Librarians silenced at CLA conference

Day of Action volunteers talk to a delegate after being asked to leave the CLA conference area

In 2008 at the CAUT LIbrarians conference in Ottawa, Toni Samek spoke about how librarians – the people who fight for freedom of expression for society as a whole – rarely enjoy freedom of expression themselves. Her talk focused on workplace speech but the experience of several active and retired librarians at the recent Canadian Librarian Association (CLA) conference in Ottawa went beyond restrictions on workplace speech; librarians were silenced at their own conference for trying to raise awareness of the current challenges to Library and Archives (LAC.)

In the months leading up to the CLA conference, major budget cuts were announced at the Library and Archives Canada as well as at many federal libraries. In response, CAUT launched a campaign called Save LAC. By sharing information on the CAUT Librarians’ and other library list-servs, readers were informed of the drastic reductions in service and / or closure of libraries funded by the federal government. Librarians, in support of the LAC and federal libraries and opposed to the service and budget cuts, informally banded together and created a National Day of Action on May 31st, 2012.

Part of the activities of the Day of Action included a group of a dozen volunteers (many of them retired LAC employees) promoting a white shirt / black ribbon campaign at the CLA national conference and trade show. May 31st was selected as the Day of Action since Daniel Caron, Canada’ sNational “Librarian” was to make a keynote speech at the conference, as well as present during a Question and Answer session later that afternoon. Of the group passing out ribbons, only two were registered delegates at the conference; the rest were concerned or retired librarians wanting to raise awareness of the impact of the cuts. They talked to delegates, handed out leaflets and answered questions.

Many conference delegates gladly accepted the leaflet and ribbons for about 20 minutes, when one registered delegate, conference speaker and Action Day volunteer was told by Kelly Moore, Executive Director of CLA that giving out information regarding the cuts to the LAC was “inappropriate.” In addition to handing out ribbons, the librarian and a colleague had placed CAUT “Save LAC” bookmarks on the seats of chairs in the room where the keynote was to be held. They were told to stop, that the conference was “not the right venue” for the activity, and were asked to leave the 3rd floor of the Ottawa Congress Centre – despite being registered delegates of the conference. Downstairs, on the 2nd level, volunteers continued to hand out ribbons and information. But within minutes, Moore had two security guards remove the librarians and banish them to the street level of the Congress Centre and away from the conference delegates. The official reason given was that the Day of Action volunteers were not registered for the conference. But in fact, even the two librarians who were official delegates were asked to leave. (They were re-admitted later).

What does it mean when librarians are physically removed from a library conference for circulating information regarding library funding? And, what does it mean when the national library association in this country is the body removing them?

Before answering these questions, consider CLA’s official position on Intellectual freedom:

  • All persons in Canada have the fundamental right, as embodied in the nation’s Bill of Rights and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, to have access to all expressions of knowledge, creativity and intellectual activity, and to express their thoughts publicly. This right to intellectual freedom, under the law, is essential to the health and development of Canadian society.
  • Libraries have a basic responsibility for the development and maintenance of intellectual freedom.
  • It is the responsibility of libraries to guarantee and facilitate access to all expressions of knowledge and intellectual activity, including those which some elements of society may consider to be unconventional, unpopular or unacceptable. To this end, libraries shall acquire and make available the widest variety of materials.
  • It is the responsibility of libraries to guarantee the right of free expression by making available all the library’s public facilities and services to all individuals and groups who need them.
  • Libraries should resist all efforts to limit the exercise of these responsibilities while recognizing the right of criticism by individuals and groups.
  • Both employees and employers in libraries have a duty, in addition to their institutional responsibilities, to uphold these principles.

To answer the questions above in light of CLA’s statement on Intellectual Freedom, removing librarians from a library conference for wanting to educate their peers about budget cuts to the National Library and to other federal libraries amounts to silencing. It is censorship and it emphasizes Toni Samek’s point made in 2008 that librarians themselves have no protection against those who would silence and censor an opinion that is different from opinions held by those in positions of authority and power. Librarians tasked in our universities, colleges and societies with the protection of free speech and freedom of expression in its many forms, do not themselves share in the benefits of our own advocacy efforts.

