that has actually been brewing for a couple of years, and is well along the way to indoctrinating new librarians. The Executive Summary espouses a vision of the library’s future, if you follow all the links to the source.

The ALA has made transformation a top priority. As libraries continue to transform in 2014, they deepen engagement with their communities in many ways, addressing current social, economic, and environmental issues, often through partnerships with governments and other organizations. Moving forward from being providers of books and information, public libraries now respond to a wide range of ongoing and emerging needs.

That “transformation” link goes to another article about ALA’s Libraries Transforming Communities (LTC), “groundbreaking libraries-as-change-agents initiative.” Read that again. Libraries-as-change-agents!

Through LTC, ALA will help the public library profession become more focused on and skilled at convening aspirational community conversations and more innovative in transforming internal practice to support fulfillment of community aspirations, and ALA will mirror that change internally, in its own processes. This work will help librarians become more reflective of and connected to their communities. It will help libraries to build stronger relationships with local civic agencies, non-profits, funders and corporations. It will yield greater community investment in civility, collaboration, education, health, and well-being.

ALA is working with the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation to develop and provide training opportunities and learning resources to support community engagement and innovation. The Harwood Institute has a vision of “turning outward” that emphasizes shifting the institutional and professional orientation of libraries and librarians from internal to external.

Libraries Transforming Communities is made possible through a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. [BTW: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation helped make EDGE Benchmarks possible.]

Professor R. David Lankes and Barbara Stripling presented a webinar on March 8, 2012 “designed to stimulate conversation about harnessing the evolving role of libraries and strengthening the librarian’s voice to help shape community perception.” Barbara Stripling was Co-Chair of ALA (now Ex-) President Molly Raphael’s Empowering Voices, Transforming Communities task force, and is now ALA President for 2013-2014.

When Professor Lankes published “The Atlas of New Librarianship” in 2011 it was the greatest thing since sliced bread in library circles. Unfortunately, librarians were not reading it closely and really understanding what Lankes advocated. My critique was not so accepting of his advocacy of radical social activism. (Book Review: R. David Lankes – The Atlas of New Librarianship and Final Review: The Atlas of New Librarianship) To repeat my original critique; I was still hoping for something practical and useful in “The Atlas” when I came to the Knowledge section in the Facilitating Thread (which includes access, knowledge, environment, and motivation) where Lankes begins to develop the foundation for an argument in favor of all kinds of literacy. When I read it, I was shocked and appalled at the ideas he was advocating for librarians.

For librarians “To be ‘literate in’ means to be able to use something to gain power.” (pg. 75) Excuse me? Did I read that correctly? Unfortunately, YES! Lankes then continued on down a path I could not have imagined, and hopefully, neither could the vast majority of professional librarians. The lengthy quote that follows is essential not to break context and to fully understand the role he advocates for librarians. The role that ALA has adopted and is now advocating through The Harwood Institute.

Librarians can impart all the instruction they want on how to search and evaluate sources, but if we don’t also facilitate the knowledge of transforming all of that new knowledge into an effective conversation …, we have created a closed loop with limited benefit to the community in general. So information literacy must include the idea of conversation literacy. Indeed, concepts of new librarianship call for a host of expansions in all sorts of literacy.

… Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, a handbook written by a far left radical during the unrest of the 1960s … is a fascinating read.

What I want to point out, however, is Alinsky’s take on the word “power.”

    There are a number of fundamental reasons for rejecting such substitutions [for the use of the word power]. First, by using combinations of words such as “harnessing the energy” instead of the single word “power,” we begin to dilute the meaning; and as we use purifying synonyms, we dissolve the bitterness, the anguish, the hate and love, the agony and the triumph attached to these words, leaving an aseptic imitation of life.


Power is not bad or evil. Alinsky would say the evil is when you don’t have power. Without power you don’t make decisions, things are decided for you. Librarians need to be powerful. They need to be able to shape agendas, lead the community, and empower members to do the same. We seek out power not as an end but as a means to make the world a better place. To serve, to truly serve, you need to be powerful so you can steward the community.

Why this trip through radicalism and political protest? Because it lies at the heart of how we are to interpret the role of literacy in librarianship. If we see the role of librarians as supplementing other educational processes (teaching reading in schools or literacy organizations, or supporting parents), then literacy is a somewhat limited concept. …

However, if we look at literacy as empowerment, literally to gain power, then we have a different take on literacy altogether. Librarians, I would agree, need to view literacy as a means of acquiring power – more often than not, power for the powerless. (pg. 74) [Emphasis added.]

Lankes admits that he is trying to shape ALA’s vision of the librarians role as social activist. His mission statement for New Librarianship reads; “The Mission of Librarians is to Improve Society….” He actually justifies his “trip through radicalism and political protest” because “it lies at the heart of how we are to interpret the role of literacy in librarianship.” SERIOUSLY? Since when does radicalism or political protest have any place in librarianship? And, he also advocates that librarians “seek out power … to make the world a better place. … to truly serve, you need to be powerful so you can steward the community.” is arguably the most arrogant attitude any profession could conceive. Then couple that power with Lankes’ idea that librarians should be present for ALL knowledge creation within the community and you have what sounds like something that is certainly not librarianship!

Now, what exactly is ALA’s Libraries Transforming Communities initiative that they are partnering with The Harwood Institute to sell to librarians? Harwood’s “Turning Outward” states;

Turning Outward makes the community and the people the reference point for getting things done.

Turning Outward impacts:

1) Engagement – Shifting who you see and include in your work and how you engage with them to create change.

2) Partners – Helping you gain clarity about the partners you need to move forward – and those that are holding you back.

3) Priorities – By understanding what space you occupy within the community, you no longer struggle to be all things to all people. Instead, you focus on what you can and should impact.

4) Strategies — How you develop and implement strategies that reflect the context of your community and people’s shared aspirations – and not to get so entangled in programs and activities.

5) Communications – Reframing how you talk about your work and impact, so that it is relevant to people and their concerns – and how you can contribute to a more productive community narrative.

6) Organizational Culture – By Turning Outward you can align and drive internal efforts around shared aspirations and shared language, which makes it easier to work across departments and get things done.
[Emphasis added.]

Sprinkled throughout their six-point approach to transforming librarianship are innuendos that are contradictory to everything that libraries stand for. Changing who we include in our work so that we can change society? Aren’t libraries supposed to be all-inclusive? And change society into what? Into some librarians idea of what their community should be? Only partner with organizations that can help the library and avoid any that might “hold you back”? And, who might those organizations be that would hold back the library from serving ALL the citizens within their community? We should no longer struggle to be all things to all people? SERIOUSLY? So libraries should only serve some select tax payers, and ignore the interests of ALL its taxpayers? And, by all means let’s STOP getting entangled in programs and activities!

What in the name of S.R. Ranganathan has gotten into ALA? Since when has librarianship been about radical activism, or totally focused on “changing society”? Since when has librarianship been about gaining power in the community and deciding what improvement society needs? Since when has librarianship been about exclusivity?

If this is where 21st Century librarianship is headed, I want no part of it. I will not be the librarian that ALA’s visions and programs are espousing. I will not impose my personal biases (and don’t think for one second that you don’t have any, because everyone has them) on my community and judge what improvements it needs. Especially not when it is paying my salary to serve it.

If ALA has any perception that librarianship is lacking a clear identity, then they are clearly clueless about what it should be. In fact, they are so clueless that they are willing to buy some program from The Harwood Institute and adopt Professor Lankes’ New Librarianship, both approaches that will surely destroy any resemblance of what librarianship is in favor of creating a library workforce intent on changing the world. Change the world to what?

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