Thursday, July 12, 2018

The American Library Association: Neutrality, Civility, and What Comes Next

The American Library Association has not had a good run under the current presidential administration.

How We Got Here

First, in a since-rescinded press release from shortly after the 2016 election, the Association offered "its expertise and resources to the incoming administration," despite that administration containing racists, Islamophobes, and white nationalists like Stephen Miller, Steve Bannon, and Michael Flynn. And despite a president-elect that, as a candidate, bragged about sexually assaulting women, called Mexicans "rapists," and mocked a reporter with a physical disability. Offering the expertise of information professionals to this group of people was understandably not well received, and the press release was updated.

Second, ALA's Washington Office presented an award to Representative Darrel Issa (R-CA) for his introduction and sponsorship of the Research Works Act, which mandates that federally-funded research be open access, a worthy goal. However, Issa was, and is, opposed to net neutrality, opposes some internet privacy measures, and has voted to cut funding to libraries on many occasions. In addition, there is some controversy over whether or not the Washington Office received adequate feedback from the ALA Committee on Legislation or an appropriate subcommittee prior to awarding Issa and a congressional colleague.

Third, the Association allowed librarians at the Central Intelligence Agency to post content from the ALA's Instagram account. The CIA then recruited from a booth in the expo hall of the ALA's annual meeting. No doubt the CIA offers good paying government jobs, with excellent benefits, but that organization is, ahem, problematic at best and there was some understandable push-back to their presence.

Fourth, and also at ALA's annual meeting, the Council amended and added an Interpretation of Article VI of the Library Bill of Rights, which pertains to meeting rooms. One such change was the explicit naming of "hate groups," left undefined, and that libraries may not discriminate based on hate speech, which, per multiple Council-members and ALA office-holders, was not presented to the deliberative body. "The statement I read and commented on, all the way up until ALA Annual in late June, had no specific mention of hate speech or hate groups," wrote one.

Taken individually, one could, maybe, forgive the first three offenses. Taken as a whole, they are a damning indictment of the ALA. In the fourth, the ALA discursively treats hate groups and hate speech as co-equals to civic clubs and groups: "If a library allows charities, non-profits, and sports organizations to discuss their activities in library meeting rooms, then the library cannot exclude religious, social, civic, partisan political, or hate groups from discussing their activities in the same facilities." The existing case law seems to support the ALA's cautious interpretations, but this was true prior to any revisions to Article VI. As a result, the amendment appears to, on some level, tacitly advertise library spaces to hate groups, potentially drawing attention to library meeting rooms as welcoming. One expects to see the sentence quoted above used in a courtroom in the near future. By counsel for hate groups, not libraries and information professionals.

As was the case with the Issa award, amending Article VI points to a disconnect between those who work for ALA and the people information professionals elect to various divisions and groups within the organization. The Washington Office chose Issa for an award, seemingly without much oversight from elected representatives. Article VI was altered and multiple Council-members expressed surprise.

More importantly, drawing attention to hate groups will do nothing for diversifying librarianship. It is hard to imagine a member of an underrepresented and historically marginalized group wanting to join the information professions given these revisions. James LaRue, head of ALA's Office of Intellectual Freedom, put the phrase "safe spaces" in quotes in response to criticism, but for some people this is literally a matter of safe space. Sure, libraries are afraid of being sued, but information professionals are afraid of being assaulted by white supremacists. No amount of wellness initiatives can make up for that, nor will pointing out, unhelpfully, as Carrie Wade notes, that free speech and free association are legally allowed.

The White, Neutral, Radical Centrism of ALA

It seems that few, if any, members of the ALA staff involved understand the paradox of tolerance. As a Jewish person in America, I understand my whiteness, and the privilege that comes with it, is very much contingent. White supremacists meeting in my neighborhood library make it much less likely for me to want to be there. I can stay, putting my physical and mental health at risk, or I can leave, ceding that space. There is no civil discourse to be had with such actors. That is not an option. I know many information professionals who have it much, much worse. Extremists can infiltrate library spaces, pushing out moderates. The both-sideism of the ALA here, under the guise of neutrality, is anything but. By tolerating the intolerable, they will put information professionals and patrons at risk with only potential legal liability as an excuse.

