I've been an [American Library Association] member since 1973, but with several interruptions, when I just couldn't stand it anymore. What brought me back each time was [the Social Responsibilities Round Table], of course, and colleagues like you: raucous, uncontrollable, outspoken, passionate folks who really want to make libraries -- and the world -- a little bit better, a little bit fairer, and a lot more fun. For everyone. People who could all be comfortable wearing this modest button with the simple inscription: "Joyfully Subversive."
In January 1997, I submitted five "professional concerns" when running for ALA council. They remain my primary concerns, and perhaps yours, too:
* Enlarge "intellectual freedom" efforts to include opposition to economic censorship (like media monopolization and the chain superstore threat to independent booksellers and small presses); frank recognition, at least, of library censorship (e.g. the failure to select visual erotica, zines, labor materials, small press fiction and poetry, and graphic novels); and support for library staff to ' express their views on professional and policy matters without fear of reprisal.
* Stop and reverse the increasing commercialization of libraries and of ALA itself, which threatens the very soul of the profession: its commitment to genuine openness, diversity, and neutrality. (Among other things, this means ensuring the libraries are spaces or refuges free from hype and otherwise incessant sales pitches.)
* Expand and simplify access to library resources for poor, unemployed, and homeless people, in part by energetically implementing ALA's "Poor People's Policy." (Locally, this also involves abolishing fines when their major purpose is to generate revenue, not to get the books back, and avoiding fee-based services -- like bestseller rental programs -- that are predicated solely on the ability to pay.)
* Foster greater democracy within both ALA and library workplaces, combating such traditional management and mystery cult practices as hierarchy, paternalism, elitism, and secrecy; encouraging library unionization as a means of real empowerment, a way to create countervailing power; and unmasking the latest versions of Taylorism and TQM as frequently manipulative and wasteful frauds and fads. (In this context, that ubiquitous maxim, "Question Authority," might be modified to: "Question Managerial Prerogatives.")
* Maintain and dignify such activities as collection development and cataloging as "core functions" best performed in-house rather than outsourced.
I'd now like to add another item, related to the shibboleth about libraries being "bulwarks of democracy":
* Proactively foment and facilitate public policy debates on timely issues through programs, resource lists, and displays. (How many libraries have done this, for instance, regarding classism or poor-bashing, corporate welfare, economic democracy, and corporate power? These are not even LC-sanctioned subject headings!)
So what should libraries be?
+ Equally accessible to everyone
+ Dynamic sources of all kinds of information and ideas, available in a setting free of hucksterism
+ Open places, where rules and policies emerge from unfettered, transparent discussion among users and staff
I honestly don't think that's too much to ask. Do you?
Solveig Nilsen wrote this proclamation, delivered June 12, 1999:
Superlatives, even lots of them strung together, seem inadequate for the task of saying what we want to say to you. You're such a Big Man; it's hard to find big enough words. But there is an analogy that fits. For many of us May Day is the favorite holiday of the year, celebrating as it does both the red and the green aspects of life. It's a high point of the year. You're the high point of another sphere. So here goes:
As May Day is to the physical world, So you are, Sanford Berman, to the library world.
We Thank You
For Your Outrageous Insubordination,
Which is, of course, another way of saying Passionate Commitment,
In the Service of the Highest Ideals of providing for People,
All The People,
As Much of the Time as Humanly Possible,
The Kind of Access and Service Everyone Needs and Deserves
And for Teaching us in the Best Possible Way,
By Doing It Yourself
Right in Front of Us
In Full View
With Full Explanations of Why and How
And for Being the Sweetest Most Attentive Friend at the Same Time
And for Keeping On Working
On and On
For Years and Years
When Many Others Retreated to Comfortable Backwaters & Quiet Cubicles
And Gave up Being Passionate and Committed
For Fearlessness and Idealism and Focus in the Cause
We Thank You
June 16, 1999
Sandy Berman, former Head Cataloger at the Hennepin County Library (HCL), was recognized recently for his 26 years as an activist librarian in staff). The award cites Berman's "many years of passionate service to the diverse patrons of the library world" and expresses "gratitude for his generous leadership, guidance and inspiration to us, his colleagues". In the future, the award will be given to HCL staff members who "make unique and invaluable contributions to humanity through their work in Hennepin County Library".
In 1990 Berman accepted the John Sessions Memorial Award on behalf of HCL, for his significant library work with the labor community. He has also been individually honored with the Honeywell Project Anniversary Award for Peace and Justice (1988), the American Library Association Equality Award (1989), the Carey McWilliams Award for "outstanding scholarly work relating to the U.S. experience of Multiculturalism" (1994), and the Downs Intellectual Freedom Award (1996).
