A Joint Statement of Commitment and Action

This post is a week behind, but there has been an update in the  conversation about the BCALA’s open letter to the ALA.

The BCALA, along with AILA, APALA, CALA, REFORMA, and ALA* have issued a joint statement of Commitment and Action. Please take a moment to read the statement. Ultimately, the ALA membership’s commitment to our stated values will be determined by the actions we take to support them. This statement provides a possible path forward in which  the ALA membership and leadership stand behind our words.

The following associations signed the statement:

BCALA (Black Caucus of the American Library Association)
AILA (American Indian Library Association)
APALA (Asian Pacific American Librarians Association)
CALA (Chinese American Librarians Association)
REFORMA (The National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking)

I am relieved by the text of the joint statement. It’s not a panacea, but it does show that the ALA leadership listened, engaged, and accepted the challenge offered by the BCALA’s open letter. To a greater extent, I’m very relieved that at least in official communications, the ALA avoided ignoring, ‘splaining, or denying the concerns raised. It is, at very least, a positive response. How positive it will be depends on the ratio of action-to-spoken-commitment on the part of the ALA membership as a result of the conversation.

The values of diversity, equity, and inclusion form the foundation of the library profession and our professional associations. Those values have been challenged by the discriminatory enforcement of the “Stand Your Ground” law in Florida and the fact that ALA’s 2016 Annual Conference is scheduled for Orlando.

At it’s core, joint statement explicitly acknowledge that the ALA’s stated values have been challenged by recent events in Florida. This is, I believe, key. It is, however, weakly phrased: “challenges” to our values does not clearly state that non-action in the face of injustice directly contradicts our values.  The language here further distances ALA’s response to the scenario by specifically identifying “discriminatory enforcement” as the source of the problem. To me, this implies that the problem is not ALA’s passive acceptance the murder of African-Americans, the problem is something else.

It would have been better to state: “The ALA refuses to benefit from practices that pander to white fear at the cost of black lives. We can not do so while remaining true to our stated values.” The s statement as written acknowledges challenges, but shifts blame rather than acknowledging complicity. The statement is certainly preferable to a complete dodge of responsibility like “ALA can take no responsibility for Florida law, which is the sole domain of the Florida electorate” but it is watered down from what it could have been.

Commitment and Action

Commitments without actions are, of course, meaningless. This is how we got here,  the BCALA’s original statement denounced ALA’s passive inaction in the face of injustice as inconsistent with our stated values. This new joint statement reaffirms the American Library Association’s commitment to the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion, but the burden now lies w/ the ALA’s membership and leadership to demonstrate our commitment through the following actions.

Town Hall discussions of racial diversity and inclusion in our profession, association, and communities. Support for conversations and actions at the state level facilitated by state library associations or other organizations within the states.

Major topic of Membership Meeting at 2014 ALA Annual Conference in Las Vegas.

Topic of discussion during Virtual Membership Meeting on June 5, 2014.

Formation of a Special Presidential Task Force involving members of the ethnic affiliates and ALA to
(1) develop programs and other opportunities for members to learn about and engage in the issue
(2) build strong advocacy and awareness while at the Orlando conference
(3) develop communications directed toward the public.
The Task Force will be formed immediately. The goal is to use the Orlando conference platform to provoke a national dialogue.

Collaboration with local Black and Hispanic/Latino community members and organizations in Orlando to determine the best ways for ALA members to be supportive of them.  This will include compilation of a list of African-American and Hispanic/Latino businesses in Orlando for ALA members to patronize.

Outreach to national organizations with vested interest in the Stand Your Ground laws to build alliances and collaborative efforts in advocacy and public awareness (e.g., NAACP, La Raza, Urban League).

I’ve spent some time reading this list of action and looking for specific steps I can take to be a part of ALA’s attempt to put action behind our words. I encourage you all to do the same. What specific steps can we take to demonstrate our commitment to diversity, equality, and inclusion? How can we each, individually, make this commitment something other than lip service?

For myself, I can pledge the following: I will participate in the June 5th virtual membership meeting. It may be that my best contributions can be made by listening, not speaking, but I will participate in the most positive manner I can. Second, I will actively look for opportunities to support the Special Presidential Task Force. When programs and other opportunities to engage are specified, I will volunteer to assist the task force with logistical arrangements, meeting minutes, or other work that needs to be done. (Task force members: I’ll make an effort to seek you out once specific programs and activities have been announced, but I’m available at nicholas@schiller.us.com. I’ll set up chairs before and sweep the hall after.) If I attend the Orlando Annual Meeting, I also pledge to patronize the local African-American and Hispanic/Latino businesses on the list and lobby my groups to plan social events with those businesses.

All in all, it doesn’t seem like a lot, so I remain open to other suggestions for ways individual ALA members can take action to show the worth of our commitment to our stated values.

For ALA members, especially for white members, the ball is in our court when it comes to standing behind our values. It’s time for us to take action to show that our solidarity with fellow librarians runs deeper than mouthing convenient words. The joint statement and the partnership of BCALA, AILA, APALA, CALA, REFORMA, and ALA gives us a framework for doing this. We’ve said we have our colleagues’ backs, now let’s back that up.

 

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