The American Dissident: Literature, Democracy & Dissidence


The American Library Association—Free Speech in Peril

In almost all the 45 libraries studied here, and probably hundreds and hundreds more across the country, we have failed our professional duty to seek out diverse political views. [...] These books are not expensive. Their absence from our libraries makes a mockery of ALA’s vaunted ‘freedom to read.’ But we do not even notice that we are censoring our collections. Complacently, we watch our new automated systems stuff the shelves with Henry Kissinger’s memoirs.
           —Charles Willett, Founding Editor, Counterpoise, and retired librarian [remarks presented at the Fifth National Conference of the Association of College and Research Libraries]

Barbara M. JonesWhen an organization organizes an annual banned books week to celebrate “the freedom to express one’s opinion even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular,” it is a little disturbing to see the same group cancel a panel discussion because one of the invited speakers is considered objectionable. But that’s how the American Library Association (ALA) handled pressure from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) to silence an invited speaker for a panel discussion at its annual convention who has a perspective on Islam, jihad, and terrorism that CAIR doesn’t like.
          —Steven Emerson, International Free Press Society
 
The American Library Association operates as one of a number of modern-day LITERARY CENSORING ORGANIZATIONS akin to the Catholic Church of yesteryear which put together the infamous Index Librorum Prohibitorum. The American Dissident has been placed on its own Index Librorum Prohibitorum. The ALA's Library Journal refuses to respond to my correspondance and refuses to even review The American Dissident. Many, perhaps most, libraries will not subscribe to a journal that has not been reviewed by Library Journal. That is one way how The American Library Association controls what citizens may and may not read at public libraries. Democracy continues its downward spiral thanks in part to the democracy-indifferent literary censoring managers employed by the ALA.

 

The following essay was published in Counterpoise for Social Responsibilities, Liberty, and Dissent  (Summer 2008).  My sincere appreciation goes to that alternative journal for its unusual openness to matters other than business as usual, including library business as usual.  The American Library Association "Library Bill of Rights" appears as a solid pro-democracy statement.  However, it seems to serve as a de facto hot-air, self-glorifying one.  Indeed, most, if not all, ALA administrators and staff likely do not take it seriously. Indeed, they remained silent regarding my complaint of being issued a no-trespass order without due process by Watertown Free Public Library in Massachusetts.  The ALA staff responsible for the ALA Censorship & First Amendment Issues website page and ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom (oif@ala.org) did not respond either.  It is quite likely that librarians in general do not really give a damn about the ALA "Library Bill of Rights."  I evoked it to over 50 of them in New England regarding the public-library tendency not to subscribe to dissident periodicals, preferring Yankee, Entertainment Today, Mademoiselle, Elle, People, and Time.  Only one librarian responded and positively. She works at Newton Free Public Library.  The others did not even bother responding at all. 

A year or so later, I contacted Brockton Public Library, requesting it to subscribe and asking why it would never select a dissident like me to read during its National Poetry Month brouhaha.  Library Director Harry R. Williams, III actually did respond though with the typical fluffiness of sellout 60s hippies:  "Peace be with all of you, and as a veteran of the sixties I cannot resist ending thus: Can't we all just get along?"  Allow me to translate:  Brockton Public Library will not even consider subscribing. 
 
Perhaps the ALA ought to include during its banned books week, periodicals and books banned by its diverse members, including Harry R. Williams.  Wouldn't that be a grand surprise!  See also William J. Becker's "The American Library Association’s Stealth Jihad Against Free Speech."

 

Steve Black

 

You’ve Been Spam Foldered*: The Librarian as Public Censor and Arbiter of Public Taste

When criticism is placed off limits as “disrespectful” and therefore offensive, something strange is happening to the concept of respect. 
            —Salman Rushdie and Jonathan Rauch, “Censorship Is Harmful”


Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation. 
          —From the American Library Association “Library Bill of Rights”


The selector begins, ideally, with a presumption in favor of liberty of thought; the censor does not.
          —Lester Asheim, “Not Censorship but Selection” (Wilson Library Bulletin, 1953, on the ALA website)

Citizens in afree society must have courage—the courage to hear not only unwelcome political speech but novel and shocking ideas in science and the arts. In his opinion in the Whitney case, Brandeis sounded the theme of civic courage:  “Those who won our independence by revolution were not cowards. They did not fear political change. They did not exalt order at the cost of liberty. To courageous, self-reliant men, with confidence in the power of free and fearless rea­soning applied though the processes of popular government, no danger flowing from speech can be deemed clear and present, unless the incidence of the evil apprehended is so imminent that it may befall before there is opportunity for full discussion.”
          —Anthony Lewis, Freedom for the Thought That We Hate

 

With respect to the above ALA statement, materials, however, might well be excluded because of insufficient funding, for example, or of failure of faculty to recommend them, or of failure to get them reviewed by the Library Journal, which might refuse to review materials “because of the views of those contributing to their creation,” or even closing library doors to simply shut out ideas to paraphrase the ALA’s Banned Books Week slogan, “Closing books shuts out ideas.”  Indeed, Celebrate the Freedom to Ban Patrons, uh, or rather to Read!  Perhaps the American Library Association needs to examine its noble statements of principle in light of some of the ignoble actions of its members and staff. 

Numerous encounters I’ve had with librarians over the past decade, regarding The American Dissident, a 501c3 nonprofit journal devoted to literature, democracy and dissidence, created in 1998 as a forum for, amongst other things, examining the dark side of the academic/literary established-order milieu.  It has been an uphill battle for me to locate librarians sensitive to the ALA “Library Bill of Rights.”  Despite periodic efforts, I’ve only managed to find 14, though am grateful for them, including those at Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, Buffalo University, Brown University, University of Michigan, University of Wisconsin, Endicott College, Catawba Valley Community College, New York Public Library, Iowa City Library, Concord Free Public Library, Lincoln Public Library, Gleason Library, Newton Public Library, and Robbins Library.  Ploughshares, by the way, has over 501 subscribing libraries and seeks, contrary to The American Dissident, to propagate established-order literature. 