In response to the question of being silenced by the national library association, it means something that has been obvious to many librarians for many years; librarians perceive the current version of CLA as uninterested in the well-being or working conditions of librarians but is instead concerned with the protection of a handful of library administrators – its Executive Director included.

The CLA has been desperate for years to increase its membership; to revitalize itself and to be relevant to librarians who largely ignore those pleas. In a recent discussion on the CAUT librarians list-serv, several comments are revealing:

  • “Years ago CLA had a committee called the Committee of Professional Concerns. I was a member of it.  CLA disbanded the committee after 3 years, the rationale being that CLA did not concern itself with issues such as the working conditions of librarians. It was all about libraries.”
  • “this issue (a discussion about the current state of librarianship and professionalism and labour relations) is precisely why I take issue with CLA’s role and lack of leadership – there is apparently no room for these discussions and debates to occur at an official level (perhaps such topics are deemed to controversial?).”
  • “The old conundrum returns as it has for many years… it’s the Canadian Library Association and NOT the Librarians’ Association as are most other Associations. This is why many years ago we formed AALO (Association of Academic Librarians of Ontario)  for a few years and IPLO (Institute of Professional Librarians). Both are defunct for various reasons but they did have a purpose and that was to support Librarians.”

If there is a take away from this story, it has to be that CLA is hypocritical and afraid. Just because a keynote speaker is controversial is no reason to silence the controversy. If anything, it just adds fuel to the fire. Indeed, as the volunteers were breaking up, they were also planning on renting a van and heading en masse to Mr. Caron’s next keynote at the International Association of Music Libraries, Archives and Documentation Centres’ conference in Montreal (July 22-27, 2012). Caron will be speaking as part of a panel on Monday, July 23rd at 9:00 a.m. called “Libraries: A force for change.” If I’m not mistaken, there are still some ribbons left.

50 thoughts on “Librarians silenced at CLA conference

  1. Thank you for this post. I had not heard about these events and this news makes me even more glad I did not renew my CLA membership this year.
    The CLA’s hypocrisy is shameful and, as you note, highlights the need for an professional organization representing librarians and other information specialists.

  2. Pingback: Library Juice » Censorship at Canadian Library Association Conference – Librarians Expelled by Security Guards for Leafletting

  3. Why are we talking about “other library associations.” Rather than focusing on other library associations that were not mentioned, how about addressing the real issue. LAC, the repository for our printed heritage is in the process of being destroyed and the Executive Director of CLA is censoring those trying to bring the issues to light. Devote your energy to stopping this outrage.

    • It is ironic considering that CLA made a show of its letter to Minister James Moore in support of LAC only a few short weeks ago. I suspect that CLA is comfortable with certain “safe” forms of protest, but nothing that might come across as grassroots or uncontrolled.

      • You are probably right Jennifer. They may be doing what they think is “Safe”. If that is their motivation, all I can say is that they are delusional to think that by being quiet on this issue that the federal government will be kind to libraries in the future. Bullies only respect effective push back. Failure to stand up to an assault on a major service that supports Canadian’s information needs and serves as a major Canadian Heritage institution will only encourage more cuts.
        LAC will only be the beginning. This government is anti-knowledge (witness cuts to research institutions, cuts to LAC, elimination of the Long-Form Census, hiring people to follow Federal Scientists to conferences to make sure they do not say anything controversial, etc.)

        CLA may think that hunkering down and being quiet is the best we can hope for. What abysmal leadership in the midst of a war on knowledge.

    • Interesting comment. On Monday May 28th, about 150 NADP supporters, as part of the On To Ottawa Trek, held a funeral on the steps of the LAC and then proceeded inside the building to further protest cuts to the program. As far as I know, no one was asked to leave the premises – not even by Daniel Caron.

  4. You raise some excellent points concerning freedom of information, expression and access to knowledge. People have lost sight of some basic principles about our profession.

  5. Pingback: Librarians are silenced at CLA – Are we losing sight of the basic principles underlying our profession? | University of Toronto Academic Librarians

  6. This is just another horror story coming from CLA. As a younger professional I see my past classmates leave the CLA in droves, and I wish that I could get back into the university library if only to be represented by CAUT.