Further, the applications of "equal treatment" will be anything but. Power and social relations are asymmetric. Here is the head of OIF, prior to his accepting the position, siding with the powerful, for example.
That link leads to: …
That a white man who heads OIF does not understand the power asymmetry at work here is sadly to be expected, but also gives me pause because of the office he holds. The University of Chicago's Dean of Students' words played well with donors, boards of trustees, and wealthy alumnae/i, but not with faculty or students. Whose speech, whose expression, was being suppressed here, and at whose expense? I am not convinced that he, or any of us, really, know how to accommodate hate speech while making people feel welcome and safe to speak, and one can also see this in the response from Martin Garnar, co-chair of ALA’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Implementation Working Group. That is the paradox of tolerance. There is a choice here. Neutrality is a myth, benign neglect and the status quo are choices. I was not convinced at the Midwinter meeting, and I'm not convinced now.

A Black Lives Matter group wanting to meet in peace in a library is not the same as a white supremacist group, given that this country is a white supremacist state. Power matters, intention much less so. "They fundamentally do not understand that the presence of white folks is inherently more dangerous to People of Color than the inverse due to the structures of oppression and discrimination built into our profession and society," per Wade.

Having white people in charge leads to organizations that take the concerns of people of color less seriously, because it, however defined, doesn't happen to white people. Dismissing critiques of ALA policies on social media is ignoring peoples' lived experiences (and LaRue should know, because he has been the target of trolls). Social media, a powerful organizing tool, is where people of color are more likely to be. They're not the ones writing and implementing these policies. There's a reason not as much criticism is taking place on ALA Connect.

What Do We Do? Exit, Voice, Loyalty

I don't know what's to be done with ALA. It's a truism that it's the American Library Association and not the American Library Staff Association. They are, by some accounts, a very effective lobbying organization. And yet they can't seem to get out of their own way lately.

If these four occurrences, plus more, I'm sure, make the ALA irredeemable in your eyes, I understand. I really do. And maybe so does ALA, having dipped below 60,000 members, and facing with declining conference attendance. These are not unrelated, just as these four incidents did not occur in a vacuum.

You're tired? I get that. Fight elsewhere if that's what you think is right. That's Exit.

I've seen both Council-members and ALA staff complain about social media push-back to ALA policies, resolutions, and press releases, especially since the most recent annual conference. Consider this Voice, and also consider using the ALA Position on Hate Groups in Libraries google doc as a way to express your opinions.

You could vote. Only twenty percent of ALA members bother to do this even though it's done online over the course of a few weeks, which is to say it's absurdly easy. Voting won't solve the disconnect between Council and ALA staff, but having conscientious people like Emily Drabinski, April Hathcock, and Jessica Schomberg represent you is a good thing. Given that we are information professionals, I find the low turnout in ALA elections to be especially dispiriting, and I encourage ALA members to vote for people of color in particular. People who look like me are far more likely to think as the OIF does, because we do not bear the brunt of "free speech" or library "neutrality." Consider voting for people who will not treat such policies as an intellectual exercise, but as tangible and corporeal, with real, material consequences for both library staff and patrons.


Anyway, given that an employer pays my dues, Voice is where you can find me for the foreseeable future.

But however the organization responds, the damage is done. OIF's revisions have no doubt already been Internet Archive'd, pdf'd, and Wayback Machine'd. We'll see those words in a courtroom, used against us.
As for loyalty, well... it hasn't gotten us much so far since November, 2016.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

"And how does this affect me?" International diplomacy and my job


When diplomats get expelled, they're all going to come to my place of work, and almost all of them will visit the library. Here's what we do.
  1. Some of these diplomats are going to be offered a buyout, given the offer to retire. They'll take retirement seminars, and make use of the library's Career Transition Center print and online collections.
  2. Some will be retrained. Russian speakers may luck out, finding openings in other countries that use a Cyrillic alphabet. Others might not be so lucky; maybe they'll have to learn Pashto, or Danish, or Portuguese... and take the appropriate courses concerning the sociopolitical and cultural aspects of new destinations. 
Regardless, all of these people will be looking for housing, some will be looking to place children in local schools, and all will be adjusting to life in a new place on short notice. It's incredibly stressful.