At Bedford Public Library, I met with Director Richard Callaghan, who immediately asked:   “Did you want to donate it?”  “Not really,” I replied.  “Do you ask editors of Newsweek, Glamour Magazine, Entertainment Today, and Ploughshares to donate theirs?”  “Oh yes, I think we looked at this a while ago,” he said.  “You probably did, and I never got it back, despite my request,” I said.  “Nobody even informed me of your conclusions with its regard.  Why was it rejected?”  “You have to understand, we’re only a small local library,” he noted, avoiding the question.  “It has to be of general interest.”  “Well, Lincoln Public Library is half the size of your library and it subscribes,” I argued.  “Besides, isn’t the subject of democracy of general interest?”  In vain, I citied the ALA Library Bill of Rights (see below), noting that Bedford Public Library likely did not contain the points of view expressed in The American Dissident.  “Anytime you want to donate it, we’d be glad to add it to our collection,” he repeated with the same smug self-assuredness I’d witnessed time and again on the part of librarians and other cultural functionaries, including those of the Concord and Massachusetts cultural councils.  It was as if he had not heard a word I’d said.  Interestingly, if not hypocritically, upon the wall not far from us in the library was a placard with a quote from JFK (see quote below).

 

Open to All Except the Censor

We must know all the facts and hear all the alternatives and listen to all the criticisms. Let us welcome controversial books and controversial authors. For the Bill of Rights is the guardian of our security as well as our liberty.
            —John F. Kennedy

Was not Director Richard Callahan, however, acting as censor?  Has that not in fact become the function of so many of the nation’s librarians and other cultural functionaries, who seem more concerned with spreading cultural pap, than vigorous debate, cornerstone of democracy?  Anyhow, the old gray-haired librarian at the reference desk at Manchester Public Library (NH) was downright unfriendly.  “Who deals with subscriptions to periodicals?” I asked, showing her a copy of the journal.  “The director!” she snapped.  “And she’s out?” I asked.  “Yes, she’s out to lunch!” she underscored.  “You’ll have to call her!”  “Well, I’d rather speak to her in person,” I said.  “I drove all the way up from Massachusetts.”  While waiting for the director, I checked out the periodicals, which were mostly glossy covered with rich and famous people grinning, as on every other library shelf in the country.  An hour later, I decided to leave and send the director an email, which I did when I got back home.  She never responded.  Perhaps she thought my citing of the ALA “Library Bill of Rights” disrespectful?  I sent emails to the public libraries in Nashua, Portsmouth, and about 50 others in Massachusetts.  Only two responded.  One actually agreed to subscribe (Newton Public Library). 

“Generally speaking, the process is a little less antagonistic than your approach to sales,” responded the other, that is, Lynda Wills, Director of Winchester Public Library.  But what was my approach?  Well, again I cited the ALA “Library Bill of Rights” and argued the library in question likely did not have the viewpoints expressed in The American Dissident!  That was my approach.  The director also noted:

 

Whatever we buy ultimately needs to be something people will read (it can't be a shelf sitter as we don't have space for that). Time would tell if it circs or it doesn't. That it expresses a different point of view is a good thing. A good professional review would go a long way to getting this on the shelf here.  […]  You could contact the editors at Library Journal, School Library Journal, Booklist, and Kirkus Review. Those are all standard review sources for libraries. If something gets a positive review in one of those journals, we add it.

 

What, one might wonder, did “professional” really imply nowadays?  As for Kirkus Review, it stipulates that it does not review, amongst other things, poetry or literary criticism.  And it appears it does not review periodicals either.  “Kirkus Reviews receives between 200 and 400 titles per day, a volume that makes quick decisions necessary on the part of the editors.  […] Beyond that, editors make individual judgments based on factors having to do with merit or potential interest.” 

But who judges “merit” and “potential interest” and based on what criteria?  That question is conveniently not addressed on the Kirkus Review website.  Qualifications of the reviewers are simply not listed.  Booklist also does not review periodicals.  As for Library Journal, well, keep reading.  In a subsequent email, Wills suggested I send a review copy, which I did.  Eventually, she responded with that regard.  

First, my apologies for taking so long to get back to you. I read through your sample and shared it with reference. We would like to put it out for a couple of months for the public and see what kind of interest it generates. If it gets picked up and read, then we would consider ordering it. If no one looks at it, then we will decline. That seems a fair approach to me and I hope you agree.

Clearly, the “kind of interest it generates” as a criterion for subscribing to periodicals can counter the ALA “Library Bill of Rights,” regarding its viewpoint stipulation.  Four months later, I queried Wills.  She has yet to respond.  Had the copy been discarded… inadvertently?  As for Acton Memorial Library, I attempted nearly a decade ago to get it to subscribe, dropped off a sample copy, then returned a month after that to inquire about the copy.  The circulation receptionist telephoned the acquisitions biblio-functionary, who then appeared from behind a shelf to mumble and jumble and finally explain that The American Dissident wasn’t indexed and that the library only considered subscriptions to indexed periodicals.  “But it is indexed,” I said.  “After all, how could something like The American Dissident not be on the Papal index, you know, the Index Librorum Prohibitorum?”  She looked at me blushed and stone-faced, not quite sure what the hell I was talking about, though likely assuming it wasn’t good.  

My next stop was Groton Public Library, where the acquisitions-apparatchik was occupied.  So, I left a copy of the journal at the circulation desk and asked if I could post a flyer on the library bulletin board.  “Sure,” said the young biblio-clerk, but the sub-librarian who was standing nearby said, “no, you have to get it approved first!”  “How do I do that?” I asked.  She sent me downstairs to ask yet another sub-librarian.  I handed my flyer to her.  But she said the librarians had to meet with its regard before it could be approved or disapproved (ah, long live the cultural censors!).  So I left the flyer and the library. 

