Wednesday, October 18, 2006

SRRT/PLG at the Joint Conference of Librarians of Color

October 18, 2006.
Dear SRRT {Social Responsibilities Round Table) and PLG (Progressive Librarian's Guild) members,

At last weekend’s Joint Conference of Librarians of Color in Dallas, SRRT
and PLG members spoke about “Librarians and Social Movements.” Kathleen de la Peña McCook, Isabel Espinal and I [Elaine Harger]spoke to a standing-room-only audience of around 100 people attending this first conference sponsored by ALA’s ethnic caucuses. Our presentations, focusing on the imperative need for 21st century librarians to engage in the social movements of today, were enthusiastically received and will be published in the conference

I provided background information on the origins of SRRT in the social
movements of the 1960s and ‘70s and of PLG’s in the 1980s, and described
how the professional is political whether or not librarians want to
acknowledge that fact. Kathleen spoke of our duty to defend the teaching
of reading in the wake of recent revelations that political agendas played
a greater role in doling out of grand funding in the Reading First program
than sound educational methodologies, and of the vital importance of union
activism. Isabel spoke pointedly of her trepidations as a Latina toward
becoming active in groups like SRRT and PLG. She spoke of feeling that
these groups were “too white” and not welcoming of her as a woman of
color. She went on, however, to describe how she joined both after
realizing that SRRT and PLG were taking on important political questions
often ignored by ALA and its caucuses. She concluded by encouraging
others to add their voices and experience to the table of the progressive
library community.

Many audience members voiced their support and thanked us for bringing our
message of “the professional is political” to the JCLC. Several spoke
with us individually during the conference saying they were so happy to
find colleagues who are concerned about the world, and using our expertise
as librarians to help inform library users about what is happening in the

The program seemed extremely timely. My impression was that many of our
colleagues are hungry for some real ways in which our skills can be used
to truly help people engage as members of a democracy. One audience
member asked if either SRRT or PLG were going to take on the issue of
informing people of the problems surrounding voting – machines that don’t
count votes, the removal of people from voter rolls, the use of scare
tactics to keep people from the polls.

We were, of course, not the only presenters which activist messages.
Pedro Reynoso, a PhD candidate at the University of Texas – Austin,
presented his ethnological research at a program entitled “Merging Public
Librarianship and Community Activism.” The intent of his research is to
document and describe the skills of librarians who use their positions to
advocate for their community’s interests. Clifton Griffin, the subject of
Reynoso’s research, was present at the program, and he described being
hired in 1970 to “oversee the demise” of East Austin’s “colored branch”
only to turn it into a vital part of the community. I asked Griffin if he
had the support of any professional associations in his work and he said
that he’d been a member of ALA for a couple years, but didn’t find it
helpful in his advocacy work.

Gary Colmenar, longtime SRRT and PLG member, suggested that the program be
presented next summer at ALA in Washington DC with more speakers – people
who are active in SRRT, PLG and one of the JCLC caucuses. Gary, for
instance, is active in APALA, the Asian/Pacific Librarians Association.
The idea being that the program could reach a much broader audience. JCLC
was sponsored by the American Indian Library Association (AILA), APALA,
the Black Caucus of ALA (BCALA), the Chinese-American Library Association,
and REFORMA (the National Association to Promote Library and Information
Services to Latinos and the Spanish Speaking). Both Kathleen and Isabel
are very active in REFORMA, and we all thought Gary’s suggestion was

There were also several library school students present including Lana
Thelen, of the PLG chapter in Boston, who organized a lunch get-together
of PLG, SRRT, Radical Reference and other assorted activists and

This is a quick report. Isabel and Kathleen, and everyone else who was
there, please add your take on the conference. I am so thankful that
Kathleen pushed me to send in a program proposal. What we do in SRRT
and PLG is something people are looking for. We need to reach out to
many more of our colleagues than we have.

In solidarity,

Elaine Harger
Snoqualmie WA 98065

"Society is like a stew. If you don't keep it stirred up,
you get a lot of scum on top." Edward Abbey

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