Progressive Librarians Guild Toronto Area Chapter

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The PLG-GTA notes that Edwin Mellen Press has dropped the joint lawsuit against Dale Askey and McMaster University. Nevertheless, we are dismayed that a second lawsuit in which Mr. Askey is named alone remains active. The decision to back down on a suit against a large institution while continuing to pursue Mr. Askey individually leaves the PLG-GTA Chapter unmoved from our original position. It is our opinion that this lawsuit was launched as a retaliatory measure, and is an assault on freedom of expression. Furthermore, Herbert Richardson’s continuing intimidation tactics in the face of overwhelming consensus in the academic community (his own community) is despicable.

Until the second lawsuit is abandoned, we encourage the library community to continue to speak out on behalf of Dale Askey, to refrain from purchasing titles published by Edwin Mellen Press, and to actively defend the rights of free speech. We call on Herbert Richardson to exercise his own rights in responding to criticism and defending himself without resorting to what we view as a strategic lawsuit against public participation.

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Speaking at the University of Lethbridge in late February, Professor Tom Flanagan made comments about child pornography that many found understandably objectionable. The reaction of his employer, the University of Calgary, was to publicly condemn Flanagan’s remarks, and to distance itself from him by identifying his imminent retirement date.

The PLG-GTA calls upon the University of Calgary to observe its responsibilities in upholding the tenets of academic freedom. Professor Tom Flanagan was speaking in his role as an academic of that institution. While he put forward controversial claims about the level of criminality involved with looking at child pornography, and while many people find his remarks offensive, he should be free as an academic to raise uncomfortable and controversial questions.

The ability to make such remarks and pose such questions is a hallmark of academic freedom and must be defended in cases even where one vociferously disagrees with the claims being made. The University of Calgary’s swift response of condemnation, especially before Professor Flanagan was allowed to fully respond, represents a chill to academic freedom and should be challenged.

Posted on by plggta | Posted in Communication, Statements

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Posted on by Jacqueline

When: Thursday, February 28 at 6:30 PM.

Where: Ryerson University Library,  room LIB489B

Getting there: Ryerson’s library is located at 350 Victoria Street, just east of Yonge. Dundas is the closest subway station. Head to the library on the second floor, then up two more flights (inside the library) to the fourth floor.

As always, all curious library workers and allies welcome!

Posted on by Jacqueline | Posted in Communication

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Posted on by lisa

As promised, here's Jennifer Dekker's speech from our panel at the  CAUT Librarians' Conference in fall 2012. Jennifer gave a great talk on the CLA's historical role in advocacy for librarians and labour issues, and discussed the cuts at LAC and the CLA's unfortunate response to librarian activism at the last CLA conference. Jennifer has also added a special postscript on the LAC and NADP cuts in particular. Read on!


"Who Speaks for Libraries and Librarians?"

Panel presentation at “Contested Terrain: Shaping the Future of Academic Librarianship.” Canadian Association of University Teachers: Librarians Conference. Ottawa. October 2012.

I’d first like to thank my co-panelist Lisa Sloniwoski for having thought of me when she and Erin and Paul were organizing this panel. One of the reasons I was approached concerns my recent experience with CLA, which I’ll detail a little bit later. For now I’ll just say that although this panel broadly speaking addresses leadership in our library associations, I’d like to focus today on CLA and its potential for effective advocacy on behalf of the library community. When I say library community,” I am putting the emphasis on the word community and I intend it in the broadest sense to include:

  1. all information workers - managers, non-managers, librarians, archivists and other staff;
  2. all those invested in the products of libraries and library labour, including:
    • research communities - all levels within and outside formal institutions;
    • the government and its law-makers
    • citizens of Canada, whose democracy we have as a central focus in our jobs.

In my opinion, CLA’s major weakness is that it has failed to mobilize even its core member community around the value of libraries and the roles libraries play in a democratic society. CLA has an extensive network of members at the ready; members who are willing to engage in true advocacy and who have, especially lately, been frustrated by the lack of coordination or implementation of advocacy at CLA. It’s not only CLA members who are poised for action - since it considers itself the spoke-body of all library workers in Canada, one could hypothesize that CLA might coordinate a massive pan-library movement that could include labour issues, our national information infrastructure, freedom of expression and so on. And let me reiterate - I think CLA actually has this potential. Many of its members feel that way as well, which I know from having read opinion pieces regarding CLA on various blogs, from having recently interviewed members and former members, and from having been copied on emails to CLA regarding its leadership with respect to important issues, such as the budget cuts to LAC. One of the reasons I think CLA has this capacity is because I know that it has has this past. Let me explain.