It was not easy even to get a simple flyer posted in the public libraries today.  A number of them simply rejected my requests because The American Dissident did not have nonprofit status at the time and also they tended only to permit the posting of flyers announcing events.  On one occasion, I offered to donate a bulletin board to the Concord Free Public Library, if the board would be used for First Amendment discussion and postings.  Unfortunately, the offer was not accepted.  One even needed pre-approval from a town functionary to post on the town bulletin board.  In any case, I returned to the Acton Memorial Library about five or six years later—indexed, ISBN’d, and even 501 3(c)’d.  It was interesting to discover all the little things that kept free speech at bay, while subtle censorship thriving.  The Concord Cultural Council had conveniently added this year a stipulation, for example, that “Programs in music, dance, visual arts, poetry, literature, drama, the humanities and scientific interpretation for all age groups will be considered, but not those of a political nature.”  How convenient for the local political established order… and pap culture!   It was important to push biblio and other cultural apparatchiks to the wall, forcing them to say, NO!  Some did not want to say, NO… for they understood the issue at hand… but I’d eventually force them to say it, that is, NO to free speech and expression. 

“We tend to only order what the people ask for,” said Assistant Director Ellen Clark (Acton Memorial Library).  Now that the journal was indexed, a new criterion was evoked.  “Do you have literary magazines upstairs?” I asked.  “Well, we have Granta, I think,” she said.  “Did the people ask for that?” I asked.  “No, a trustee suggested it,” she said.  “What about all the Idiot and Dummy books on the shelves?” I asked.  “Well, people have asked for them,” she said.  “But, in a sense, you’re saying your patrons are idiots and dummies,” I underscored.  “People want to learn about some things,” she replied.  “Well, it would be nice if we could get librarians to think once in a while,” I said.  “Well, I think we do!” she argued.  “But your policy is clearly adverse to new publications and encourages status quo business as usual,” I said.  And that was that.  I stuck my camera in her face and took a photo.  She got angry, and I left.  I’m a cartoonist, who likes to satirize functionaries. 


On another occasion, I approached the woman at the front desk of the same library to ask if I needed permission to post a flyer.  “Yes, you do!” she said.  “Well, can I have it?” I asked.  “Well, the woman who does that is on her coffee break now!” she snapped.  “You can just leave it with me.”  “Well, I’d like to know if she’s going to accept or reject it,” I said.  The woman scuttled behind a wall, then came back with another woman.  “Oh, we don’t get much of this,” said the other white-haired woman with a pout of propriety glued to her face.  “It’s just for a literary journal,” I said.  “There’s no bad words or pornography.  I don’t need it on the bulletin board.  Can I just place it on the counter with the other brochures?”  “I’ll hang it on the bottom,” she said looking oddly disgusted.  Upstairs, I noticed a large poster:  “10 Reasons Why the Internet Is No Substitute for a Library.”  Number 3 grabbed my attention:  “Quality Control Doesn’t Exist.  Amid all the great web-based information lurks a kook with a conspiracy theory, and a pornographer with a camera.”  Thus, I grabbed a piece of paper and wrote the following, looked around to see if the coast were clear, then quickly taped it next to #3:    

 

Beware!  Librarians have become censors and hypocrites!  They call it “Quality Control.”  Yes, amid all the great web-based information lurks also a citizen seeking to exercise his constitutional rights of free speech by posting criticism on the library bulletin board!  Librarians call their libraries “Totems to the Totality of Knowledge,” yet so many of them shun the alternative press! 


Oddly, I’ve even had problems with subscribing libraries.  For example, I had to write the following to the director of the Concord Free Public Library: 

 

I was just wondering why we couldn't get The American Dissident on the shelf in the periodicals room.  I noticed five free spaces.  I've talked to Ray but to no avail.  He says it would be out of sequence and people wouldn't thus be able to find it.  But how are they going to find it or even know it exists in the basement?  He says it is not in that room because it is only a semiannual literary journal.  BUT it is a lit journal published in the Town of Concord.  All the same, I am ever grateful that Concord subscribes for it has been next to impossible to interest other libraries. 

 

Director Barbara Powell kindly did rectify the situation.  As for my two alma maters, they won’t subscribe.  Northeastern University claims it doesn’t have the funds, though has put me on top of its list (I’ve been there for nearly a decade), while Middlebury College simply does not respond to my correspondence. 


Oddly or perhaps rather appropriately, the head of reference librarian at J. V. Fletcher Library (Westford’s public library) was actually wearing a black witch’s outfit with a large black pointed hat.  Yes, it was Halloween once again.  “I should have brought my camera,” I said to the witch, uh, librarian, then showed her The American Dissident.  My goal was to get the library to spend $20 for a subscription.  Selling was not, however, my forte, nor was building bridges.  My forte was caustic questioning and challenging.  Regarding the journal, I’d contacted the English faculty of the University of Massachusetts, for example.  Only three professors responded, one of whom was only interested in his very restricted area of study, while the other two were somewhat insulted:  “You're a dullard who imposes himself unwanted on strangers.”  Well, I’d also mentioned to those 60 professors that the citizen general had deemed the academic culture perhaps harmful to democracy and suggested perhaps that culture needed to be radically changed and openly discussed.  How disrespectful to write such a thing to college professors lulled so sweetly by the culture in question! 


In any case, I mentioned the ALA “Library Bill of Rights” and indeed the librarian as witch nodded that she was familiar with it.  I mentioned The American Dissident contained ideas likely not expressed in the library’s periodicals collection and asked if she’d consider subscribing.  “How much is it?” she queried.  “One hundred dollars per year,” I said.  She didn’t seem particularly perturbed.  “No, I’m just joking.  It’s only $20 per year.”  Librarians are not notorious for their sense of humor.  “Well, our collection development is based on popularity, requests, and professional reviews,” she noted.  “And the budget is not all that healthy.”   “Well, perhaps you could end your subscriptions to some of the very expensive periodicals like Entertainment Today,” I argued.  “Why should your restricted budget only be applied to dissident nonprofit, non-commercial journals?”  “Well, has it been reviewed by any trade magazines?” she asked.  “Yes,” I replied.  “It was reviewed by Counterpoise and a few others.”  “I haven’t heard of that one,” she said.  “Well, I’ll have to introduce you to it then,” I said.  “It specializes in alternative periodicals and is sent out to libraries.”  


