Top of Page

Information for Social Change

Information for Social Change

"an activist organisation that examines issues of censorship, freedom and ethics amongst library and information workers..."

ISC 10. Reviews

Progressive Librarianship in the US: Reviews of Progressive librarian: a journal for critical studies & progressive policies in librarianship and MSRRT newsletter

Despite similar economic and political conditions to those in the UK, progressive librarianship is still alive and kicking in the US! Partly this is because of the focus given to such issues by the Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association (ALA) - although even they have difficulties with the ALA itself (see below) - and its spin-offs, such as the Minnesota Library Association Social Responsibility Round Table (MSRRT), and partly because there are library workers who want to raise and examine important issues and take risks, hence the Progressive Librarians Guild.

Here in the UK, we have this journal, and the occasional progressive article in Impact, but, otherwise, the radicalism of the late 1960s, 1970s and 1980s seems to have withered away: no more Librarians for Social Change or Women in Libraries (even the Association of Assistant Librarians, admittedly not a very catchy title for a group, has become the Career Development Group), and the emphasis has moved to "performing" and measuring, sponsorship and partnerships as libraries try to become more like big business.

These two issues of US journals therefore come as a breath of fresh air!

Progressive librarian is the journal of the Progressive Librarians Guild which has been established to:

  • provide a forum for the open exchange of radical views on library issues
  • conduct campaigns to support progressive and democratic library activities locally, nationally and internationally
  • defend activist librarians as they work to effect changes in their own libraries and communities
  • bridge the artificial and destructive gap within our profession between school, public, academic and special libraries
  • encourage debate about prevailing management strategies adopted directly from the business world, and propose democratic forms of library administration
  • consider the impact of technological change in the library workplace and on the provision of library service
  • monitor the professional ethics of librarianship from a social responsibility perspective
  • facilitate contacts between progressive librarians and other professional and scholarly groups dealing with communications world-wide.
  • Two issues per year of the journal have been produced since the preview edition in Summer 1990, and have regular features on libraries and librarianship in Africa (including pieces on the ANC), feminism, technology, lesbian and gay issues for libraries - we have issue 14, Spring 1998 for review.

This issue contains a powerful editorial, criticising the ALA for "institutionalizing silence" by the way that they deal with the issue of statements of a political nature (such as the open letter, "Librarians Against War", pp47-50) and side-line "controversial" issues (such the Resolution on Israeli censorship), as well as highlighting the debate that arose over the ALA's decision to promote a joint ALA-McDonald's reading campaign, and the current "hot topic" of the ALA's relationship with the Boy Scouts of America, despite the latter's discriminatory policies prohibiting atheists, agnostics and homosexuals from membership.

The articles in issue 14 are:

"Garlic, vodka, and the politics of gender: anti-intellectualism in American librarianship" by Michael Winter (pp5-12), a quick look at some important issues, including librarianship's romance with ICT;

"Competing visions of library service" by France Bouthillier (pp13-21) a brief presentation of some of the findings of a study in Quebec, which, although rather ponderous, is actually an important piece, drawing attention to the "basic dilemma in public librarianship: the tension between educating and responding to patrons' requests" (p19);

"Growing our communications future: access - not just wires" by Karen Coyle (pp22-33) which gives a good indication of its contents in the superb opening paragraph:

"I have to admit that I'm really sick and tired of the Information Highway. I feel like I've already heard so much about it that it must be come and gone already, yet there is no sign of it. This is truly a piece of federal vaporware."

"The 'Invisibles': lesbian women as library users" by Heike Seidel (pp34-40), a summary of the key points which were discussed at the Women's Summer University in Munich, July 1994, and the 10th Berlin Lesbian Week, October 1994; this article is followed by a "'Lesbians and Libraries' resource list" which gives details of some bookshops world-wide (pp41-43);

"Outsourcing federal libraries" by R Lee Hadden (pp45-46), a very quick look at this important topic;

and two "Added Entries" for the Archive "Memorial", St Petersburg, Russia and the St Petersburg Centre for Gender Issues.

I felt that some of the articles were almost too short to be of real value (especially that on outsourcing), but that, overall, this is an important librarianship journal, and deserves to be much more widely available.

Further details from Progressive Librarians Guild, P.O. Box 2203, Times Square Station, New York NY 10108, or visit their Website .

As it name indicates, MSRRT newsletter is the "alternative news, views and resource listings" of the Minnesota Library Association Social Responsibilities Round Table. It is produced six times a year (free to MSRRT members, and by donation to everyone else), and we have volume 11 no.3, May/June 1998 for review.

