Why is there such a disconnect between our profession and everyone else on this particular issue? More specifically, how could we have allowed ourselves to be put in such a publicly disadvantageous position as defending the right of children to access pornography? The answer is simple and ironic. Our profession preaches intellectual freedom but does not tolerate its practice within our own ranks. Librarians imbued with common sense and good political judgment are afraid to espouse even a moderate position that advocates the limited use of filters. There is a great fear within librarianship of being branded a censor. No librarian wants to be wounded by that bullet. That's why we can never really initiate an open and honest dialogue among ourselves on issues involving even the most obvious need for limitations of intellectual freedom. As a result, the extremists always dominate, and we end up with an "anything goes" official policy that distances the library profession from mainstream America.
Will Manley said that. I love you, Will Manley, for being one of the few to speak truth to power. "Anything goes." Exactly. Please consider getting more of Will Manley's common sense at his new blog, "Will Unwound."
The above quote comes from "Intellectual Freedom Begins at Home," by Will Manley, Booklist, 1 October 2003. You must read the entire article. It points out that US v. ALA was a "major setback" for the American Library Association [ALA], that some librarians "personal[ly] attack[ed] the values of the justices themselves." And they are in your communities telling you to sidestep US v. ALA.
Our profession's "anything goes" view of intellectual freedom simply does not square with the values of the communities we serve. While librarians were blasting the Supreme Court as a band of censors, parents from Maine to California were thanking the justices for protecting their children from the excesses of sex on the Web.
Thank you, Will Manley. Yes, this article is many years old, but nothing has changed within the ALA on this issue—rather it has only solidified.
Any community facing the ALA propaganda machine should consider this Will Manley article as a powerful antidote. When you are labeled as a "censor" for attempting to legally protect children from inappropriate material, you are in good company with the "band of censors" in the US Supreme Court.
Here is the entire article reprinted under Copyright §107 Fair Use. Ah, freedom of speech. Enjoy!
by Will Manley
1 October 2003
Among the flurry of Supreme Court decisions that were handed down at the end of the last session in early July was a ruling that received critical reaction from many librarians. The Supreme Court's decision upholding the right of the federal government to make the filtering of children's-room computers a requirement for libraries that receive federal monies was, in particular, a major setback to the American Library Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom. ALA devoted a great deal of time and money to a vigorous legal battle challenging the right of the feds to mandate filtering. At first blush, the Supreme Court decision would seem to be a setback in the crusade for the rights of access for millions of minors throughout America. When it was first announced, the professional library reaction was both swift and negative. Some referred to the decision as an "electronic book burning" others called it a grave act of censorship. An ALA spokesperson predicted that many libraries would consider rejecting federal money rather than installing filters.
Some librarians were so upset that their criticism went beyond a point-by-point critique of the actual decision and elevated into a personal attack on the values of the justices themselves. According to these librarians, this was one more example of the narrow-minded thinking of a court packed with ultra-right-wing appointees from the Reagan and Bush I eras. They were quick to point out that these "fundamentalist" justices were the very same judges who stole the presidency from Al Gore and handed it to Bush II on a silver platter. They overreached, however, when they asserted that in upholding the constitutionality of filtering the Internet, the Supreme Court was now validating Bush's conservative social agenda. These critics had conveniently forgotten that the Children's Internet Protection Act had actually been promulgated by both the Clinton/Gore administration and a Democratic Senate.
It is perfectly legitimate to attack the Supreme Court decision on the basis of one's view of the First Amendment and how it applies to a library patron's right of access to pornography. It is also appropriate to condemn the decision on the basis of the fact that some filters unintentionally block access to nonpornographic sites. It is not, however, valid to criticize the decision on the grounds that the Rehnquist Supreme Court is dominated by conservative judges who are out of step with mainstream America. Consider the other rulings that were released by this "conservative" court at the same time as the library-filtering decision. Affirmative-action selection techniques were upheld in determining university enrollment, a California law aimed at bringing justice to child molesters was overturned, a death penalty was struck down because a defense attorney was deemed to be "ineffective," and a Texas sodomy law was ruled unconstitutional. Are these the decisions of a conservative court?
The fact of the matter is that several of the justices appointed by Reagan and Bush have turned out to be liberal on a good many legal and societal issues. As a result, the Supreme Court that we have now is one with a good deal of balance. At times it's conservative, moderate, and even liberal. In that regard, it reflects the variable moods of mainstream America. It would appear that in the case of keeping children away from Internet pornography, it is the library profession, not the Supreme Court, which has distanced itself from the mainstream.
Our profession's "anything goes" view of intellectual freedom simply does not square with the values of the communities we serve. While librarians were blasting the Supreme Court as a band of censors, parents from Maine to California were thanking the justices for protecting their children from the excesses of sex on the Web. This is how one grandmother, who visits her public library twice a week with her grandchildren, explained it: "Sex is something that's like a gun; dangerous if you don't know how to use it. I'm all for them putting restrictions in a public place." Representative Istook of Oklahoma, one of the drafters of the Children's Internet Protection Act, said that the ruling "will mean libraries can continue to fulfill their mission because parents won't need to be reluctant about dropping off their kids for an afternoon at the library."