Evidently, I could tell, she had no intention of subscribing no matter what I had to say.  She gave me her email so I could send the reviews to her.  “It would be interesting to know how much some of these magazines earn from libraries alone,” I’d said.  “Some of them must be in every library in the country.”  “I don’t know,” she’d replied.  “A lot of them charge institutional rates.”  In other words, they actually charged more than individual subscribers would have to pay.   On the shelves, I counted 10 glossies devoted to business alone!  I couldn’t even find one devoted to literature, not even Poetry or Ploughshares.  It seemed librarians across the country subscribed to the very same magazines from Glamour to Quilting, Good Housekeeping, Time, Newsweek, and usually Poetry.  The copycat phenomenon was also widespread in the nation’s universities.  Thus, why be surprised if it were also widespread in the nation’s public libraries?  Several days after the conversation, I sent an email, as follow-up, to the librarian. 

 

Dear Kristina Leedberg, Head of Reference:
As you might recall, I dropped by Friday to see if your library might be interested in subscribing (only $16/year!) to The American Dissident, a unique journal devoted to literature, democracy, and dissidence.  In fact, as mentioned, I didn't even see any magazines devoted to literature in your periodicals area.  For more information, read reviews and interviews.


Do you have any other suggestions for reviews?  Which trade publications of your interest review literary journals?  That would be appreciated.  Needless to say, it would probably be beneficial to debate the criteria you stipulated—reviews, popularity, and requests in light of the ALA Bill of Rights, in particular the following: 


I.  Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.
II.  Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.
III.  Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.
Evidently, your library's criteria would not necessarily put it in line with the above three points.  And if budgetary concerns would indeed prohibit it from spending $16/year for a subscription to The American Dissident, surely a number of those magazines on your shelves cost much more than that while also being much less regarding the above three points.  All too often, people, even intelligent people, simply open wide and say, ahhh… to business as usual (or literature as usual) without any questioning or challenging whatsoever.  That's why a discussion on the issues underscored in this email might very well be a good idea.  Please let me know what you decide. 


The librarian responded the following day. 


Dear Mr. Slone,
Thank you for the e-mail and the information about your journal.  We use Library Journal for reviews of magazines.  If you are interested, here's the link to their current journal reviews www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6609719.html?industryid=47384
It was nice meeting you on Friday.
Kristina Leedberg

 

Now, just how nice was it really meeting me on Friday?  Certainly, I had not gotten that impression at all.  No matter.  The librarian’s response underscores a certain indifference to the ALA “Library Bill of Rights” and reluctance to even debate with its regard.  My next step was to examine the URL she’d suggested.  On the Internet, I thus read through several of the periodicals recommended by Library Journal reviewer Steve Black, librarian at College of Saint Rose (NY).  Cite, for example, his recommendation of Brick Journal, “a glossy, color magazine for LEGO enthusiasts of all ages, Brick Journal covers people, building designs, and communities. Itis independent from, but adulatory of, the LEGO Group.  The writing style is simple, design and copyediting are well executed, and the magazine is visually appealing. Its high quality and the popularity of LEGOs make this a good choice for public libraries.” 


Now, how, I wondered, could someone recommending such a journal possibly recommend The American Dissident?  And it would not at all surprise me if in fact Brick Journal were part of the  periodicals collection at Fletcher Library.  Next, I sent Mr. Black an email asking if he would review The American Dissident and mentioned my amazement that so many librarians seemed entirely indifferent to the ALA “Library Bill of Rights,” noting the same three articles.  “I'm certain the College of Saint Rose has nothing like it and does not possess anything that mirrors the viewpoints offered in it,” I noted.


Mr. Black responded promptly that “LJ has me review periodicals that are new or that have been recently redesigned or renamed. It doesn't seem that American Dissent [sic] falls into those 2 categories, but you're welcome to send a sample to my editor [i.e., Anna Katterjohn, Assistant Editor, Library Journal Book Review] and ask her to consider it, anyway.”  He also informed that the college’s “collection development policy centered around faculty recommendations for periodicals our students [would] use in the course of their studies” and “We never have enough funds to fulfill all faculty requests for journals. Since the ALA’s “Library Bill of Rights” is separate from funding, it's impossible in practice to subscribe to everything.”  What, however, irked me was Black’s aberrant statement on dissent: 


Dissenting voices are valuable, and there are plenty of reasons to critique the peer review process, the rank & tenure process, and academia in general.  From what I read at your web site, I would say that I've read much more cogent and better argued critiques of academia. People aren't responding to you because you're disrespectful, not because of aversion to the intellectual content of your writings.  I want to be very clear that this response is not an invitation for you to pester me, which from your web site is clearly a distinguishing characteristic of your style. Don't be sending me e-mails beyond what's necessary to schedule a phone interview for the Periodical Radio podcast program.

 

Yes, “dissenting voices are valuable,” but only if they learn when and how to keep their mouths shut.  How anomalous!  How could someone like me, an ardent dissident, possibly obey that review librarian’s command, which manifested, more than anything else, a clear lack of understanding of the very nature of dissent, let alone “disrespect” for it?  How to respond?  Keep my mouth shut, get interviewed, and, who knows, maybe even eventually reviewed?  Instead, I carefully formulated a reply and sent it: 

 

Dear Steve Black:
Thanks much for responding and even manifesting the unusual curiosity to actually examine The American Dissident website.  BTW, I have been a university professor for the past several decades, though off and on, and possess a doctorate from a French university, spent seven years in France, and am fluent in French, Spanish, and to a lesser degree Italian.  Also, a college professor in the vicinity has been inviting me to speak to his English classes on The American Dissident over the past several years. Students in general have been quite responsive with that regard.  That college is now a subscriber, as are Harvard, Buffalo, Brown and a few other institutions. 