For further information: Jan DeSirey, Secretary, Local 2864 (612-694-8644)
From: berman, sandy
Sent: Sunday, April 25, 1999 1:25 PM
To: ALMOST ALL MAIL USERS
Dear HCL Colleagues and Friends: I am resigning from HCL employment effective 6-10-99 and will be on leave until then. My intention had been to retire in two-and-a-half years, but recent events have forced an earlier retirement. To be candid: I refuse to submit to any further muzzling, punishment, and humiliation. It has been a genuine honor --over the past 26 years--to work both with and for such a skilled, devoted, and caring staff. To all of you (with only a few exceptions): GOOD LUCK! sandy berman
Related information is available inLibrary Juice 2:9, Library Juice 2:16, and a special supplement on Berman's resignation .
"Long before e-mail, Internet, talking computers and jolly jargon, Sandy Berman was out there doing his best to link the world... In his elevating concern about fairness, Sandy has reconstructed the meaning of a good librarian. His wit and hard-hitting polemics, whether they be for political, racial, sexual, or ethnic causes have enforced the idea of librarian as activist. All he asks, proposes, and laments about us the need for self-esteem and for hammering out and expanding the role of libraries... His thoughtful, irascible, and idealistic message supports us all-each and every one, Three cheers for Sandy [who] makes me, for one, proud to be a librarian." --Bill Katz, Foreword, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sandy Berman but Were Afraid to Ask (McFarland, 1995)
"According to longstanding common knowledge, suburban Minneapolis-based Hennepin County Library (HCL) is a beacon of light in libraryland. Among large public library systems it has been considered preeminent for noble policies, innovative programs, and ultramodern wonderfulness in general.... Utopian visions of 'Sandynistas' given carte blanche to produce what some have called the 'Hennepin County Whole Earth Catalog' are unrealistic at best, however.
While Head Cataloger Sandy Berman has garnered outside acclaim for challenging biased subject headings and establishing straightforward alternatives, his work at HCL has been perhaps more tumultuous than idyllic. Depending on which insider you talk to, his history there has been either that of a problem employee or one who has spent a career resisting administration-by-threat and draconian policy-making." --Chris Dodge, from "Troubled Waters," Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sandy Berman but Were Afraid to Ask
Date: Sun, 25 Apr 1999 14:06:26 (CDT)
From: Sandy Berman
To: ALA Council List
Subject: Re: Rosenzweig Resolution/Petition - S. Berman
What follows is the truth... I was never consulted about the reassignment announced to me (and everyone else) last Monday morning. My instruction: to immediately occupy a vacant office remote from Tech Services the next morning. I asked if that meant I would no longer supervise the catalogers or perform cataloging. The unequivocal answer: Yes. A local labor lawyer describes this all-too-common management tactic as a means to inflict punishment and humiliation, ultimately leading to resignation. That is exactly what happened. Since I refuse to submit to further debasement and frankly can no longer tolerate the nonstop deception perpetrated by HCL management, I am now on leave until 6-10-99, at which time I begin a retirement two-and-a-half years sooner than I had planned or intended. Think of this sad sequence as merely an "internal personnel matter" or view it as another instance of squelching workplace speech & imposing a ruthless "Business model" on a public institution ostensibly dedicated to openness, service, and equity. See you in New Orleans. For the last time. From a place of blossoming magnolia, scylla, & daffodils... sandy berman
Date: Sun, 25 Apr 1999 14:37:32 (CDT)
From: Sandy Berman
To: ALA Council List
Subject: Re: Personnel matters in Council
....For the record: the only matter I personally brought to Council for action was an amendment to the Library Bill of Rights encouraging workplace free speech. I was initially "disciplined" for expressing my views on certain cataloging issues to professional colleagues & coworkers.
For protesting that discipline publicly, I was last Monday exiled to fulltime perdition. Maybe distant Council members don't understand what's going down here, but the HCL staff definitely does, one coworker (not a cataloger) reportedly declaring this week in a staff meeting that from now on she'd better be careful what she says on the job or she might end up writing manuals for the rest of her career. Over 65 staffers protested the reprimand in a recent statement.
Others have submitted individual letters. Seldom do they receive a coherent or substantive reply... Weeks ago I was directly invited by a staff group to discuss upcoming changes & issues with them. The next day I was disinvited by my immediate supervisor without ever talking to me about it in advance... Not long before that, OCLC directly requested MY comments & corrections on the text of an article scheduled for the Jan/Feb OCLC NEWSLETTER.
I immediately FAXed corrections & emendations concerning solely those passages explicitly dealing with me and HCL cataloging (the article announced HCL's membership). The next day my immediate supervisor phoned OCLC, telling them to ignore my corrections & additions. Naturally, she NEVER consulted me. How did I find out about the censoring? By phoning OCLC to inquire if my FAX had arrived safely... You folks beginning to get the picture? sandy berman
Talking the Talk and Walking the Walk: What Libraries Say They Do but Frequently Don't (A talk available via Real Audio)
4400 Morningside Rd.
Edina, MN 55416 USA