Anyway, we'll be here with the resources they need, and we'll be here short-staffed, thanks to a hiring freeze.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Beer and Music, Music and Beer, 2017 Edition

Overall I thought 2017 wasn't as strong a year as 2016, as last year's top 5 is still in my regular music rotation, but hey, we got Radiohead's remastered OK Computer with magnificent studio version of b-sides, OKNOTOK, and that Black Thought freestyle. I'll take it. Here's my clear number one.

1) The War on Drugs - A Deeper Understanding: Adam Granduciel's masterpiece, a flawless album that updates 80s rock tropes with textured, processed guitars and everything-in-its-right-place layered studio perfection. Yeah, it'll remind you of Bruce Hornsby and Dire Straits, but it'll also remind you of Kraftwerk's Computer Love.

Two through four are also easy choices.

2) Slowdive - s/t: Songs of love aboard an interstellar space station. The vocal interplay between Rachel Goswell and Neil Halstead is reminiscent of Yo La Tengo's Georgia Hubble and Ira Kaplan's coos, and the rhythm section keeps Slowdive a poppier affair than their first go around. Unsurprising that the band would use Beach House's producer to make a spacey, slow burning album.

3) Bjork - Utopia: Bjork has been threatening to make an album surrounded by small woodland creatures pretty much her whole career, and so here we are. Birds chip and strings swell, but there's more beats on this album than you'd expect. Along with Bjork's increasingly direct lyrics, the result is a surprisingly tight and focused album.

4) MC Eiht - Which Way Iz West: An absolute banger for old heads like myself, with all the 90s west coast touchstones guesting in top form. There's something to be said for a hip-hop album with a few chefs in the kitchen; it leads to a more cohesive and coherent listen. Overseen by Executive Producer DJ Premier, Producer Brenk Sinatra's drums hit, the scratches and cuts are well-placed, and ain't a damn thing changed for a whole bunch of dudes who were gruff and gravely-voiced twenty years ago. And yes, Lady of Rage bats leadoff on a track, with a Rakim-esque internal rhyme scheme.

Next, rounding out the top fifteenish.

5) Los Campesinos - Sick Scenes: This is about where these albums usually end up on end-of-year lists, so why stop now?
6) Cloud Nothings - Life Without Sound: Up to the Surface and Enter Entirely were two of the better rock songs of the year, and the rest of the album is pretty good, too.
7) Ryan Adams - Prisoner: Mining similar territory as The War on Drugs, Adams updates his Heartbreaker album for 80s synth-rock.
8) IDLES - Brutalism: A sneering, searing piece of post-punk that's alternately witty and too clever by half, propelled by near-industrial drumming.
9) Jay Som - Everybody Works: Literally bedroom pop since that's where it was recorded and full of indie hooks. Like Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville and more recently Waxahatchee? Odds are good you'll like this, too.
10) Fleet Foxes - Crack Up: Predictably gorgeous.
11) The Horrors - V: The Horrors update the dance-punk of the aughts with zero-gravity guitar sounds from shoegaze revivalists, vocals that hearken back to Julian Cope, and more than a little Depeche Mode. Notes bend, shimmer, and fade into synths.
12) Algiers - The Underside of Power: If Hank Shocklee's Bomb Squad met TV on the Radio circa 2004 it might sound something like this.
13) The National - Sleep Well Beast: An update to their sound that is particularly American in its lack of subtlety. Matt Berninger's red wine-soaked croon is backed by what passes for blasts of noise and sonic departures for the rest of the band, and we're all the better for it.
14) Rihannon Giddens - Freedom Highway: The only album I've put on one of these lists from a MacAurther Genius Grant winner.
15a) Kronos Quartet - Folk Songs: The Quartet backs Rihannon Giddens, Natalie Merchant, and more on nine folk songs. Their restrained and subtle interpretations anchor, but don't upstage, the singers.
15b) Trio Da Kali and Kronos Quartet - Ladilikan: Same, but with singers from Mali.

Singles: Alvvays - Dreams Tonite; Grizzly Bear - Mourning Sound; Mogwai - Party in the Dark; Ryan Adams - Do You Still Love Me?; Cloud Nothings - Enter Entirely and Up to the Surface; Perfume Genius - Slip Away; Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit - If We Were Vampires.


The number of breweries in the US has doubled since 2013, tripled since 2011, and quadrupled since 2007, as such I can't keep up with the growth. This is especially true in the exurbs - there's breweries in Columbia, Maryland and Sterling, Virginia I've never heard of!