Earlier this year, I began a research project using archival material at LAC for the purpose of uncovering the labour organizing of academic librarians in Canada. I knew that CAUT had deposited many records relating to the subject (and thank goodness they were deposited long ago, and not subject to the current embargo on new acquisitions of private donor records.) During my investigation, I was shocked to see how prominent a role CLA played in advocating for academic librarian rights in the workplace. I, like many of you I suspect, have only known CLA in its current form- an organization whose Executive Council is thick with senior library management, has a reputation for being conservative and cowardly, for being slow to react to urgent matters, for not supporting library workers, for being too expensive to join and irrelevant to many.

But getting back to my research ... there I was in the reading room of the LAC and discovering for the first time through historical documents, just how active and activist CLA used to be. This study almost turned into a side project simply because there were so many records and they were so surprising that I felt a responsibility to tell the story. In the end I decided not to, but I am glad to have the opportunity to mention some of my findings to you today. And just a note - although these records pertain specifically to academic librarians, since that was the focus of my research, I also furthered my study  by reading the book The Morton Years by Elizabeth Hulse which is overflowing with tales of CLA’s early activism, including at least two separate cases where the association intervened in wrongful dismissal cases against librarians, and one other case where CLA publicly opposed a job description advertised in its own publication because it considered the functions of the job problematic. One could conclude that CLA felt it a core part of its mandate to support library workers - even though - to refer to a contemporary argument for not doing so - it is quite possible that the librarians involved were managed by other CLA members and that the institutions they worked for might have also been members. CLA took up the fight because back then, its leadership understood what it was to protect the profession, which naturally includes protecting those practicing the profession.

Also, just a side note but one that is important for the context of my talk today - one of CLA’s earliest mandates and some might even say the reason it was formed - was to create a national library of Canada. CLA lobbied heavily and consistently until it achieved that goal. It’s a very different road from the one that CLA is on today.

So, among my the late 1950‘s, CLA ran several articles reporting on the standards and salaries of Canadian academic librarians - not academic libraries please note, but academic librarians. The author of the articles (who was probably Elizabeth Morton, CLA’s first Executive Director) notes that staff working under the head librarian did not have equivalent rank to other academic positions in the university, hinting at what later would be a strong CLA stand regarding the status of academic librarians. CLA also officially released a statement that it “fears the gap between library staff salaries and teaching staff salaries is having a discouraging effect on the recruitment of academic librarians.”[1] CLA pursued this line of argument and in 1959, recommended a ranking classification scheme based on the usual four ranks of university teachers. It went even further to recommend actual salaries for these ranks which were in line with faculty salaries. This is the earliest document I found relating to salary parity, an issue that we’ve discussed before at this very conference and one which continues to be an item of discussion for academic librarians to this day.

Another example from a decade later was that, at the request of CLA, CAUT performed a survey of librarians in Canadian universities to uncover the status of librarians at each institution for the purposes of determining: a) whether or not academic librarians had faculty or academic status and b) whether or not librarians should be members of CAUT.  CLA was thus one of the original catalysts for the academic librarian status discussions that would preoccupy the profession for decades to come. CAUT finished the job by issuing policy statements on the subject years later, but these discussions may not have taken place or may not have taken place at that point in time had CLA not pushed CAUT in that direction. In fact what the records show was that CLA often took the lead on academic librarian issues and then passed them on to CAUT which would formulate recommendations for actions. But CLA was the starting point, especially in the years before librarians were officially members of CAUT.

The close working relationship between CLA and CAUT continued on into the 1970‘s. To my surprise, I found documentation regarding a collective bargaining workshop organized by The Canadian Association of College and University Libraries or CACUL which until last year, was an interest group of CLA. The workshop was held at CLA’s annual general meeting in Edmonton that year. The workshop was called “Writing, Negotiating and Administering a Contract,” and the author of the document expected at least 100 people from the CLA delegation to attend this all day session.[2] In fact, throughout the 1970‘s there is evidence of a CAUT-CACUL committee which made recommendations on salaries, librarian-faculty equity, academic status, library privileges for retired faculty and librarian members and even held discussions regarding a national association of librarians. Although the documents do not explicitly indicate this, I have guessed that the CAUT-CACUL group was likely the basis for the incorporation of the CAUT Librarians committee in CAUT in 1975. It’s impressive how closely CLA worked with CAUT to achieve tangible improvements to the conditions of academic librarians in Canada and that CLA has a legacy in the CAUT Librarians Committee. So in a way, we’re all here because of CLA’s advocacy work. How many people in this room would have raise their hands if I’d asked “Do you believe that we are all here in this room, at a CAUT Librarians conference talking about the future of the profession specifically from a labour angle, because of CLA?” I suspect not many.