    I’ve also asked the CLA to post their Executive Council meeting minutes online in an attempt at transparency, but no one replied to me from CLA.

    It is just sad, because when I was in school the organization seems to hold all my brightest mentors, but as I grow older it becomes less relevant to me and my professional life.

  7. Pingback: Librarians silenced at CLA conference « Subject/Object

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  9. Four years ago CLA supported the following session — the irony is too great!

    Inside Talk: Freedom of Speech in the Library Workplace
    Thursday, May 22, 2008

    Speakers: Maurice Freedman, Kathleen de la Peňa McCook, Sam Trosow, Paul Whitney

    Convened by: Toni Samek

    What are library and information workers talking about on the job? Whose voices are coming through the library channels? To what extent is self-censorship or inside censorship a common practice? What is and is not acceptable when librarians participate in citizen journalism that criticizes employers in the blogosphere? And in a professional community that holds intellectual freedom so dear, why did the ALA see the need to adopt a 2005 Resolution on Workplace Speech which states:

    “Libraries should encourage discussion among library workers, including library administrators, of non-confidential professional and policy matters about the operation of the library and matters of public concern within the framework of applicable laws?”

    Should the CLA adopt a sister-resolution? And what about our library administrations? The pros and cons of resolutions on workplace speech for library institutions are up for debate with panelists Kathleen de la Peňa McCook, Sam Trosow, and Paul Whitney, who will discuss just what resolutions on workplace speech might look like and mean for the CLA, library administrations, and Canadian library and information work in the 21st century. Audience participation is highly encouraged in this timely, reflective look inside our very own institutional culture. Organized by the CLA’s Advisory Committee on Intellectual Freedom.

    Learning Outcomes:
    -What is “workplace speech” in the context of library institutions?
    -What is the history and context of ALA’s 2005 Resolution on Workplace Speech?
    -The pros and cons of adopting sister statements in the context of the daily-life, recruitment, and retention of Canadian LIS workers in the 21st century.

    Toni Samek
    Convenor, CLA’s Advisory Committee on Intellectual Freedom
    Associate Professor & Graduate Coordinator
    School of Library & Information Studies, Faculty of Education, University of Alberta

    • Thank you for this. It’s relevant with respect to what happened yesterday and more broadly. I spoke with one of the Day of Action volunteers this evening who told me that several librarians would not accept the ribbons being handed out at the conference because they work at LAC. Clearly, protection of freedom of expression in terms of the workplace is seriously lacking at LAC and probably in many other libraries.

  10. Right on, Jennifer and all the others who tried to raise awareness at CLA. I cannot imagine why CLA took this position. Beyond disappointing.

  11. I was always appalled at the lack of action on the part of CLA when it came to freedom of expression. I joined ALA and found them to be a much more proactive organization. When librarians were fighting for pay equity and I wanted to write an article for Feliciter, I was told that it was anot an appropriate subject. The letter sent to M. Caron abnout the cuts was grovellung and pitiful in comparison to letters sent by the Council of Canadian Archives and OLA. Cowardly is a polite term I would use to describe CLA’s position on just about everything.

  12. The same reason that Ontario librarians have their own professional association is why the vigourous librarians` interest group flourishes in Québec, even though there have been associations, too, for libraries in Québec. The Corporation des bibliothécaires professionnels du Québec actively represents librarians` interest rather that those of libraries and their administrators.

  13. The Canadian Library Association believes in promulgating fact.

    So let me clarify.

    No registered delegates were asked to leave, to stop placing bookmarks, or to stop handing out materials.

    Non-registered people were respectfully asked to move outside the CLA conference space. They were still able to distribute their materials within the convention centre.

    Karen Adams
    President, Canadian Library Association

    • “But in fact, even the two librarians who were official delegates were asked to leave.”

      I wonder if anyone personally involved, particularly these two librarians, would care to comment.

