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I have been a member of the American Library Association for 16 years, with membership and committee involvement in the Library and Information Technology Association and the Office of Intellectual Freedom. I also hold long-standing membership in LLAMA and PLA. I have authored several pieces published by ALA. I have presented at many ALA, LITA, and PLA conferences. I have been an ALA member since I was in library school, and have always considered my ALA membership to be a given. I have not always agreed with positions ALA has taken, or more often refused to take, on issues vital to our role as information professionals in this country. However, I have never before this week considered canceling my membership.

Kurt Vonnegut quote about libraries

In the first organization-wide press release addressing the outcome of the election, dated 11/15/16 [update: link edited to an archived copy as ALA chose to “rescind” (AKA take down) this press release as well], you, ALA President Julie Todaro, stated: “We are ready to work with President-elect Trump, his transition team, incoming administration and members of Congress to bring more economic opportunity to all Americans and advance other goals we have in common.” I understand the global goal–working with all incoming elected officials–but as an ALA member I am absolutely not ready to work with President-elect Trump. He has stood for racism, prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination for his entire life–including during his campaign. Those are all things ALA stands firmly against. Explain to me why we’re ready to work with a bigot? Because I’m not ready for that at all. The rest of this release went on to detail some of the things libraries do for communities–coming off as a weak and pandering missive begging for scraps and, in truth, coming from a place of fear.

But wait, there’s hope! In another press release dated 11/15/16 which was released shortly thereafter, you stated “ALA believes that the struggle against racism, prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination is central to our mission.” OK, ALA! Good for us! We’re speaking out against injustice. It doesn’t quite resonate with the last release, but OK. You’ve given me some hope. I was heartened by this statement and was ready to hear from our national library leaders how we, on the front lines, could continue the fight.

And then the bomb fell. The most recent release dated 11/17/16 says it all with its headline: “Libraries bolster opportunity — new briefs show how libraries support policy priorities of new administration.” The release was deleted but an archived copy can be found of course, because we’re librarians and nothing can ever really, truly be erased from the web. From the release: “Today the American Library Association (ALA) released three briefs highlighting how libraries can advance specific policy priorities of the incoming Trump administration in the areas of entrepreneurship, services to veterans and broadband adoption and use.” Things go downhill from there and the rest of the release reads like a plea to the new administration to not cut library funding, a childish whine of “please, please–we’re still relevant,” and above all, a backing away from the statements of the release that so firmly upheld the values of our profession to protect the most vulnerable in our populations.

This trajectory away from justice and toward collaboration with a fascist regime disturbs me greatly.  These comments are tone deaf and, not only do not represent my values as a librarian, but do not represent the shared values of the American Library Association and its membership.

There is a time to walk a middle road, to give voice to a moderate viewpoint of an organization’s membership. This is not that time. This is the time to stand tall and proud, and give voice to the fiery ethics and values that our profession has held dear for so long in the face of fascism and bigotry.

I have no intention of supporting this incoming administration in any way whatsoever. With the transition team and other appointments being floated in the press, President-elect Trump has made it clear that racism, sexism, bigotry, assault, discrimination of all kinds, and the destruction of basic civil liberties are foundational to his administration’s philosophy. I refuse to be complicit in the work of the Trump administration and cannot in good faith remain part of a professional organization that chooses to be complicit.

I read your apology about the 11/17 release, which states that this release was a draft only and that a revision will be posted Monday. I write drafts all the time and pieces of drafts change by the final version. But never in my life has the overarching message of a draft changed remarkably before final publication, and the overarching message of these statements is what I have a fundamental moral and ethical problem with. It remains to be seen whether this release was a colossal screw-up or just an unrefined version of what you and ALA were going to send out anyway. Weirdly, I find myself hoping for the colossal screw-up scenario.

As the Director of the San Rafael Public Library, I will continue to stand up for the rights of the people in my diverse community. As Sarah Houghton, resident of San Rafael, I will work every day to fight against the oppressive administration of President-elect Trump.  It appears that I can not count on ALA to help me do either of these things. If ALA continues its policy of pandering to a bigoted and dangerous administration, if not outright supporting it, I will cancel my ALA membership and resign from all of my existing committee appointments.

I hope that the staff and Executive Board of ALA, and you President Todaro, reverse course and find the strength within yourselves to stand firm and uphold the long-held values of our profession and this, our professional organization.

Sincerely,

Sarah Houghton

(edit for clarification : this letter was also sent directly to Ms. Todaro)

“Open Letter to ALA President Julie Todaro re: Recent ALA Statements”

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