A collective bargaining “how to” presentation at the annual CLA meeting... It’s almost unthinkable for many of us because we’ve never known this CLA from the archives. We’ve never seen CLA fight for anything other than a few choice issues, and certainly we’ve never seen it stand up for working conditions of academic librarians or any type of librarian or library workers. In fact, what we’ve seen and what some of us have experienced, is quite the opposite - the stifling of freedom of expression, the rejection or deliberate ignorance of member input including resolutions passed at its own annual meetings, the refusal of CLA to take any politically delicate or controversial stand in the face of threats to librarians and library workers, its complicity in the undoing of our national library and archives and so on.

Just to come back to my experience last spring for a moment. Those of you who are subscribed to the CAUT librarians list-serv may recall message after message about the budget cuts LAC, staff cuts, the whittling away or discontinuation of services. It seemed to me at the time (though in retrospect I think I was quite naive and not all experienced at dealing with CLA) it seemed to me that because CLA had been such a force in advocating for the National Library of Canada and that it had fought for librarians in the past, that CLA would step up to the plate and once again fight for the national library and its workers.  Through my study of the history I had awakened to the potential that CLA has for good - after all it was CLA’s extensive and unrelenting advocacy that resulted in a Canadian national library to begin with![3] So I did what seemed logical at the time - I called CLA and asked it to support a Day of Action at its conference where the target would be Daniel Caron, head of LAC, and the keynote speaker. On the phone, I mentioned CLA’s former work on behalf of the National Library and noted that the association had recently sent a letter to Minister James Moore regarding its dismay at the situation there. I requested that information about the Day of Action be emailed to all conference delegates to make them aware of the cuts, to better prepare them for the keynote by circulating information regarding what was happening at LAC so that they could confront Daniel Caron with confidence. After all, CLA was preparing for a major advocacy activity - its Day on the Hill which was both an advocacy boot camp and meetings with MPs to talk library issues. Of course I didn’t know at the time that participants were discouraged from mentioning the cuts to the LAC to MPs, something I found out after interviewing one of the participants. My request for support was denied. No discussion. And to my knowledge, the it was never shared with the Executive Council or members; it was a unilateral decision made on the spot. It seemed to me at the time and still does, that the conference was a golden opportunity to mobilize - all delegates together, facing the same threat. A group of well-informed people might have challenged Daniel Caron and his policies quite effectively just as the archivists at the Association of Canadian Archivists did a month or so later at their meeting in the Yukon. Or when they organized the On to Ottawa Trek. Or when they had the funeral for the LAC. Instead, Daniel Caron was in no significant way confronted over the cuts and from what I heard later, the audience was marginalized by CLA itself, whose President insisted on mediating feedback by monopolizing the microphone, and stripping questions and comments of any semblance of challenge.

Although CLA did not support the Day of Action, colleagues and I decided nonetheless to go ahead with the protest. The core group consisted of library workers from various organizations, some retired, some working. Some emailed me to say they supported the Day of Action and wanted ribbons, but couldn’t be seen at the conference. They had just been given notices that they would have to fight for their positions and they couldn’t risk it. There were others who appeared at the event but whose names I never got. We made ribbons and leaflets to hand out and spoke with conference delegates on their way into the conference... until we were asked to leave. In total about 15 Day of Action volunteers were refused access to the CLA conference because CLA considered spreading information about the cuts to the LAC “inappropriate.” We were bounced out of the conference area by official Conference Centre bouncers - I didn’t even know conference bouncers existed until the CLA conference. And just in case you think that conference bouncers are a joke or smaller than the usual bouncers we encounter from time to time in private venues, I assure you that although they were polite, they were neither small nor a joke. We continued our inappropriateness just outside the conference centre until the very last delegate trickled in that morning, and I even attempted to hand Daniel Caron’s handlers a ribbon and some leaflets. They declined.