Outside of the lines for the Craft Brewers Conference events, one of my favorite things about 2017 was DC's new post-whalez environment. Multiple bars made 3 Floyds Zombie Dust a happy hour special, and it was around for about a month. Hill Farmstead's Edward could be had for $4 at the late Red Apron Burger Bar (RIP to that happy hour, though you can find something just like it at EatBar). And nearly two weeks after its release, you can still walk into both bars and stores and buy a bottle of Founders' Canadian Breakfast Stout (which remains a gloppy mess that needs at least a year in the bottle, but that's another story). I think it's a sign of a maturing market.

Anxo released the first DC-made cider and opened a 2nd location; The Sovereign cemented its status as the best beer bar in DC; DC Brau added a snazzy new brewhouse; Port City's lager series was a success and will continue into 2018 with a dopplebock batting leadoff; Bluejacket is doing some very good things with lagers and their cask game;... I could go on, but let's get the the beers, locals first, in something like alphabetical order.

3 Stars, Technicolor Dreamlife (IPA): A fuckton of Mosaic and the malt is smart enough to get out of the way. Here's hoping they bring it back, along with their session IPA, D is for Diamonds.
3 Stars, Trouble in Paradise (Fruit/Sour): It took them a while to get a first batch out, and then even more of a while to dial it in and get this right. Your 2018 beer of the summer is a slightly tarter take on the Florida Weiss that's garnered some press.

Bluejacket, For the Company (Helles): Their cask game is top notch and now they've got a lager to go with it. Moon Cabbage, Open Window, and The New Colossus are excellent IPAs, as well.

Burly Oak, Berry Cherry J.D.R.E.A.M. (Fruit/Sour): Peak 2017 in beer isn't a hazy IPA, it's a fruit-addled kettle sour with lactose that tastes juuuuuuuuuust enough like a beer to count here.

DC Brau, Barrel-aged Citizen (Belgian Golden Ale): The Citizen, aged in rye whiskey barrels that also held Langon Wood's maple syrup. The banana esters from the yeast and Old World hops play very well with the sweetness of the syrup, the rye spice, and the wood.

Manor Hill, Barrel-aged Grisette: Low ABV, full flavor, plus a sauvignon blanc barrel and whatever berries happen to be in-season on their farm. Here's hoping they've got more of it in 2018.

Any Ocelot IPA, and their collaboration IPA with increasingly recognized Triple Crossing out of Richmond.

One Eight Distilling, Rock Creek Bourbon: No, it's not a beer, but it is the first grain-to-glass bourbon made in DC since Prohibition, and it's already very good at two years old. 95 proof, high rye.

Any Port City lager in their rotating series, but especially that smoked Marzen. One of the more surprising things about beer in 2017 to me is that Colossal 6, a Russian Imperial Stout, didn't medal at the Great American Beer Festival.

Right Proper, et al, Soused (IPA): The hoppiest beer they've made got on the kveiss fermentation trend a few months before it blew up, and you can still get a hint of smokey juniper between all those stone fruit and citrus hops and esters.
Right Proper, Baron Elijah (Bier de Garde): Baron Corvo in a very wet Elijah Craig bourbon barrel is as close to a Manhattan as a beer is going to get. Cherry up front, whiskey in the back, and an oaky, dry finish.

Elsewhere, new to market, new packaging, and new to me: any Offshoot IPA, and that Pils, too; Upland's sours and Champagne Velvet; Crux's Gimme Mo IPA; Ommegang's Pale Sour; Left Hand's Saison Aux Baies Ameres; Suarez Family's porter and pils; Schlafly's reintroduction of their Scotch-barrel aged Scotch ale; Lodgson's Peche 'n Brett; being able to get Urban Chestnut's Schnicklefritz hefeweizen with some regularity; Otter Creek's IPA game remains strong with Daily Dose; Atlas putting Dance of Days in cans; Allagash's Brett IPA; Burial and Interboro's collaboration IPA with Run the Jewels, Stay G-O-L-D; Grimm's Magnetic Tape IPA; Bell's Uberon and Whiskey Barrel Cherry Stout.

Imports: Cadejo Brewing's witbier; Ayinger's new-to-the-US pilsner; Rodenbach in cans; Weihenstephaner Kristalweizenbock.

Here's hoping 2018 treats us better than 2017 did. Cheers.