Friday, June 16, 2006

Imagine that, getting fired for doing your work

The story of the library director's firing at Gwinnett County, GA has been picked up by a good segment of the blogosphere's library sector. That is usually my cue to stay as far away from it as I can. In fact, initially I was just going to let it be. However, I started thinking about it, and I have been drafting for a couple of days. The fact seems to be that the board fired their director in a very public way for basically doing her job. It is not something to stay silent about, and I can only hope that if that board is elected, that in time they are all voted out. I also hope more in the profession denounce this. The more I read into the story, the more it concerns me. The situation is an example of what a politically-charged, close-minded minority that misuse the concept of "family values" to impose an oppressive agenda. By the way, this column by Jon Carroll, which recently appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle for March 20, 2006, makes an interesting point about the people who basically hijack the concept of "family values." Carroll was writing in the context of the American Family Association and their recent boycott threats to the Ford Motor Company over some ads. However, his writing on who really embraces family values is insightful. Here is a snippet:

"The people who hate America are the members of American Family Association and its ideological fellow travelers. They're the ones who do not believe that all people are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, and that among these rights are life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. They're the ones who believe that this country was founded on hate and fear; they're the ones who want the hate and fear to continue."

I have often wondered about this, people who claim to be all about "family values" who make it their national pastime to spread hate and fear, often in very dishonest ways. The particular group out there in Georgia seems to fill this bill nicely, unfortunately for the rest of the community.

Now, one of the group's grievances was the selection of award winning YA books. They use what can only be described as a sensationalist flyer to "expose" the presence of these objectionable books. Readers can visit the group's site here, but I am not linking to the flyer. Readers can see the flyer there. Now, I have a healthy respect for parental rights and duties. If you want to watch what your child reads, it is your right to do so with your kids. When you try to impose your views on the rest of the community, and you do so with hysterical rhetoric which is less than honest and clearly meant to be inflammatory, you lose that respect. What gives groups like that the right to pretend to know what I may or not allow my child to read? It looks like self-righteous arrogance, not to mention an usurpation of other parents' rights.

Then the group also feels slighted because the library bought popular materials in Spanish. Imagine that. On the other hand, given the artificially created anti-immigrant climate going around, maybe I should not be too surprised. Like Jane, of A Wandering Eyre, I do have to wonder if I am in the country I thought I was. We could cite Census data regarding the growing Hispanic population in the country; we could look at trends and factors that can help justify acquiring Spanish materials in public libraries. I could give you reasons why studying and being familiar with foreign languages, whether Spanish or say, Middle Eastern languages, may be important, and as a result, you may want to be acquiring such materials as well. But at the moment, that could be another post.

What concerns me at the end of the day, when all is said and done, is that the community in essence allowed the firing to occur. According to the article, a crowd of patrons was enraged about the decision. My question is this: where were those people earlier? While the small minority was sowing the seeds of discord, where was the rest of the community to support their director? What did they do to answer and counter the critics? Or maybe I am just an optimist. Maybe the "citizens for family friendly libraries" group does reflect the community as a whole. Yet the evidence points to the contrary, so I have to ask. At the end of the day, the small group may claim a victory, but the community as a whole loses. I wonder what kind of director that community will find down the road. Well, the ball is on their court for that.

As for me, that county is just a faraway place. It concerns me as a librarian and a professional. The message seems to be that if you are a progressive, forward-thinking librarian interested in catering to the community (as in providing popular works that actually circulate, for instance), and overall bringing the library into the 21st century, then you are not wanted here. Which makes me feel a bit like John Berry in his recent editorial for Library Journal for June 1, 2006 where he said "I'm Glad I'm Not a Director." For me, it's because I am not one for little political games. Brownnosing is not part of my repertoire. Let me be clear, if I think you are full of shit, I will be the one to tell you when everyone else just says you are just providing fertilizer. Add to this that I have no patience for little groups who operate, often behind the scenes, to move an agenda, particularly if it is an oppressive and hypocritical agenda that favors a few close-minded folks afraid of reality. A library, especially a public one, should be for all in the community, not just the "Friends" or the "concerned citizens." This is part of the reason I know I will probably never be in charge of anything. If I want to play games, I will turn on my PS2. Yet I know that odds are if I ever had a similar position, I would probably get myself fired as well, because I would rather do what is right that what is expediently correct. Ms. Pinder was able to say she did what was right. I can only hope if my turn comes, that I can do the same.

Here are some other library sector bloggers who have picked up on this, a sampling since the number may keep growing:

K.G Schneider sees it as a travesty.
Jessamyn West discusses the firing and has attracted some commentary.
LISNews picked up on the story, and there is some commentary there as well.
Even the political blog Daily Kos picked it up, labeling it as a witch hunt.

Update note (6/26/2006): Here's Marylaine Block's take, which she labels as a "Hostile Takeover."


waltc said...

Quick correction: It's Jon Carroll, no "h." Probably the best Chronicle columnist that the paper's always considered "too local" to syndicate. I'm a big fan and have been for decades. (I'm biased: back in college, Jon Carroll, then editor of UC Berkeley's humor magazine, told me that I didn't write funny. Saved me no end of grief and futile attempts!)

Angel, librarian and educator said...

Walt: Thanks for stopping by. I would have thought I caught that, but that is the nice thing about attentive readers, they catch the little things. I will make the correction to the post as well. As always, best and keep on blogging.

P.S. Too local? If the article I read is an indication, he does need to be "out there."