The question I came away with after all was said and done was how representative was my experience and the experiences of the other volunteers who turned up despite short notice, left work, left the free vendor breakfasts, who risked being seen and found out by LAC management, who covertly handed out ribbons and information at the registration desk and welcome booth, who snuck into the conference room and placed SAVE LAC bookmarks on most of the seats --- how representative was our experience of CLA with respect to its lack of support of librarians, its restriction on freedom of speech and its insistence on status quo even in the face of major service and collection cuts at LAC? I felt that if my experience was typical, then clearly CLA was not even defending libraries, let alone librarians.

To answer my own question, I interviewed some former CLA members based in Ottawa (former members because they recently chose not to renew their memberships) and I’ve collected feedback from blogs and emails sent to me - and from my analysis of these, I have concluded that that my experience past spring was in fact quite typical of how CLA reacts whenever anyone attempt to push for more activism or advocacy. I’ve heard stories that range from moderate resistance, such as how CLA on the Hill Day participants were requested not to discuss cuts to the LAC with MPs, to true censorship. I interviewed a former member of CLA’s Communications Advisory Group who, with another member, tried to implement a communications plan that would include challenges to libraries, librarians, access to information and intellectual freedom. The plan was flatly rejected for straying from CLA’s established and ultimately ineffective forms of advocacy. There have also been complaints from members of that same group regarding CLA’s failure to adopt recommendations regarding positions on Intellectual Freedom. The group’s mandate was promptly changed from being a Communications Advisory Group to being the body that identifies guest editors and themes for Feliciter magazine.

After my experience at the conference and publishing a piece on the librarians site of the University of Ottawa’s faculty association[4], several people commented on their own experiences with CLA. I’ll read a small sample:

“LAC, the repository for our printed heritage is in the process of being destroyed and the CLA is censoring those trying to bring the issues to light..”

“[CLA] is delusional to think that by being quiet on this issue that the federal government will be kind to libraries in the future...What abysmal leadership in the midst of a war on knowledge.”

“I was always appalled at the lack of action on the part of CLA when it came to freedom of expression. I joined ALA and found it to be a much more proactive. Cowardly is a polite term I would use to describe CLA’s position on just about everything.”

And my personal favourite:

“Somehow the CLA bosses have managed to sink to an even lower level than those of the LAC.”From these and many other comments,  I think it’s safe to say that CLA is not on the right path, especially with respect to its core advocacy mandate. But the question for today is what is the right path? Is it more active provincial associations? Unions? Faculty associations? An all out general strike? I’d like to suggest that includes the community I referred to at the beginning of this talk: all library workers, research communities, and the citizens of Canada. I’d like for us to see natural connections between librarians and scientists when they hit the streets in a Death of Evidence march. I’d like for library workers to view access to information and intellectual freedom as the fundamental pieces in their advocacy work, and be able to articulate these to decision-makers, law-makers and society at large. One retired librarian from the Library of Parliament copied me on her message to CLA post-conference. She writes:

I had the opportunity to discuss cuts to Library and Archive Canada (LAC) with Hervé Déry, assistant deputy minister for LAC in charge of policy and collaboration. His opinion is that the library community is not concerned with the cuts to LAC. He said  the archivists were upset by the changes to programs and  services and had marched in the streets. 

Is it going to mean taking to the streets? I found examples of groups doing interesting work, but not necessarily marching. For example, BCLA’s Library Month campaign this year encourages citizens to communicate with their MPs regarding the cuts to the LAC, the National Archival Development Program and federal libraries. The campaign ends with the words “Many voices, joined in a common cause, can make a difference. Join us this October and tell your MP these cuts affect everyone.”[5] This is the best example of a Library Month campaign that I’ve seen this year, but it’s singular in more than one way. There are no links on the site to similar campaigns from other provinces or from other library associations.

South of the border, John Chrastka, a former director at ALA, is in the process of forming a Political Action Committee or PAC for libraries. EveryLlibrary will educate the voting public about libraries, library budgets, library staffing and all related issues. It also assists libraries in formulating and articulating their needs and mobilizing the public to vote for libraries, including information the public of the consequences of a negative vote such as the closure of public libraries or the worsening of school libraries.

Other library associations have developed political campaigns that are simpler than developing a PAC, but have been effective. The Save NYC Libraries campaign, for example, which was developed by Urban Librarians Unite (or ULU)  based in New York City, had each member encourage 10 other people to call 311 and leave a scripted message for the city’s budget officer regarding the closure of libraries. The campaign launched in mid-June and by August 30th, when the budget was announced, the city of New York announced no library closures and citizens were assured of 5 day a week service in all areas of the city.