Sure, a December interview would be fine.  But are you really certain you’d like to permit a dissident voice on your air?  After all, that would actually be in line with vigorous debate, democracy’s cornerstone, not to mention the ALA “Library Bill of Rights.” Regarding the latter, there should be no excuse at all for a college not to heed it, including “funds” and “faculty recommendations.”  After all, how could one expect faculty to recommend a journal that is highly critical of faculty?  It would certainly take a unique doctoral crowd to do that, n’est-ce pas


On another note, the terms you’ve used to describe me—“disrespectful” and “pester”—are in themselves highly disrespectful of democracy.  They illustrate the ad hominem non-argument typically used by those with thin skins who cannot brook criticism.  Clearly, you must have felt implicated by the criticisms on my website.  Also, I’ve had ample experience—likely more than you’ve had—dealing with academics.  In other words, I know them quite well.  I know the large majority of them do not have the spine to openly criticize the institutions that feed them so nicely.  Do you?  If terms I’ve used to describe the academic seem “disrespectful,” then perhaps the academic archetype is “disrespectful.” 


Rather than call me disparaging names, why not simply find just one instance of prevarication or inaccuracy and bring it to my attention?  I know, that would actually take a little thought and a little time.  Yours is the very typical and deplorable response of those in power.  BTW, too much “respect” of men in ties and jackets, professors included, has been running the nation into the ground—into a corporate dictatorship of sorts—, in case you haven’t noticed. 


These things said, if you don’t think you’d be on par intellectually, I’ll fully understand if you decide to revoke the interview invitation.  Otherwise, just let me know what day in December you’d like to interview me.  Also, be assured that my only arsenal is logic, reason, truth, and the courage to speak it openly.  Ad hominem and vulgarity do not form part of that arsenal. 
Finally, it is an easy thing to enact courageous statements of principle (e.g., the ALA), but apparently a most difficult one to actually get people (e.g., librarians) to abide by them or even simply manifest a heartfelt interest in them.   
Sincerely, G. Tod Slone

 

So, how would a librarian respond to such a letter, which contained not one thinly-veiled threat or four-letter word?  With eagerness and in the spirit of vigorous debate, cornerstone of democracy or with thin skin?  Mr. Black’s brief response was in the subject area of his blank email and forms the very title of this essay:  “You’ve been spam foldered.”   


Well, that comment was perfect and represented the nadir of my experience with librarians... that is, until the day I walked into the Watertown Free Public Library.  Inside, one of the circ women informed me the ref-desk was upstairs.  So up I climbed.  There, seated behind the counter, a woman in her 60s was jabbering on the phone.  On and on, she jabbered.  “I’ll be right with you,” she finally said to me.  But she continued jabbering, so I walked over to the DVDs.  Soon, she was off the phone.  I walked back.  Then she was back on the phone.  So back to the DVDs I went.  Back and forth for about a half hour I scurried until finally, she was free. 


“Who do I need to talk with regarding subscriptions?” I asked holding up a copy of The American Dissident.  “Do you order them?”  “Well, no,” replied the woman, somewhat snooty-voiced.  “Well, you don’t sound encouraging,” I said.  “Can you tell me who I need to talk with?”  “Well, I’ll take the information,” she said reluctantly.  “That never leads to anything,” I replied.  “I’d prefer talking with the person who actually does it.  Can’t I see the person in charge?”  “Well, yes, but I have to take the information,” she answered.  “But this is a public library,” I insisted.  “I should have the right to speak with the person in charge.”  “Well, just give me the information,” she said again.  By that time, a younger woman in her 40s or so appeared next to the older woman behind the counter in front of which I was standing. 


“Is it available through Cox?” asked the 40-year old.  “Who are you?” I asked.  “I’m the head of reference,” she snapped.  “No, but it’s available through Ebsco,” I said.  “Okay, we don’t use Ebsco,” she said.  “We use Cox.”  “Do you have any information on Cox, so I can make an inquiry?” I asked.  “No, you can find it on the Internet!” she said.  “But I’m sure I’d find thousands of things under Cox,” I noted.  “Is it Cox Magazine?”  “Well, you know what, let me tell you right now,” she said testily.  “Yeah?” I said.  “I’m not going to order that magazine of yours!” she snapped.  “I don’t think our patrons are that interested!”  “But you didn’t even look at it,” I said.  “You can leave!” she commanded.  “Are you kicking me out of the library?” I asked.  “I’m asking you to leave now!” she insisted.  “I want you to get the police to do that,” I said.  “I’ve done nothing wrong!”  “I’m asking you to leave!” she repeated angrily.  “You’ve upset Ellie and now you’ve upset me!”  “Well, I think the two of you have thoroughly upset me regarding your indifference to democracy,” I said.  “What is your name?”  “I’m not going to tell you!” she said.  “We are upset now, so you can just leave!” she again ordered.  “Just so you know, you now form part of the article I’m writing on libraries,” I said.  “There’s only a certain amount of abuse we can take!” she replied.  “What abuse?” I asked.  “I’m not hollering, I’m not swearing, I’m not threatening!  I was just trying to see if you’d subscribe to a locally-published magazine devoted to democracy.” 


Had the “danger flowing from [my] speech” been “deemed clear and present,” because “the incidence of the evil apprehended” was “so imminent that it” could “befall before there is opportunity for full discussion” (see quote at beginning of this essay)?


The head of reference walked around the counter, then downstairs to get the cops, I suspected.  I walked back to the DVDs.  Then, she was back behind the counter again.  “So, where are the cops?” I asked from the middle of the room.  “They already left,” she said.  “Well, what you need to do is build a thicker skin and stop moaning about verbal abuse any time you don’t like what a man has to say!” I tell her.  She picked up the phone again.  “Here, why don’t you read this and educate yourself regarding democracy and free speech,” I said, putting one of my flyers on the counter in front of her.  “I suppose you’re a proponent of Banned Books Week?”  She immediately grabbed the flyer and tossed it into the garbage bucket, reminding me of the librarian at Nashua Public Library, who’d crumpled the flyer up and ran out furiously to hand the ball to me.  She’d actually called security on me earlier because I’d stated she seemed to be “having a bad pregnant day.”  All I’d done was ask if I might be able to listen to some CDs if I left my driver’s license (I wasn’t a member).  I’d mentioned on several occasions in the past her colleague librarians had agreed to do that. 


