I just finished reading Books on Trial: Red Scare in the Heartland, by Shirley Wiegand and Wayne Wiegand. The book description on Amazon reads:
If you have an interest in any of the things listed above I highly recommend it.
Between the two major red scares of the twentieth century, a police raid on a Communist Party bookstore in Oklahoma City marked an important lesson in the history of American freedom. Shirley A. Wiegand and Wayne A. Wiegand share the compelling story of this important case for the first time. They reveal how state power--with support from local media and businesses--was used to trample individuals' civil rights during an era in which citizens were gripped by fear of foreign subversion.
Richly detailed and colorfully told, Books on Trial is a sobering story of innocent people swept up in the hysteria of their times. It marks a fascinating and unnerving chapter in the history of Oklahoma and of the First Amendment.
I was very interested to see all the different types of organizations which came out in support for and opposition to the defendants in the case. It seems a lot of individuals as well as groups were vocal and ranged in philosophy from the KKK to various worker's unions. But one group that was amazingly quiet during this period were librarians. And the Wiegands spelled it out that absence for those who didn't notice it, on pages 188-90:
Despite the potential impact of the cases on library services and collections, however, the nation's library community was noticeably silent. The American Library Association had approved a Library Bill of Rights in 1939, but had not yet mobilized efforts to combat censorship[...]
In the December issue of P.L.C. Bulletin (organ of the leftist Progressive Librarians Council), Ralph T. Esterquest, of Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study, expressed his surprise at how librarians seemed "unmoved by the fact that...fascist methods are today the official means of suppressing a free people" in Oklahoma[...]"Let us should to our readers,[...]Read-Read-Read! Fine out what the pygmy minds have forbidden you to know."
So what happened in the psyche of America's librarians that turned them into the anti-censorship-intellectual-freedom-beasts at which Esterquest hinted?
I tried to figure out an answer to this question a couple years ago when I was one of several librarians interviewed for a doctoral student's dissertation entitled, How government mandated policies affect those responsible for their implementation: the USA PATRIOT ACT and Academic Libraries. In fact prior to this reflection on the Wiegand's book I hadn't really thought about the dissertation or tried to track it down. As I told the researcher for the dissertation - there was a time when librarians, by and large, followed the loyalist line - regardless of what that line was, but my educated guess was World War II changed the hearts and minds of librarians and how they viewed their role in being vocal during times of book 'censorship', challenges and even a wider world of social injustices. After all WWII did that for a lot of people...
There are those who ask why should librarians and library groups make policies or public statements regarding topics outside the realm of librarianship or even why ALA goes full force regarding banned material. And they are good questions -- and ones I've found myself asking on occasion. I mean don't we have enough issues in libraries? Do we really need to go sticking our nose in other people's messes? Perhaps we are making up for lost time and for not speaking up in the past. Or because we are in a service field we are wanting help anyone we can in any way we can -- and at times it is just words of support.
I try very hard to keep my political/personal me away from the professional me - because I don't want to isolate anyone that I might be able to assist. However, reflecting on Books on Trial and reading through the dissertation for which I was interviewed has provided me with a resolution for this coming secular year.
I resolve to encourage friends, family and colleagues to more civic participation - regardless of what color their political affiliation (red/blue/neon green) -- because all that matters is that they participate and realize we all have a stake in it.
What do you think?