Library Juice 4:8 Supplement - March 7, 2001
Interview with ALA Presidential Candidate Mitch Freedman
Rory Litwin: I saw the Candidates' Forum at ALA midwinter, so I feel that I
am basically familiar with you and the other two candidates as far as your
general positions and personalities go. I'll say at the outset that I'm
interested in helping people decide between you and Ken Haycock. Bill
Sannwald can be summarized, for my readers at least, as the
business-oriented candidate. I think that should be enough for most of my
readers to decide about him. (I don't mean to imply by that that he is
horrible, just to say that he is without a doubt a business-oriented kind
of person.) Ken Haycock is more liberal, and besides that he is extremely
intelligent, a good listener, and would probably make a very good ALA
President, in my opinion. I would rather see you in the office, but I
wouldn't mind seeing him there either. Tell me, am I wrong about him? And
for those who don't already know the two of you, why should they vote for
you? Should people think of you as the Ralph Nader candidate? Is a vote
for Freedman a vote for Sannwald?
Mitch Freedman: Starting with the last one first,
I think that this situation is different than the one involving Ralph
I was asked to run by a group of leading U.S. librarians representing
every major library group: the directors of three of the great U.S. public
libraries, Brooklyn Public (Martin Gomez), Broward County (Sam Morrison),
Seattle Public (Deborah Jacobs); the dean of a great library school, the U
of Illinois (Leigh Estabrook); the president of AASL (Harriet Selverstone);
and the heads of two fine research libraries (Sarah Pritchard, UC Santa
Barbara, and Sherrie Schmidt, Arizona State University).
In addition I received endorsements from such luminaries as the former
dean of the University of South Florida, Kathleen McCook; such leading
children's librarians as Mary Somerville and Judith Rovenger; the most
distinguished African-American librarian ever & one of the most greatest
librarians, E. J. Josey; the Editor-in-Chief of Library Journal, John N.
Berry III (his first public endorsement in 30 years); Congressman Major
Owens, an African-American and the only librarian ever to serve in the U.S.
Congress; leading officials of REFORMA; and, I have been endorsed by such
organizations as the ALA Feminist Task Force, REFORMA, SRRT, and GLBTRT;
and numerous other leading librarians from all over the country. (My web
site www.mitch4prez.org has a more expanded list.)
These are mainstream and leading professionals who have supported my
candidacy. Unfortunately for Mr. Nader he received no such comparable
The other difference is that with the acceptance by ALA of my petition, I
have equal status with the two candidates nominated by the nominating
committee. The listing on the ALA ballot in no way indicates the
nomination route the candidates took.
I am running a campaign to win, and will win.
The Nader comparison does not apply here: People will not be 'throwing
away' votes when they vote for me.
People will be voting for the best qualified person-I have been an ALA
member for 30 years, been on Council five terms, have been President of
LITA and won the LITA Award, served on committees in numerous ALA divisions
(PLA, LITA, ALCTS), including current membership on the Committee on the
Status of Women in Librarianship, and past chair of the ALA Pay Equity
Committee, as well as chair of two state intellectual freedom committees
(NY & Minnesota). I have gotten things done on my job, in the Association,
have published widely on intellectual freedom, on technology, and on
cataloging, and consulted for libraries in Korea, Kenya, South Africa,
Latvia, Morocco, Turkey, Italy, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia; plus I
taught at Columbia's library school, and worked in major management
positions at some of the U.S.'s greatest libraries, the Library of
Congress, the New York Public Library, the Hennepin County Library, and the
Westchester Library System.
The foregoing are not the credentials of a splinter candidate, but someone
who, although a member of the mainstream, has distinguished himself
professionally and personally as a front-lines activist who has fought for
professional principles and won.
Finally, I'm honored to be identified with Ralph Nader. I am a petition
candidate, which I think is an advantage. I see myself as a people's
candidate, and one who wasn't picked by a small group of people, but by the
broad-based group of supporters listed above. I admire the work that ALA
committee members, including those on the Nominating Committee do, but I
think it's unconscionable that they could select two white men to vie for
ALA's highest office.