Finished, I began walking down the stairs.  Ellie suddenly appeared above me and mumbled something.  I turned around, looked up at her, gazing at her feebleness, and said in a low voice:  “You disgust me!”  Then I turned back around and continued down the stairs.  It was really very odd to me just how thin-skinned so many citizens seemed to be—adults knee-jerk reacting:  I’m going to tell mommy or daddy!  Perhaps much of it was due to schooling, where feeding egos had long become education’s prime function, so much more important than seeking truth and speaking truth.  No matter what school children did, they were told how wonderful they were.  Perhaps that also defined the library milieu.  It certainly tended to define the university, that is, as long as one behaved deferentially to those with the power to stoke egos.

Ardis Francoeur
At the circ desk, I checked out two DVDs.  “I just had a battle with the head of reference,” I said to one of the women and asked for the chief’s name.  “Ardis,” she said.  I wrote it down.  Another woman with thick Slavic accent behind the desk expressed visual interest in the flyer I’d put down on the counter.  “Take it and put it in your pocket for later,” I told her.  She did… and there was hope. 


Outside, two squad cars arrived.  I probably could have easily just walked to my car and left.  But I was curious, so approached them.  Two cops stepped out.  “Are you here for the librarian?” I asked.  “Yes,” one of them replied.  “Well, I’m the guy she called you for,” I said.  “I didn’t use any four-letter words, didn’t holler, and didn’t threaten anyone.”  “Do you have an ID?” he asked.  “Yes,” I said.  “It’s here.”  I slowly pointed to the pocket (I didn’t want to get shot!), then took out my wallet and driver’s license.  “Should I call it in?” said the other one.  “No,” said the first one.  “So, what’s going to happen?” I asked.  “Well, I don’t know what your history is with them,” said the first one.  “Well, I don’t have a history,” I said.  “It’s the first and last time I’ll ever be walking into that building.  I’m not from around here.”  The first one was now talking on the phone with the librarian in question, I suspected.  “They’re going to trespass you from the library,” he eventually informed.  “You’ll get a letter by certified mail explaining it.  Then if you violate that, it’s an arrestable offense.  She said, every time you come here you get worse and worse.   “Well, as I said, I’ve never been here before,” I told him. “That’s not what she said,” replied the cop. 

 

As I post facto reflect, either the librarian had confused me with someone else or had purposefully lied to add weight to her decision to ban me without warning or due process.


Oddly, or perhaps not, the cop station was right next to the public library.  The cops could have simply walked over.  Later at home, I’d peruse the library’s website to locate a few email addresses and found the following:


CODE OF CONDUCT
The Library Board of Trustees has adopted the following code of conduct in an effort to provide a safe, comfortable, and enjoyable library facility.


Any conduct that disrupts the delivery of library services or hinders others from using library materials is prohibited.
Any conduct that is potentially harmful to library materials or facilities is prohibited.


Library staff are authorized to enforce this code, and to call for police assistance or contact a parent or guardian when necessary.  The Library reserves the right to revoke or restrict Library privileges in cases of violation of the code of conduct.  The Library also reserves the right to inspect personal belongings when the library security system alarm is activated.


Had I violated that “Code of Conduct”?  Not at all!  In fact, I was attempting to obtain one of those services, that is, information on Cox.  A thinking citizen ought to wonder what could happen and did happen to people in this country who didn’t break the law.  Authorities didn’t even need a valid, legal reason for expulsing someone like me from a public building.  Nevertheless, the incident actually left me feeling more elated than depressed.  Was it dissidence they hated so much?  My long white hair?  The lack of deference in my verb and tonality?  Was I doomed?  Of course, I was.  How could a thinking citizen not be doomed in a society like ours?  When back home, I emailed Library Director Leone E. Cole, Assistant Director Beverly Shank, and Head of Reference Ardis Francoeur, the woman who sought to have me expulsed, if not arrested and incarcerated.  I emailed them in the hope of assuring that the no-trespass order would indeed be written and sent.  Without it, who would believe me? 

 

Doubtfully, you’d be interested in the other side of the incident that occurred at your library Thursday, but one never knows, miracles do happen… or so they say.  Thus, I include my account below in detail, transcribed from my recorder and memory.  It now forms part of the larger essay I’ve written on my uphill battle trying to get local libraries to subscribe to the periodical I founded and edit.  Doubtfully, you’ll take the time to read it, but one never knows, miracles do happen.  It is, after all, much easier for you to simply accuse, find guilty without trial, and issue a no-trespass order as punishment.  How odd, at least to me, that such things can and do actually occur regarding public spaces in America.  BTW, I’ve perused your “Code of Conduct” and note I did not transgress it. Feel free to request a copy of the entire essay.  I’d be delighted to share it with you via email.  Finally, if in fact, I do not receive your no-trespass order, I will make it a point to come to your library again and talk to Ms. Francoeur.
           
Not one of them responded to the email.  Not one of them wished to discuss the matter.  No due process whatsoever was offered me.  My Internet search also resulted in my discovering Francoeur’s website, hosted by “Global Librarians Organizing.  Bringing together those creating, organizing, & distributing knowledge worldwide.”  Moreover, Francoeur kept a rather puerile webblog, which reminded me of the rather limited intellectual capacity I had dealt with: 


I mentioned earlier that both kitties took to the litter box right away, with no problems.  Well, scratch that (ha! see what I did there?)  there have been a few problems, all with Georgia. She doesn't cover her droppings.  This isn't a huge issue, but it is a smelly one.  She likes to pee right near the edge of the box, and she tracks stuff around: litter, poop.