I’ve already mentioned the archivists but they have also been a model. They coordinated quickly, efficiently and broadly. When I attended the funeral for NADP, the archivists had organized media, speeches from the heritage critics from both the Liberal Party Scott Simms, and the NDP, Andrew Cash, CAUT supported the event, and the icing on the cake was that much of it took place right on the front steps of the building. No one ever questioned whether or not Daniel Caron might be offended - in fact I think that was part of the plan.

With its vast network of members, CLA has all the capacity for an all out campaign regarding any issue that the library community write large deems important. But in both its actions and its words, CLA has fallen short of my expectations as well as others’, and the time has come to move forward in a new way. I look forward to discussing the possibilities with you today.


Post script - When I rehearsed this talk for friends and family, I got many suggestions, including “make it less negative,” and “make it less utopian,” and “don’t be so hard on CLA.” I obediently followed these directions because I didn’t want to alienate you - my audience, because I really believe that we need solidarity now. We’re living in dangerous times, orchestrated by dangerous governments at all levels that would see our public spaces decrease, our middle class workers take cuts in salary and lose job security, forfeit our rights to bargain collectively or use labour action as a political and economic tool.

The Conservative Government’s attack on the Library and Archives Canada is symbolic of what’s gone so wrong. If you’ve never been there, I suggest you go. It’s a great building - a public building - where every person who wants to can enter and access our public and cultural record. Of course, I’m not suggesting that there are no problems with the institution - its collections and staff embody our collective history, which includes racism, gender stereotyping, class hierarchy and so on. But as an institution that does what it does - collecting, preserving and diffusing our common culture and collective historical identity - it needs protection, and it needs us to stand up for it.

The National Archival Development Program also stood in opposition to our government’s political and economic agenda. Of the five goals of the program, goal number three was to “Increase representation of Aboriginal peoples and under-represented ethno-cultural groups in Canada’s archival heritage.” Canadian projects including one at UBC to revitalize and preserve indigenous languages benefitted from NADP funding. But perhaps more importantly, UBC also created an infrastructure assist indigenous communities in addressing their own archival holdings with the help of the NADP. And this is just one project- there are dozens of similar stories across Canada.

There is no way that these cuts are politically neutral. Both the LAC and the NADP are ideologically opposite to the policies that minimize our access to information and documentary heritage and reduce the ability of some of our most disadvantaged communities to capture and pass on their heritage.

With or without CLA, please fight these cuts.

[1] CAUT Survey of Salaries in Canadian Universities (1959-1961), p. 4. M G28 I 208 vol. 64. Library and Archives Canada.

[2] Ron D. Lowe to Tom Eadie, January 23, 1978. M G28 I208 Vol. 274. Library and Archives Canada.

[3] See Hulse, Elizabeth. The Morton Years: The Canadian Library Association, 1946-1971. Toronto: Ex-Libris Association, 1995.

[4] See “Librarians Silenced at CLA Conference,” Bibliothécaires de l’APUO / APUO Librarians, June 1, 2012.

[5] See “Express Yourself! Protest the Cuts to Library and Archives Canada and other Federal Libraries this October,” British Columbia Library Association.

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As Toronto-area library workers concerned with issues of freedom of expression, censorship and freedom of information, we wish to issue a statement of support for Dale Askey, AUL at McMaster University, against the unprecedented libel lawsuit brought against him by the Edwin Mellen Press.

As a professional librarian engaged in collection development, Mr. Askey is qualified to make a judgment on the quality of published material. Furthermore, in an open and democratic society, he is free to share these opinions as he sees fit. The lawsuit brought against him is nothing more than a retaliatory measure and an outright assault on academic freedom—a principle that is highly regarded by both the doctoral community and libraries—the very communities that Edwin Mellen Press claims as their prime audience.

We call upon the library and academic communities to stand up for Dale's academic freedom and basic freedom of speech. The Canadian Association of University Teachers has said the following about librarians and academic freedom:

Librarians have a duty to promote and preserve intellectual freedom in society. They have a responsibility to protect academic freedom and are entitled to the full protection of their own academic freedom in accordance with CAUT policies. This freedom includes, but is not limited to, the right and duty to exercise their academic professional judgment in the selection of library materials, and to ensure that library materials are freely accessible to all, no matter how controversial those materials may be.

Both the suit against Askey and past interactions with the scholarly community suggest Mellen Press is not interested in meaningful dialogue about scholarship and scholarly publishing. Currently, libraries are amongst the biggest customers of Edwin Mellen Press. Going forward, we hope to see a change in the relationship between Edwin Mellen Press and the community it claims to serve. In our opinion, an attack upon the academic freedom of one librarian is an attack upon us all.