This is an awkward position for another white male to take, but it's
certainly an action that I would never have taken in this predominantly
female field and in a profession well represented by people of color. As
one of three white male candidates, I am proud to have the endorsements of
the ALA Feminist Task Force and REFORMA, and the founder of the Black
Caucus of the American Library Association (BCALA) as well as many past and
present Board members of BCALA.
I will point out one difference between Ralph Nader's candidacy and mine.
I believe that I will win because of my broad-based support and front-line
record as a librarian.
Regarding your question that likens Dr. Haycock's and my credentials, and
your poor assessment of Mr. Sannwald's chances, let me offer the following:
I appreciate that to you, the decision may be between Dr. Haycock and
myself, but I encourage you also to draw a more positive portrait of Mr.
Dr. Haycock and I may have similar views, but my approach is different.
For instance, at the recent ALA Midwinter meeting, REFORMA, the ALA
affiliate that serves the needs of Spanish speaking library users and
addresses Latino issues, brought up the [at]Your Library campaign.
The campaign failed to include any Spanish language print or non-print
materials. When asked how we would prevent such negligence in the future,
my response was to offer to work with REFORMA to sponsor a resolution in
the ALA Council the very next day to require ALA to add comparable Spanish
language materials. The Council passed the resolution and a valuable
precedent was set.
One of the other major solutions I offer is the establishment of a
Committee on Diversity that I would consult on all of the appointments I
would make and all of the ALA policies and programs initiated during my
tenure as President. Haycock and Sannwald made the usual statements about
how we need to embrace our patrons, librarians and staff from every
culture. To be fair, they--and I--cited their/our histories of inclusion of
people of color and strong records on multicultural issues.
But I did several action-oriented things that are ample evidence of our
differences when it comes to vigorous front-line direct action.
In addition to all of my years as an activist and demonstrator for civil
rights in the 1960s, the following professional efforts are worthy of
consideration and unique among the three candidates in the activism they
In 1971 the Black Employees of the Library of Congress (BELC) had a
demonstration in the LC main reading room protesting racism at LC. BELC
came to the ALA meeting that year and asked for ALA's support. I prepared
a statement, signed by other ex-LC employees who I organized, that I read
at the ALA membership meeting. I also engaged in the debate and managed to
negate the efforts to whitewash the racism at LC by a former Assistant
Librarian of Congress and, at the time of the debate, the president of the
Council on Library Resources. My efforts contributed ultimately to an
investigation of LC that I believe ended up critical of LC. I had worked
at LC and had seen the results of the racism first-hand.
Second, while at the Hennepin County Library, 1969-1974, I instituted the
policy of establishing bias-free cataloging, and hired Sanford Berman as
the head cataloger who implemented that policy. I also was responsible for
the implementation of an automated authority control cataloging system that
made it possible to make the sweeping changes in terminology.
Third, while at Hennepin, James Michael McConnell, a gay librarian, was
appointed by the University of Minnesota to a library position. Prior to
his starting date, McConnell married Jack Baker in a much-publicized
wedding ceremony. The U of M reneged on its letter of appointment and
fired McConnell. Despite all of the attendant publicity, I hired McConnell
as a cataloger at Hennepin because he was qualified for the position and
available. And I also believed in standing up for gay rights and human
Fourth, I was the only librarian in NY State to participate in the
ALA/ACLU lawsuit to overthrow the Pataki harmful to minors law. I
testified in court to get this harsh law overturned. Librarians would have
been subject to felony arrest if a minor were deemed to have seen something
'harmful' on an Internet terminal in the library. I received an award from
the ACLU Westchester chapter for the role I played in this successful
lawsuit. I plan to be a plaintiff in the lawsuit to overturn the
Children's Internet Protection Act that will force filtering on all
libraries that wish to continue to receive, e-rate, ESEA, LSTA and other
Lastly, in my current position as director of the Westchester Library
System, a few years ago, I recommended to my Board, which in turn approved
my recommendation, to establish domestic partner benefits for all employees
who lived with partners on an ongoing basis and who did not otherwise
qualify for family plan benefits.