So many citizens abhorred the exchange of different ideas and vigorous debate.  Instead, they wanted and needed to inhabit safe havens, where accountability and criticism were all but absent.  So many of them were caught in a child’s mentality—full grown adults running to complain to mommy or daddy whenever someone challenged them!  I’ve seen college professors behave like that! 


Five days after the Watertown incident, I received the order of no-trespass.  In it, Watertown Free Public Library Director Leone E. Cole, like a fascist court judge, determined my guilt and punished me accordingly:  “You are hereby forbidden from entering the above mentioned location for the period November 13, 2008 through February 13, 2009.”  She did not offer the possibility of recourse where I could contest her assertions (i.e., due process).  Like a fascist court judge, she was entirely disinterested in hearing my point of view.  Should I return to the library on February 14th, Valentine’s Day, to speak to her and the head of reference?  Would I dare have the nerve to do that?  After all, her decree served to have a distinct chilling effect on my exercise of free speech in her public library fiefdom.  Interestingly, the following comment, signed Ernest, appeared regarding my blog on the incident:  

 

"I am a Watertown tax payer and library patron. With out exception, I have received nothing but polite, courteous, and effective service from Ms. Francouer and all the other staff in her department."

 

Later, the following comment, signed Firecracker H20, appeared:   

 

Back to the topic: I am a frequent user of the Watertown Library. I know this "new" librarian known as Ardis. She showed up about the time the new building opened up. She has NO customer service skills. I have seen and heard her be rude and cruel to any one who is old, dressed differently, may have difficulty understanding her or someone she decides she does not like for any reason (but not obvious to the observer as to why). She likes to throw her weight around - too much power for a big frog in a small pond syndrome.

As for your contact with Ardis, your tone did have a defensive attitude. (Maybe after your last few experiences in libraries, it is understandable) but Ardis over reacted! It could have been handled better on so many levels. I don't think she would benefit from a class on customer service because she is one of the entitled group - entitled not to have to deal with anyone she does not like - and that is most of Watertown. I think she still has her job because her supervisors are not paying attention to how she treats the people. I know some people have complained about her but the bosses ignore it - maybe it is too much work to fire her and find someone new. Most anyone would be better. And with the employment market like it is, you'd think they could find a better librarian who has customer service skills. Someone who actually likes people.

If I were you, I would contact American Library Association. They are proponents of free speech. They would probably be interested in how you were treated. They would not guarantee libraries would buy your material but at least you should be treated with respect. That means a honest hearing where no one is prejudged and would be listened to when presenting the "other side" of a situation. I did not hear you threaten anyone, nor did I see anyone upset except Ardis and then you. Nor have I seen you in the library before but then as much as I am there, it is not 24/7. I want to see what you write about after you contact ALA. You might also write an article for ALA about library censorship before topics are provided to the public from the author's point of view. Libraries are so proud of the lack of censorship in their building but obviously this is not true in Watertown, Waltham or other libraries you visited - all very liberal with no or little conservatism allowed, so the whole populace is not served, only those who think like the librarians who have the privilege of using the purchasing power.

Good luck in tying to get justice at the Watertown Library, it is limited to young hip women who Ardis and her posse like.

The no-trespass order [see below] offered no supportive evidence whatsoever of the claims made against me.  Evidently, evidence was not necessary in a makeshift fascist court!  The order was replete with prevarication, including "disrupting patrons' use of library with inappropriate remarks and behavior."  Patrons seemed not at all perturbed by, let alone even aware of, the brief discussion I had with the two librarians.  "Threatening remarks to staff" were never made.  Francoeur was simply a liar.  Besides, what precise “inappropriate remarks and behavior” and threats were made?  No mention at all was indicated in the order.  A thinking citizen would have to wonder just how many citizens might have spent a day or more in jail for similar unproven accusations.  As for the "general disturbance" allegation, few patrons were even in the area and, as mentioned, I had not prohibited the movement of anyone, hollered or even cussed.  Not one patron showed up to complain that he or she was being disturbed.  Not one single SHH had been uttered!  The cop who arrested me in Concord for having had a minor, nonviolent dispute with a Walden Pond park ranger a decade ago also used the argument that I was disturbing people, though no people were even present during the alleged disturbance and no witnesses to back the false accusation ever appeared at my court trial.  The judge dismissed the case, reprimanded me because the court had “better things to do,” but did not of course reprimand the cop who was earning double-time for appearing in court.  

 

A thinking citizen ought to wonder just how often similar occurrences took place in America and what precisely constituted a "general disturbance," if not free speech itself.  The term was so sufficiently vague that it could be applied to anyone at the whim of anybody… and thus could on a whim annul free speech and expression.  To say the least, it was not constitutionally sound, but not all citizens had quick access to pro-bono constitutional lawyers to challenge its evocation.  Indeed, relatively few of us did.  So, most of us would simply have to keep our mouths shut and avoid exercising our supposed First Amendment rights in, for example public libraries, public parks, and public schools and universities.  It cost the library $5.32 to send the no-trespass order by certified mail.  It could have instead saved that money, added another $14, and subscribed to The American Dissident in an effort to help educate its easily disturbed patrons and librarians.  But the principles of the principle-less would never have permitted such a thing. 


After that Watertown experience, I continued on my way to Boston, wondering how many people were sitting in jail cells for doing nothing wrong with the exception of having questioned and challenged the etiquette of the day. 


“Can I get you to subscribe to this?” I asked the obese woman at the circ desk at Brighton Public Library.  “No!” she said robotically.  “Can I get you to purchase this book?” I asked.  “No!” she snapped.  Zero interest.  Zero curiosity.  Some librarian!  Not wanting to risk yet another encounter with law enforcement, at least not for the day, I left it at that and didn’t respond.  Besides, it formed a good conclusion to the day’s biblio-quest. 