Journalists have traditionally joined hands with librarians in the cause of advocating intellectual freedom. In this case, however, that support was not there for us. The local newspaper that I read every day is quite liberal in its editorial point of view, but on the issue of filtering the Internet for children, its stand was clear and conservative: "Children must have access to libraries and all that they provide. At the same time, they require sensible protection from a cyberworld that knows no limits." Our other local paper was even more forceful in its opposition to ALA's party line: "These days librarians want to let it all hang out. It's free speech all the way--which explains why the American Library Association is not happy with Monday's ruling by the US Supreme Court on the subject of Internet pornography. Free speech, of course, is precious. But as courts have noted over and over again, it cannot be completely unfettered. And one fetter that almost everyone agrees is necessary is the one that keeps pornography out of children's hands."
Everyone, that is, but the library profession. Why is there such a disconnect between our profession and everyone else on this particular issue? More specifically, how could we have allowed ourselves to be put in such a publicly disadvantageous position as defending the right of children to access pornography? The answer is simple and ironic. Our profession preaches intellectual freedom but does not tolerate its practice within our own ranks. Librarians imbued with common sense and good political judgment are afraid to espouse even a moderate position that advocates the limited use of filters. There is a great fear within librarianship of being branded a censor. No librarian wants to be wounded by that bullet. That's why we can never really initiate an open and honest dialogue among ourselves on issues involving even the most obvious need for limitations of intellectual freedom. As a result, the extremists always dominate, and we end up with an "anything goes" official policy that distances the library profession from mainstream America.
© American Library Association 2003
NOTE ADDED 26 APRIL 2011:
Will Manley has, all these years later, reaffirmed what he said in 2003. See "3 Ways to Get Blackballed in the Library Profession," by Will Manley, Will Unwound, #428, 26 April 2011, emphasis added:
1) Conservative politics….We all know that the library profession is extremely liberal in its political leanings. To prove this all you have to do is look at the big name speakers at A.L.A. conferences. How many conservatives have there been among this group in the past 40 years? Maybe one or two at most. Librarians would rather be validated than challenged when it comes to politics. But it goes beyond that. Many librarians think that conservatives are selfish, stupid, unsophisticated, and ultimately evil people. Conservatism is not an alternative political viewpoint to the library profession; it is a curse. The unfortunate issue here is that our many city councils, county boards, and state legislatures are ruled by conservative politicians. These are the folks who hold our purse strings. Isn’t it time to stop demonizing them and start dialoging with them? Don’t even think about it if you want that big promotion.
2) Organized religion….The library profession is very wary of organized religion, because religious morality is the banner that many book censors wave. Many librarians disdain organized religion because they think it is repressive, judgmental, irrational, evangelical, and overly structured. If you are a librarian it is okay to freely talk about your spiritual quest as long as you do not mention that you belong to an organized church. It’s also very okay to be openly atheistic and agnostic because this shows you are a thinking person who has overcome an early childhood attachment to superstition. If you have to be an avowed member of a formal religion, Buddhism seems to be your best bet. Buddhism seems to be the cool religion right now. Protestantism and Catholicism definitely are not. If you are a member of a formal Christian Church keep that part of your life in the closet for the good of your career.
3) Censorship – Perhaps the most career limiting move that you could make in the library profession is to refuse to toe the line with the anything goes philosophy of the ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom. I am still getting criticism heaped on me for a series of articles that I wrote in the 1990s advocating that filters be put on children’s room computers to block out pornography. Really! I’m pretty sure that the library profession is the only profession in the world that wants children to have access to pornography. Why? Because everyone is afraid of being called a censor. It is the death nail in the career coffin. The irony of all of this is that the library profession touts itself as the champion of intellectual freedom. If that’s true why can’t we freely express our dissenting views of an "anything goes" philosophy of intellectual freedom…or conservative politics…or organized religion for that matter?
NOTE ADDED 27 APRIL 2011:
I consider this republication of Will Manley's work and my repeatedly linking to it to be a success since knowledge of Will Manley's views have apparently swayed decisions away from the anything goes ALA view and toward one that better reflects local community values and leads to filtering computers. Here is a statement by Will Manley himself upon which I base my observation:
Dan, that is one of the articles that got me into trouble. I still have librarians coming up to me very upset because their trustees saw that article and then voted for filtering. So much for intellectual freedom.
by Will Manley April 27, 2011 at 1:28 am
Notice his comment, "So much for intellectual freedom." As the Annoyed Librarian pointed out, librarians have the intellectual freedom to agree with the ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom. Will Manley's statement lends support to that. This is one example why SafeLibraries's mission is "Educating people and politicians about who controls public libraries. Citizens should, not the American Library Association."
In any case, this Will Manley view into the behind-the-scenes machinations of the ALA has successfully led library trustees to vote for Internet filtering. Please consider sending this information to your own library trustees.