On the intellectual freedom front, I was the only librarian (and the
Westchester Library System the only library) to participate as a
plaintiff-I actually testified in court-in the ALA/ACLU/WLS et. Al. vs.
Pataki lawsuit. This action successfully overturned New York State's
'harmful to minors' Internet law.
WLS and I have signed on as plaintiffs in the upcoming ACLU suit to injoin
and overturn the U.S. Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA). Only a
handful of libraries are participating as of this writing.
There are more examples of my activist record, but these are illustrative
of my principles and my activism in support of them. I stand up for what I
believe both professionally and personally, and am proud of my record.
RL: Okay, let's talk about some issues. One issue that you are talking
about that the other two candidates, to my knowledge, are ignoring, is
privatization. Why is privatization an important issue to you and why do
you think the other candidates are not talking about it? What would you do
about it as ALA President?
MF: I don't wish to say that the other candidates are ignoring
privatization--although I will say that Mr. Sannwald referred to Riverside
as an isolated incident, unlikely to manifest itself ever again-not true;
there are several privatized 'public' libraries around the country.
I would rather speak to my strong feelings on the subject. I stated when I
was addressing the Chapter Relations Assembly that I will fight the
privatization of public libraries as long as there is breath in my body.
The bottom line on this issue is the 'bottom line.' A private company is
not serving the public, it is serving itself, its owners, its stockholders.
Regardless of how well intended or capable the company nor what respected
librarian it hires to be in charge, the decisions on policy, hiring,
selection of materials, etc. will all be subordinate to the company's
primary purpose, the making of profits for its owners. A public library is
a public good-it can't be subjected to the bottom line for its mission of
service to the entire community. Interlibrary loan is costly-should we get
rid of it? Serving disparate populations is expensive-why not just serve
the majority of the people in the community? These are bottom line issues
that are easy to resolve in a privatized public library. And I say 'no' to
privatization because that is the kind of thinking that will be destructive
of the public library mission and the public library movement, one of
America's three greatest contributions to democracy (public schools and the
First Amendment being the other two).
RL: Same question regarding freedom of expression in the workplace - why
is it an important issue for you and why do you think the other candidates
are not talking about it? And, what would you do about it as President?
MF: Your long-time readers are familiar with the case of Sanford Berman,
Head Cataloger at the Hennepin County Library and a man I am extremely
proud to have hired for that position, and one of my dearest friends. His
"early retirement" was forced by the library administration's attempts to
keep him quiet. As already noted, I hired Sandy and also hired James
Michael McConnell while at Hennepin. Each of them represented cases of
freedom of expression in the workplace gone horribly awry. In Sandy's
case, were I still there, he never would have had that "early retirement"
or we would have had it together. In McConnell's case, I hired him after
the University of Minnesota fired him for his public marriage to another
male. And my establishing "domestic partners" insurance benefits for staff
at the Westchester Library System bespeaks a strong position in this area.
I will use the power of the presidency to advocate for free expression in
the workplace and personally take up the support and defense of any and all
librarians who are subject to attack for the expression of their views.
ALA has long avoided supporting librarians who have suffered for the
exercise of their freedom of expression-cases have been turned over to the
Merritt Fund, a poorly financed operation, and have not been the concern of
the Freedom to Read Foundation (FTRF), a financially well-endowed group.
FTRF has tended to focus on books and ideas, and has tended to avoid the
support of librarians because of the view that such support would
jeopardize ALA's tax-exempt status.
I will explore ways to provide stronger support to embattled librarians,
and will actively campaign for building up the coffers of the Merritt Fund.