Finally, I ended up painting a watercolor, “Plate #7, Index Librorum Prohibitorum,” as part of my series, “Democracy.”  It was fashioned after the painting, “Galileo before the Inquisitor,” featuring Mr. Black as the inquisitor, myself as Galileo, and inscribing Library Journal on the inquisitor’s chair and College of Saint Rose on a table.  Also, I sent an email to Anna Katterjohn (Library Journal Book Review), mentioning what had occurred.  She never responded.  Upon completion of the watercolor, I scanned it in and sent it with this essay to 17 Library Journal associates, suggesting the latter publish the watercolor and essay under the journal’s “Intellectual Freedom” rubric.  Not one of them ever responded.  Later, I sent the essay to 45 American Library Association associates, including those attached to Choice Magazine, as well as to 15 English and seven Communications faculty at the College of Saint Rose.  Not one of them ever responded.  Black, however, did respond.  Since I’d sent the essay to his college email address, instead of to his Library Journal address, it was not automatically “spam foldered.”  He responded because I’d sent the essay to some of his colleagues.  He probably thought perhaps one or several would respond.  But why should they have cared about the subtle censorship effected by one of their own to dismiss a bothersome critic?  On the contrary, they’d likely be delighted.  Black wrote: 

 

The reason you and your magazine are ignored is because your arguments are poorly constructed, you show very little understanding of others’ legitimate points of view, and you are filled with contempt for your subjects.

 

Black, of course, failed to illustrate his criticism with a concrete example of just one of my purportedly “poorly constructed” arguments.  His modus operandi is that of so many academics:  direct and indirect ad hominem.  Shouldn’t we expect more from the educated?  How facile to dismiss criticism by labeling the critic “filled with contempt.”  Black then made a thinly-disguised, self-congratulatory statement that only a person entirely unaccountable could possibly have issued:  


It’s really too bad, because balancing the needs of collection development with avoiding censorship is a difficult and serious issue, and perspectives from the alternative press are important in the ongoing conversation about that issue in ALA and in the library community as a whole. There has in fact been at least one good scholarly study in the library literature on the issue of alternative publications in libraries, which concluded that the alternative press should be better represented in collections. But for the reasons I’ve listed, your essay is not going to be taken seriously by anyone familiar with the practical difficulties of following the ALA Bill of Rights within limited budgets and shelf space.

 

Also, I sent the essay to the editor of Journal of Information Ethics, Robert Hauptman, who’d published an essay of mine in the past.  His response was simple:  “It is a personal diatribe based on a limited experience at a limited institution. It is not publishable.”  When I brought to his attention that dismissing all the arguments in the essay by simply calling it “diatribe” was akin to vacuous ad hominem rhetoric, he argued:  “A diatribe is an aggressive talk or lecture or essay that insists very vehemently on a point caring little about counter-arguments or even fairness.  For me it is not a pejorative term.”  Well, Websters.com defines it as “a bitter, sharply abusive denunciation, attack, or criticism.”  How can an intelligent person possibly argue that “diatribe” is not a pejorative term?  By the way, one of the arguments in the librarian essay was clear and entirely avoided by that editor:  the free speech of a citizen was truncated on the whim of a librarian in a public space without due process.  To any responsible citizen in a democracy, that fact ought to be pertinent.  To that editor, however, it was simply a “diatribe.”  Besides, reality is based on single such experiences and, more importantly, never did I even remotely suggest all librarians behaved thusly.  Just the same, rotten eggs, like that particular librarian, should be exposed, not condoned via indifference.  Later, while hunting for a photo for a cartoon, I discovered that the editor in question was a retired academic librarian!


Collection development versus censorship was indeed “a difficult and serious issue.”  However, Black possessed the answer to resolving it, a simple and very predictable one:  Dismiss those publications failing to manifest the right established-order tone and aesthetics with facile ad hominem and/or silence.  Perhaps many librarians, including Black, Francoeur and Hauptman, as well as ALA staff members, are in grave need of spending a month or more in an ALA reeducation camp because they behave not as selectors, but as censors.  They certainly do not begin “with a presumption in favor of liberty of thought”!  Again, I urge the ALA to work to resolve the impractical aspects of its “Library Bill of Rights.”   Sadly, as mentioned, not one of the roughly 40 ALA executives and staff workers I sent this essay to deigned respond.  They’ve chosen to ignore my plea… and the very needs of democracy.  Again, I’d like to thank the few librarians I’ve met over the years who, unlike those ALA execs and staffers, actually believe in the “Library Bill of Rights.” 

......................................................

 

Watertown Free Public Library
Ardis Francoeur......................................................................................................

 

The American Library Association hosts "Banned Books Week."  It would be interesting if it not only showcased banned books, but also the librarians and ALA members who banned them.  It ought to also open the exhibit to banned periodicals.  Lawrence Ferlinghetti  makes a brouhaha out of Banned Books Week, but fails to showcase the books and periodicals he's banned from City Lights Bookstore

 

The ALA "Library Bill of Rights," which figures below, is a noble statement, but it seems many librarians, including ALA staff and members do not really think so, for they do not even attempt to heed it.  Below the statement is part of the long essay I wrote decrying the situation as I've personally observed it. Contact me if you'd like to read the whole thing.  The essay was sent to about 50 ALA staff, Office for Intellectual Freedom staff, Booklist staff, Choice Magazine staff, 17 Library Journal staff, and others, not one of whom in the spirit of vigorous debate, cornerstone of democracy, deigned to respond.

 

American Library Association's "Library Bill of Rights"

Yet the American Library Association affirms that all libraries are forums for information and ideas, and that the following basic policies should guide their services.


I.    Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.
II.   Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.
III.  Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.
IV.  Libraries should cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to ideas.
V.   A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.
VI.  Libraries which make exhibit spaces and meeting rooms available to the public they serve should make such facilities available on an equitable basis, regardless of the beliefs or affiliations of individuals or groups requesting their use.
Adopted June 18, 1948.  Amended February 2, 1961, and January 23, 1980, inclusion of “age” reaffirmed January 23, 1996, by the ALA Council.