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Posted on by lisa

A few PLG-GTA meetings ago, I promised to put the talk I gave last fall at the CAUT Librarians Conference up on our blog. The talk was entitled "Who Speaks for Librarians" and was part of a panel presentation with Jennifer Dekker from the University of Ottawa.  Jennifer has graciously agreed to share her talk as well - and it will be coming soon. In my part of the presentation, I talked about our associations and leadership institutes and tried to identify the ideologies at work within them,  and Jennifer focussed on her historical research about the CLA's role in advocacy and labour issues as well as talking about what happened during the LAC protest at the last CLA annual conference.

Since delivering this talk there has been a new development, the formation of a new association for academic librarians - CAPAL.  I am pleased to see the ways in which people are challenging our traditional associations and trying to come up with alternatives.  I wish CAPAL well, although I have not joined it. For now, I'm sticking with the more inclusive PLG, the OLA, and with the scholarly associations I belong to - I don't want to only talk to academic librarians frankly, much as I adore them.  I think our brightest future as a profession lies in scholarly and professional collaborations, interdisciplinary research activities and the formation of strong grassroot networks across political, social and academic issues. I'm also thinking about joining CAIS, which seems the most scholarly of the librarian associations, as I'm curious to see if there's a place for practising academic librarians in that mix. And of course, I continue to pay attention to CAUT, and its courageous work on behalf of academic librarians, archivists and scholars.

Recently I've also noticed OCULA and OLITA passing resolutions condemning Access Copyright/AUCC's model agreements, and even the generally moribund CLA has been somewhat more active in advocacy work for LAC. I think these are great developments and hope to see our associations focus further on information ethics, values and advocacy.

I should mention as well that the PLG does not exist to compete with existing library associations. In fact here in the Toronto chapter one of our members is on CLA Council, and two of our members are co-founders of CAPAL.  It's a big tent, come join us. And if you don't live somewhere where there's a PLG chapter - why not start one?

Lisa Sloniowski
Associate Librarian, York University Libraries,
PLG-GTA Member.


"Who Speaks for Libraries and Librarians?"

Panel presentation at “Contested Terrain: Shaping the Future of Academic Librarianship.” Canadian Association of University Teachers: Librarians Conference. Ottawa. October 2012.


Thanks Erin, and to CAUT also, for the invitation to speak today.

We’ve been asked to consider the topic of who speaks for librarians, and to focus on leadership in our professional associations in particular.  Now, it feels a bit funny to be up here doing this for this crowd – pretty sure all of you have a good sense of what the problems are! The weak copyright statements, the lack of support for librarians attacked by their administrations or library boards, the appalling response to the Library and  Archives Canada crisis… and I could go on. Our hope is to try and sketch out this known problem for you in a slightly new way, framing the problem both politically and historically and then open things up for discussion.

Jennifer Dekker is going to sketch out some more of the CLA’s history and present actions for you later in this session but I’d like to take a step back and examine the kind of ideologies at work in these associations, as a way of understanding how they could have become so divorced from the concerns and needs of their members, and from the public good. In so doing, I hope to make it clear we are not attacking any particular leader or member of any association, but rather we see the behaviours of association executives and staff in a larger context – specifically in the context of neoliberal incursions into the public sector, including academia.

So, ideologies first. I want to start with 3 examples that I think are illustrative of what is going on in the leadership of our profession:

1)The CLA president, at the 2011 Toronto symposium on the crisis in academic libraries said “the CLA is a library association not a librarians association.”

2)When asked to issue a statement condemning the wrongful confinement and arrests of citizens protesting the G20, the OLA chose not to – indicating to me that they were uncertain that this sort of statement or political work was what its members would want.

3) At the Northern Exposure to Leadership Institute, a management institute for Canadian librarians, when I went in 2006, when asked about the role of the library in relation to the public good, the mentor/speaker on stage at the time said we needed to start talking about public value rather than the public good. This sort of thinking permeated the institute.

All of these preceding statements are reflective of neoliberal ideology. Bear with me if I’m being pedantic, but I just want to make sure we are all on the same page and give a little definition of this word. David Harvey (2005) offers a useful summary of the essential characteristics of neoliberalism as an economic doctrine:

Neoliberalism is in the first instance a theory of political economic
practices that proposes that human well-being can best be advanced by
liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional
framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and
free trade. The role of the state is to create and preserve an institutional framework
appropriate to such practices. (A Brief History of Neoliberalism, p. 2)

Further, he suggests that in a neoliberal post- Fordist world, labor has become dispensable, disposable, and replaceable.