Incidentally, Leroy Merritt, after whose memory the fund is named, was my
professor at the University of California at Berkeley's School of
RL: Another issue you discussed at the Candidates Forum, which the other
two didn't touch, is the issue of declining access to government
information. Just what is going on and what would you do about it? And,
again, why do you think the other candidates aren't talking about it?
MF: The privatization of government information is a serious matter. It
began with Jimmy Carter's well-intentioned "Paperwork Reduction Act." With
Ronald Reagan, the juggernaut hit full speed, and has continued with the
Simply, much valuable government information, collected at taxpayer
expense, has been contracted out to private companies for dissemination.
Cases have been demonstrated in which databases that were created from data
that were collected at considerable government expense are now being
sold-on behalf of the government-by private companies at prices that are so
prohibitive that they are inaccessible to most academics and usually
affordable only by corporations.
Other examples of the decline of access to government information are the
reduction of numbers of copies in print runs of government publications,
and the publication of documents in electronic format alone rather than in
both print and electronic formats.
Perhaps, the worst case is the decision by numerous government agencies to
save money by simply not publishing valuable information.
Together these comprise a deprivation of the taxpayers of access to the
information whose assembling and publication that they paid for or need,
but to which they cannot have access for these various reasons. I will
fight to stop this decline in access to government information.
RL: How does your position on filtering differ from Ken Haycock's?
MF: I'll start with a quote from Albert Einstein. "You cannot
simultaneously prevent and prepare for war." My position is unequivocally
against the imposition of filters. ALA needs to fully support its policy of
not abridging access to "constitutionally protected speech," so that
libraries in crisis have an uncompromised position to which to appeal. My
understanding is that Dr. Haycock wants to develop tools to help libraries
to "make the best of a bad situation." I will not compromise on the
advocacy of the position of protecting access to "constitutionally
Ultimately decisions are made by the local community-not by ALA-as to
whether they should have filters on Internet terminals in their libraries.
As I have done in my job as director of the Westchester Library System and
as I will do as President of ALA, I will urge libraries to support
uncompromised access to "constitutionally protected speech." Any perusal
of www.peacefire.org will demonstrate unequivocally that all of the filters
available grossly deny access to constitutionally protected speech. That
is why I will fight against filters as ALA President.
Further I will fight against any and all externally imposed requirements
for filters, and most especially the Children's Internet Protection Act
which demands filters if libraries and schools are to receive federal
funds. I will be a plaintiff in the ACLU lawsuit to overthrow this law. I
am not sure that Dr. Haycock's status as a Canadian citizen would permit
him to be a plaintiff, or, if it did, he would choose to participate in the
RL: A new development in ALA is the slogan "speaking with one voice" and a
concurrent document from the ALA legal department interpreting existing
policy to mean that subunits of ALA are not permitted to speak on their own
behalf outside of ALA, under penalty of being dissolved. SRRT in
particular has been told that we are to cease sending out SRRT resolutions
on various issues, regardless of clear disclaimers to the effect that we
are not speaking for ALA. Other subunits that issue statements relating to
their areas of concern, such as GODORT's statement on the possible
defunding of the DLP, have not received any such warning. Are you
concerned about this? What is your sense of what is going on? And would
you take any action on this issue?
MF: I was one of a handful of members of the ALA Council that publicly
opposed this policy and actually engaged the ALA-hired attorney on its
merits and implementation. It is absurd that an organization that has
intellectual freedom as its highest value focus on limiting the speech of
its organizational units. Unpopular speech is not a valid reason for
Regarding your example, SRRT has not been in conflict with ALA policy and
has stated that it will label its statements and resolutions as expressions
of SRRT and not the ALA. The real one-voice issue isn't with SRRT and its
controversies, but with established ALA units that have spoken in Congress
and elsewhere in opposition to ALA policies. However uncomfortable this
is, ALA must find ways to deal with these conflicts without threatening to,
or actually dissolving, the given ALA unit or expelling members from the
Association. Free speech must prevail within the Association, not just in
RL: A lot of people are unhappy that two white males were nominated this
year, especially with the current President-elect also a white male. How
do you feel about that and how do you think it affects you being the
third white male candidate?