It includes news items about MSRRT members (perhaps most famously Sanford Berman) and libraries; details of new Websites of interest (eg Arab Film Distribution; Native American Rights Fund); and, for the major part of the Newsletter, reviews of films, videos, books and magazines, together with listings of "Changes" (of address, name of organisation, etc) and catalogues and items received. Examples of the 35 or so titles reviewed in this issue are: Susan Eisenberg We'll call you if we need you: experiences of women working construction (ILR Press, 1998); Ron Sakolsky and Stephen Dunifer (eds) Seizing the airwaves: a free radio handbook (AK Press, 1998); Steve Stewart (comp) Full-frontal: male nudity video guide (Companion Press, 1998) - "Leonardo DiCaprio and Antonio Banderas buffs may consult it fruitfully"!; You're not alone: conversations with breast cancer survivors and those who love them (Voice Arts, 1997 [audio cassettes]); Anti-airport alert, a zine about the fight against a third Chicago-area airport.

As can be seen from the sampler above, the range of material reviewed is immense, and the Newsletter is doing a very important job in bringing these to wider attention.

Where are the UK's regional/national versions of this?

Further details from: MSRRT Newsletter, 4645 Columbus Avenue S., Minneapolis, MN 55407, or visit their Website: .

Reviews of bETWEEN the LINES and The Spark

bETWEEN the LINES is, as their blurb describes, "the magazine for cynical optimism ... Informative, Unorthodox, Inspiring Open and funny ..." We have three issues to review: they are not dated, but one is stamped inside with a date in November 1995 (issue no.7), one is post the last General Election (issue no.12), and the third has an advert for a benefit event in March 1999 and so was presumably produced in early 1999 (and is also presumably issue no.13!)

They have a slightly dated, rather naughty quality, with, in my view, some rather thin attempts at being funny (the Tommy Baldwin bits), yet, at the same time, include some important and interesting articles.

Issue 7, for example, includes a piece by someone remembering routing the BNP in Brick Lane in 1993; an article on "Getting organised" to build to change the world ("sects are no solution"); a surreal piece, "Zen Stalinism - our only hope" by Attila the Stockbroker; an interview with Reclaim the Streets, the people behind protests for car-free space; a critique of Labour Party policies; a very brief article about English traitors in WWII; a very good, but too brief piece on "Football - the people's game", highlighting some of the current problems (corruption, drugs, money ...); and the back page has some short news items.

Issue 12 has a very useful two-page critique of the Countryside March; an interesting piece on "Spooks in the news" (I'd missed that Sandy Gall was a "spook"); a one-page article, "Diana is she really dead!"; a good brief article on "A socialist strategy" which outlines socialist priorities; an interview with the Green Party; "Yet another crap Spice Girls article" which is a biting attack on their appropriation of the idea of "Girl Power"; an article on public ownership; a page of reviews (of, for example, Socialist news, the newspaper of Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party; Smash hits from X Class War); a letters page; and, again, short news items on the back page.

Issue 13 includes a good lead article on consumerism; a rallying call to get involved, "A time for thought, a time for action" (with a list of useful contacts); an interview with Ken Coates MEP; an excellent brief call to action (rather than "closet party builders and egotists"), "Question everything, do something"; an interview with Alexei Sayle (where he is splenetic about Tony Benn); a fascinating piece on the group, Collectivities, who operate in Faridabad, India, and who "are engaged in the profound and experimental re-examination that the Left needs"; an article on global economic meltdown; a page on music and politics; and the usual news items at the back.

Further details from bETWEEN the LINES, Box 32, 136 Kingsland High Street, London E8 2NS.

The Spark, the Workers Party of New Zealand Monthly Journal , is towards the other end of the scale, carrying a number of serious an in-depth articles. We have the November 1998 issue to review, and this includes pieces on pension cuts; health cuts; "Rents and overcrowding rising"; Pinochet; Kerry Packer; the NZ defence force; unemployment; economics; immigration; "The Britomart Scheme - a means of enriching big business"; Indonesia; Kosovo; "November 7, 1917 - the day the world was transformed"; and, on the back page, some "Snippets" (I like the one about the new Japanese-made toilet which has a remote control that opens the lid before you get to the toilet, massages your bottom, kills the nasty smells and germs, and heats the room!)

This is an important voice for New Zealand and valuably highlights many world-wide issues.

Further details from: Boxholder, Box 10282, Dominion Road, Auckland, New Zealand, or visit their Website:

Information for Social Change #10


For enquiries contact   isc-journalat

All articles, reviews or other works are the copyright of the respective author(s) as shown.