So when the president of the CLA says our national library association does not represent librarians, even though historically much of its revenue in fact comes the membership fees of librarians… we see the connection to neoliberal thought – the institution, the capital L library, is more important than its workers and somehow flourishes independently of our labour, at least in the mind of our leadership.

When an association is hesitant to take a political stance, such as the OLA on the G20, I would argue again that this is a consequence of neoliberal thinking … our associations operate primarily now as career advancement and professional networking sites, for mentoring and climbing ever upward to the managerial class of librarianship. It prioritizes individual entrepreneurial freedom and skills within institutional frameworks… not values, citizenship or the public good.

Ok, moving on to the third statement, from NELI regarding public value, I think the neoliberal implications of a generation of library leaders being encouraged to think about public value rather than the public good is too obvious to belabour, so I won’t –but I will extend this point to say that much of what was taught at the institute was about self-recognition  and individualism rather than community-building. I bring up NELI because the people who lead it and mentor the junior librarians who attend, generally also have or have had a strong relationship with the CLA as well. Which is not to say they aren’t frustrated with the CLA too, but perhaps for other reasons than I am. These are folks who make a strong contribution to librarianship, and I do not wish to dismiss their hard work – but I do wish to identify the ideologies underlying the choices they make.

To get pedantic again, borrowing from the work of Agamben (1998), Henri Giroux (2010) argues that universities have adopted a form of “bare pedagogy” that “strips education of its public values, critical contents and civic responsibilities as part of its broader goal of creating new subjects wedded to the logic of privatization, efficiency, flexibility, the accumulation of capital, and the destruction of the social state” (p. 185). I think the new emphasis in academic libraries on public value is a direct articulation of this new subject. And I think it divorces us from what we are good at and why we matter. When we try to articulate our value in the cold metrics of neoliberal logic we will always fail. To quote Leonard Cohen – everybody knows that the dice are loaded.

Of course we might also want to talk about the biggest thing… the commodification of knowledge and the increasing corporate influence of library vendors upon our associations. There will be others in this room who can offer more research and evidence surrounding the latter than I can – but one would have to be living under a rock to not feel the corporate presence and influence at our conferences and events. At NELI we were encouraged to not be unfriendly to vendors, and to recognize them as a vital part of the library “ecosystem.” They exist, live with it. Build relationships! While I know lots of very smart and well-meaning librarians working inside corporations, I’d argue there’s nothing natural about the commodification of information nor in the ways such commodifications and corporations serve to lock down information behind proprietary paywalls. Such rhetoric seeks to obfuscate what’s really going on, politically speaking, and obscures the choices being made.

We see the neoliberal agenda every day at work on our campuses, it should be no surprise to see it in our other institutions. In a recent Briar Patch article called The Combustible Campus, Enda Brophy notes that,

For three decades now, the neoliberal restructuring of post-secondary
education has sought to implant market logic and corporate-style management
into the academy.  …The resulting transformation of public university systems
has brought us corporatized administrations, rising tuition, departmental
closures, expanded class sizes, noxious corporate food, offensives against
academic workers, and ethically dubious corporate donations.

And yet she also notes that something stirs… the student uprisings….

”From London to Montreal, from Santiago to Auckland, from Wisconsin
to Mexico City, struggles against the commodification of knowledge are
proliferating … it is, by extension, a special time to be in the university.
After decades of relative calm, we are witnessing the forceful emergence
of autonomous and collective forms of knowledge and power produced
from below, aimed squarely against those bent on transforming our learning
environments from above.”

I find her comment very interesting and kind of hopeful.  We have certainly begun to see more people, especially students, occupy the streets in the last few years, most recently in Quebec. Whether you agree with these particular actions or not, to me there is a great relief that people appear to be shaking off some of the apathy and trying to find new ways of working together and organizing. I wonder how can we be a part of that struggle, how can we help and how can they help us? How can we build new networks of people based not on occupational roles but on political and social values, while still arguing for the unique importance of library workers in the struggle?

This was the theme of a talk I gave in February of last year at the OLA, around building solidarity in academic librarianship. I said that when we do advocacy for librarians we need to talk about our work in terms that resonate with other members of the public sector … who also struggle with the precariousness of labour and wage freezes. We need to explain why over-reliance upon casual precarious labour actually negatively impacts library users and our local communities. We also need to talk about our work in relation to our core values, which Naomi Klein once said to us, was the stewardship of knowledge, sharing and common space. Values most under threat in a neoliberal era. Librarianship is a revolutionary choice.