MF: Please see my answer above. I am proud of my endorsement by the ALA
Feminist Task Force. Also please note the how many distinguished female
librarians asked me to run or have endorsed my candidacy. I also am a
member of the Committee on the Status of Women in Librarianship (COSWL),
and I served as chair of the ALA Pay Equity Committee. My website,
www.Mitch4Prez.org contains a copy of the speech I gave at a COSWL program
(focused on Deborah Tannen's "You Just Don't Understand"), "Confessions of
a Male Middle Manager." Although I am a male, I offer these credentials in
support of my candidacy.
RL: Pay equity is another issue that is a priority for you which the other
candidates aren't nearly so aggressive about. What are your plans for
working towards pay equity? I think one reason the other candidates aren't
talking about it is that they don't believe it can be achieved. Are you
optimistic about pay equity?
Mr. Sannwald includes better pay for librarians in his campaign
literature, as well, but I believe you will find my approach to the issue
more aggressive. The issue of pay equity is very important to me, partly
because after my daughter, Jenna, graduated from library school last year,
she was unable to find a library job that paid a living wage. My daughter
aside, I have been involved with pay equity concerns for a long time, and
chaired ALA's Pay Equity Committee. It grieves me that the profession of
librarianship is so grossly undervalued and underpaid.
As President, the positive program I will have to raise library workers'
salaries will be three-fold:
- Get the research done and information amassed that clearly documents
the comparable worth of librarians with respect to other professionals with
similar educations, responsibilities, and experience.
- Use the information collected to put together a toolkit for libraries
and library staff around the country to use-much in the way ALA has done so
successfully with its Information Advocacy program-to get library workers
equitable pay. ALA cannot go into local communities to change things, but
it can arm the local libraries with the tools to help them bring about
- I will create a fund for a campaign to raise library workers' salaries.
Included will be stronger ($) support for the ALA Pay Equity Committee.
RL: On the REFORMA listserv someone recently wrote that in 2001 minority
concerns are already being ignored in ALA. To others it probably looks
like diversity is has been a priority in ALA for a while and remains a
priority. How do you feel that ALA is doing on the diversity front, and
what would you do differently?
MF: While ALA has a clear pro-diversity stance, I don't know that it has
been doing everything it can to promote multicultural representation in the
library. The Spectrum Scholarship is an excellent initiative that I have
supported both in money and in spirit. Other things we need to do to ensure
multiculturalism are to work much harder to include minority
librarians--including gay librarians--on ALA committees, work to have the
ALA council better reflect the library community, and to provide support
for collection development and library services to people of color.
As mentioned earlier, I will appoint a Diversity Task Force,
to advise me on appointments and policies. I am confident that
some wonderful initiatives and appointments will be forthcoming from this
RL: In your campaign flyer you say you will fight for "continued
recognition that libraries are physical, as well as virtual places." What
do you mean by that? What would you say is happening that requires this to
be fought for?
MF: A lot has been written about how librarians will soon be replaced by
computers, and indeed "cyber libraries." Internet libraries have become
very popular. They are often valuable research tools for people who know
how to use them. But the library experience can and should never be
replaced by its virtual counterpart.
As libraries rely increasingly on computer technology, there are pressures
from some quarters-typically politicians and others who hold the purse
strings-to shrink the physical facilities and to staff the libraries with
technicians, rather than librarians, as is already
happening-unfortunately-in libraries across the country. They argue that
with "everything being available on the Internet, why do you need so many
books-or, any books?"
In response to such claims, there are some obvious and not-so-obvious
considerations that apply. First, the library is a social institution.