  14. This is all very interesting… I have always felt that CLA could do a better job of connecting with both its members and its potential members. While being at the conference, I can attest that the issues are more complex than what is presented here. No matter, I find it unfortunate that we have missed an important point. Although we can try to protest the erosion of our cultural heritage and access to information, we have done a piss poor job at getting our communities to understand the value of what we do and the value of in institutions like LAC. To those outside of our profession, much of our rants look like self serving exercises. Particularly when people struggle to understand why they can’t find consistent healthcare, jobs, and affordable housing.

    We needed to be more active a long time ago about what we do and the principles that guide us. This should be a lesson that empowers us to communicate better with our communities and do something to CHANGE what we don’t like about OUR associations rather than just pissing all over them. Get involved in them rather than being backseat critics. Otherwise, you help no one.

    • Christina,
      One of the main reasons I chose to try and raise awareness of the cuts at LAC is because in my professional position, I represent the interests of historians at the University of Ottawa. Many professors wore white shirts and black ribbons that day, although they were not at the conference. They are shocked at the cuts to LAC and to federal libraries. Many of them have graduate students using the LAC and the federal libraries, whose work is potentially in jeopardy – especially those who use documents at Citizenship and Immigration and Transport Canada. Do not assume that the wider community is not aware – in this case, I would argue that the historical community is more aware than any other community of the cuts to LAC.

      • Jennifer, I do admire the efforts that you and many colleagues have been dedicating to recent cuts. I am acutely aware that there are many who are getting involved. However, as a long standing librarian and educator who is deeply involved with my region, there are lots of tax paying citizens who do not give libraries, archives, museums and other cultural institutions much thought – at least, not until they realize they need them for something that directly applies to their lives. For years, I have pushed my students to promote their profession and involve themselves in public policy. Maybe, these tough times will galvanize us and inspire us to be more comfortable speaking up and challenging public policy when it veers off course. I also think that if we don’t think our professional associations are doing what we need them to do,there’s nothing stopping us from being part of the change process. I don’t think the executive at CLA have always understood the frustrations of their members and non members but I also know that people don’t stand up in meetings and say anything, either.

        I am curious how you think freedom of expression is compromised in ‘other’ libraries? Do you have some examples to work from?

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  16. I am concerned about the disconnect between the blog post and what I heard from a friend and colleague I trust about what happened. Although I don’t know her well, I have met and spoken to Kelly Moore on 2 or 3 occasions and so I had a hard time believing that she would do such a thing. Whatever I think of CLA, which to be honest still isn’t much, I respect Kelly. I’ve seen her take a lot, but she still listened and was gracious. I know emotions are high, but please let’s not turn on each other. Let’s put aside our differences and each do what we are able to fight these cuts and the rampant ignorance behind them.
    This is my personal opinion based on my experiences.

  17. I note that Mr. Caron is now now longer speaking at the Association of Canadian Archivists annual conference this coming week. Not sure what the official reason is, or if there is an unofficial one? But it seems very convenient, especially given the anger archivists are feeling at cuts to federal funding across the country

  18. Pingback: Controversy at the recent Canadian Library Association conference – Confessions of a Science Librarian

  19. Jennifer,
    Has this post been edited since it was originally published? Or did you post another version on another site? I don’t see any revision info, but this seems significantly different since I first read it. I could very well be losing my mind, but I wanted to verify.

    • It has only been revised to reflect that the CLA is not the only national library association. I made that correction after readers pointed out my error. There were a few typos which I also corrected, but it is definitely the same as the original in all other ways.

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  22. As a retired librarian (well, not exactly retired, but “Tobin-ated” in a large civil service reorganization in Newfoundland 10 years ago), I read all the above with interest, and sadness, of course, over the shocking cuts to LAC. As a civil servant in Newfoundland, I was once “muzzled” and appreciate the frustrations involved. It’s rather difficult to focus on freedom of speech when you are told by your superior very plainly that you will lose your job if you speak out. With all the talk lately of the govenment’s threatened attack on charitable and not-for-profit organizations, one can appreciate a certain “chill” in the air that may have affected federal librarians and people at the CLA. I hope library supporters can avoid being “divided and conquered.” I’ve been sending my letters to politicians on this topic and signing the petitions and posting them on my Facebook page, etc – a luxury enjoyed by the retired – at least ’til they threaten to take away my meagre pension. Good luck to everyone in this important battle. Keep up the good fight!

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