We need to recentralize values and principles and ethics as the core of our professional identity and push back against the neoliberal market logic that permeates our institutions and associations. We have a civic responsibility. Our social responsibility is what should define us. There may be others who share our concerns, but we are the only ones funded by the public to preserve and protect these values. And if our associations will not do this for us – we must leave them. IN DROVES.

And in defining ourselves in this way, we demonstrate that advocating for and building solidarity with and among librarians is about more than protecting jobs (although that's ok too in my opinion) but part of the larger struggle for social justice. That advocating for librarians is also advocating for libraries. Because libraries and all they represent are built on the backs of our labour and the labour of our libray technician colleagues. Libraries are the product of labour, they do not mysteriously appear one day in the middle of a campus fully formed. Libraries exist for our users, yes. But libraries exist because we do.

Hopeful signs for me include the rightousness of the BCLA and the Newfoundland Library Associations who have issued great statements on the G20 and the Access Copyright fight. There are moments like

  • the recent OLITA symposium on liberation technology where I got excited about the growing potential in the OLA.
  • the recent issue of a social justice themed Access Magazine edited by Mike Ridley.
  • the recent establishment of local nodes of THE PLG in Edmonton, London and Toronto,
  • and of course,  CAUT's awesome Save LAC campaign and this symposium today itself.

We should look to these initiatives and groups and see what we can learn from them. Because in the end there are no heroes, and no straight answers – we must think locally, build community and solidarity, and figure out how to get beyond our myopic associations and work across communities of shared interest. Librarians should not only be talking to one another.

To completely take out of context some words from recently deceased cultural geographer Neil Smith, from his article “The Revolutionary Imperative” - one of the greatest dangers of our time lies in acquiescing to the limits of the present, to not lose the imaginative capacity that enables us to see beyond the ideological constraints imposed by the current era (as cited by Thomas Ponniah in Rabble). Luckily, librarians have a special capacity to organize and to take the long view. It's time to harness our professional strengths to our necessary activist work.



Selected References

Brophy, Enda. (Sept 1, 2012) The Combustible Campus, Briarpatch. Available online:

Giroux, H. A. (2010). Bare pedagogy and the scourge of neoliberalism: Rethinking higher education as a democratic public sphere. Educational Forum, 74(3), 184-196.

Harvey, D. (2005). A brief history of neoliberalism. New York: Oxford University Press.

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PLG members may be as dismayed as I was to read this post by one of our members, Nick Ruest.  In it, he describes Access Copyright's recent attempt to bully OLITA's members and executive into dropping a resolution condemning the Access Copyright licensing agreements. PLG-GTA has our own statement on this issue and I am sure I'm not the only member delighted to see both OLITA and OCULA taking a firm stance on fair dealing.

Lisa Sloniowski,
PLG-GTA member.

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Posted on by Jacqueline

On Thursday, January 31 at 5:15, join us for a meet-up of PLGers, as well as those curious about the PLG, or interested more broadly in issues associated with progressive librarianship.

This event is intended to a fairly informal opportunity to talk with like-minded librarians and library staff. You do not need to be a member of the PLG or registered for OLA Super Conference to join us! (There will also be an opportunity to join the PLG on-site.)

Our rough agenda is:

  • What is the PLG?
  • Introductions from each PLG group present
  • Introductions and expressions of interest from the group
  • Open discussion

When: Thursday, January 31 at 5:15

Where: The Metro Toronto Convention Centre, room 201E



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When: Thursday, January 17 at 6:30 PM. Come by any time after six.

Where: Ryerson University Library,  room LIB489B

Getting there: Ryerson’s library is located at 350 Victoria Street, just east of Yonge. Dundas is the closest subway station. Head to the library on the second floor, then up two more flights (inside the library) to the fourth floor.

Our focus will be getting ready for the OLA Superconference PLG meet-up (January 31), but discussion of other issues will certainly ensue!

As always, all curious library workers and allies welcome.

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Posted on by Jacqueline

When: Thursday, November 22 at 6:30 PM. Come by any time after six.

Where: Ryerson University Library,  room LIB489B

Getting there: Ryerson’s library is located at 350 Victoria Street, just east of Yonge. Dundas is the closest subway station. Head to the library on the second floor, then up two more flights (inside the library) to the fourth floor.


All are welcome!

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