The physical space accommodates admirably the human need for people to be
in community with other people. People like the library because there are
other people there for them to share the space with, talk to, or learn
Second, as any librarian can tell you, there are no assurances that
information on the Internet is accurate, reliable, or up-to-date. It takes
the librarian to know the good information sources. It is the librarian
who can provide the guidance that can eliminate so much of the wasted time
endured by the uninitiated user who tries to ferret out information that
may be buried in the thousands of hits by the search engine that she or he
queried. The seemingly infinite amount of information and its inherent
lack of organization, cries out for the expertise of the librarian to
navigate it. No physical library, no physical librarian.
Lastly, it seems idiotic to have to defend the printed page and the print
medium, but the ignorance that is a manifested by these attacks on the need
for the bricks and mortar library requires a response. The easy answer is
that there is still a wealth of information that is not available on the
Internet. The other easy answer is that reputable publishers tend to take
seriously the validity of the information they publish-that's why libraries
are more apt to buy non-fiction publications from some publishers and not
others. In effect the material on the shelves has been put through a
selection process-the information on the Internet can be the publication of
the most respected scholar or institution, or the village idiot or some
It is wonderful that public and many academic libraries bring the Internet
to people who otherwise have no free access. It is our duty to help library
users satisfy their information needs: in some cases it will be through
assistance in navigating the Internet, or, in other cases, by helping them
find the print material(s) that they need.
We need physical libraries. I have seen threats to the buildings and the
size of library collections, and have had to answer the question repeatedly
as to why libraries are needed now that we have the Internet and all of
these wonderful on-line databases, etc. It is an issue that will not go
away. The ALA President will have to be a vigorous advocate for the full
complement of library services.
RL: At the candidates' forum you emphasized the importance of school
libraries and children's services in public libraries. What are the issues
facing school librarians and children's librarians and what do you propose
to do about them?
MF: Two major issues I see for librarians who serve children and young
adults are pay equity and support for filtering challenges. Another problem
that I haven't already addressed is simply the lack of qualified people
willing to take employment in school and public libraries. Because of this
staffing crisis, school and public libraries are dealing with non-MLS
teachers and adult specialists, respectively. I would work with AASL, ALSC,
and YALSA to develop recruitment and retention plans to attract and retain
a greater number of talented children's and YA specialists.
I also am deeply concerned about the trend among school boards to
eliminate the position of librarian, especially in elementary schools. I
am concerned as well by the censorship of school librarian selections and
the more insidious non-selections, i.e., not selecting something because
the librarian knows it will be trouble.
I also know that initiating collaborative efforts between school and
public libraries is essential. I helped create and manage the Tall Trees
Initiative, a grant-based Westchester program that developed innovative and
creative ways to foster collaboration between school and public libraries.
The increase in test scores and overall performance of the participating
students was amazing.
ALA must make strengthening the positions of school libraries and youth
services librarians a priority.
RL: I understand the differences between you and Ken Haycock, but I can't
help thinking, isn't it likely that some other year in the next five to ten
years, two really bad candidates will be nominated, making a Freedman
candidacy really necessary? Why did you choose to run this year rather
than another year?
MF: This question could be asked of any of the three candidates. Whether
asked by the Nominating Committee or a number of library leaders (as in my
case), the candidate must be in a position to take the time to wage the
campaign, and if successful, have the time to be President.
I was asked by the Nominating Committee to run in past elections but did
not because job demands made it impossible. This year was the first year I
felt that I could find the time to wage a successful campaign for ALA
President. My first responsibility is to my job, and I can't shortchange
it. In another way, the time is right for someone with my lobbying and
negotiating skills, and with my deep commitment to intellectual freedom,
fair use, and unfiltered access to the Internet. The threats from the
federal and other levels of government in these areas are intensifying. If
the ALA membership wants someone who will provide the leadership and the
commitment to address these issues, I believe that my candidacy is the one
that they should support.
RL: Is there anything else you want to talk about?
MF: My positions on the issues continue to evolve, but my fundamental
position on librarianship is the same. It's a service profession-unless
we're providing service there's not much basis for our existence.
Other than that, I just want to say thanks for interviewing me for Library
Juice, a publication for which I have great admiration.
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