Library Juice 7:25 - December 3, 2004


1. Favicon contest
2. Links...
3. Editorial: Undone by Flattery
4. Braverman Award - Student Writing Contest
5. ARL Joins Others in Supporting Public Access to Government Information
6. Create a people-orientated public library service (Shiraz Durrani)
7. A critique of "anarchist librarianship"

Quote for the week:

"Properly, we should read for power. Man reading should be man intensely
alive. The book should be a ball of light in one's hand."
-Ezra Pound (1885 - 1972)

Homepage of the week: Iris Jarmin


1. Favicon contest is having a contest to find a good design for a favicon.ico file
for the server.

For those who aren't familiar with them, favicon.ico files are those little
icons that go next to the URL in the location bar, or next to Bookmarks in
IE, to help you identify the site you're looking at and help it express its
identity graphically.

I'm feeling a little challenged artistically, technologically, and
time-wise, so I have decided to hold a contest to see who can design the
best favicon.ico file for

So anyone out there who's got the skills and gets what is all
about, go ahead and design an icon and let me see it.

I am giving out prizes to the winner: seven books from South End Press:

- An Ordinary Person's Guide to Empire, by Arundhati Roy
- Louder than Bombs: Interviews from The Progressive Magazine, by David
- Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils, by Alexander
Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair
- Cochabamba! Water War in Bolivia, by Oscar Olivera
- Undivided Rights: Women of Color Organize for Reproductive Justice, by
Jael Silliman, Marlene Gerber Fried, Loretta Ross, and Elena R. Gutierrez
- Sickness and Wealth: The Corporate Assault on Global Health, edited by
Meredith Fort, Mary Anne Mercer, and Oscar Gish
- Take the Rick Off Welfare, by Mark Zepezauer

I am not guaranteeing a winner! If I don't really want to use any of the
entries, I am not going to give out the prizes. Maybe I'll do it again
next year if that happens.

Deadline: January 1st, 2005.

2. Links...


New on the server: SRRT Newsletter #148/49 (December 2004)
This is the best issue of the SRRT Newsletter that I have seen yet.


The first Social Forum of Information, Documentation and Libraries:
Alternative action programs from Latin America for the information society
held in Buenos Aires this past August has recently posted the Declaration
that was developed after the Forum. It is here in English,

[ sent by Dana Lubow to the SRRT list ]


Michael Gorman's comments at "The Future of Library Information Education"
program in New York on November 5

[ from Bernie Sloan to the JESSE list ]


The slate of candidates for ALA Councilor at Large, along with the list
of petition candidates as of 11/30/04, is now available on the ALA web

General information about the 2005 ALA election and on the candidates
for ALA President can be found at

[ sent by Elizabeth Dreazon to the ALA Council list ]


Kathleen de la Pena McCook's new blog, replacing her popular
A Librarian at Every Table email service:

[ Kathleen de la Pena McCook to ALAET ]


Gay book ban goal of Albama state lawmaker

[ sent to me by Mac Thomason, who says, "I hate my state sometimes." ]


The Spokane Valley Library is just one of a number of library systems
around the country that is under threat of closure.
Here is a website by community members organizing to keep it open:

[ from Elaine Harger to multiple lists ]


The Technology of Patriotism [American Libraries]

[ from Library Link of the Day - ]


Beleaguered Salinas plans to close its libraries
Steinbeck's town, in budget crisis, to slash $8 million

[ sent to me by Mom ]


Beirut's second public library opens, in a garden
'it is a right for every person to learn and read'
Beirut mayor promises at least one in each of the 12 districts
By Rym Ghazal
Special to The Lebanon Daily Star
Saturday, November 20, 2004


"Top 1000" titles owned by OCLC libraries

[ Sue Eason to the JESSE list ]


3. Editorial: Undone by Flattery

"The most advantageous negotiations are those one conducts with human
vanity, for one often obtains very substantial things from it while giving
very little of substance in return."
- Toqueville

The surest sign of the insecurity of the library profession is not our
worried or angry responses to negative stereotypes that pop up in the
media from time to time, but our unquenchable thirst for flattery from
outside the profession. When we are addressed at conferences or spoken
about in the media by celebrities, by business leaders, technologists or
academics, flattery is de riguer, and they understand this intuitively.
The first thing out of their mouths is a sweet nothing about how the
neighborhood librarian is responsible for all their success, or how we are
going to bring about a revolution, or how we secretly control the
universe, or how we are super-cutting-edge technologically, or how we are
the most underappreciated folks in society. (Personally, I find most
interesting the praise that doesn't even pretend to be meant seriously,
but still wins applause and laughter.) We should be offended by the
underlying assumption that we so thirst for the approval and appreciation
of society that this flattery will win us over, but we mostly are not, and
mostly it does. Rather than merely tolerating those flattering words, as
we should, we recycle them on lists of quotations about librarians that we
share with each other in our magazines, websites and listservs. Once you
key in on this dynamic of flattery and our consumption of it, you begin to
notice it frequently and to notice its effects. That is healthy.

During his campaign and his ALA Presidency, Mitch Freedman pointed out that
we accept this kind of flattery as a substitute for decent pay. That was
astute and a very good thing to point out. However, as someone who
doesn't think we're so badly paid, and who is also concerned about the
future of the profession and the institution of libraries, I think
something more fundamental than money is lost in exchange for this
flattery, and that is power. When we appreciatively accept flattery from
business leaders, politicians or technologists, what happens is that we
give ourselves over to them and allow them to lead us; we allow them to
win us. We should recognize immediately when we are flattered by people
who have an interest in controlling aspects of our institutions or in
gaining favorable decisions from us that that is precisely the intention
of the flattery. Recognizing this can help us retain the freedom and
independence to control the destiny of our profession and the institution
of libraries.

By taking note of the flattery that comes our way and our desire to accept
it we can also gain a better consciousness of our insecurity as a
profession. That insecurity is something that, so far as we recognize it,
we usually assign to public perception (so that in order to not be so
insecure as a profession what we need to do is convince the public that
they should value us more). But the commonness of this flattery of
librarians shows that we don't really know how we are perceived by the
public - we only know that we are very concerned about what they think,
love it when they say they love us, and hate it when they say they don't
need us. So, our insecurity, then, is more basic than "public
perception;" our estimation of the public's perception of us is largely
generated by our insecurity. Rather than trying to convince the public
that we are valuable (e.g. with pathetic television ads that try to show
our tech-savvy dynamism) we should instead look for the internal sources
of our insecurity. Doing that would create more of an impetus to advance
the field of Library Science as a whole and to further develop our
professional standards, as well as to develop our knowledge and skills as
individual professionals. That impetus to improve is removed when we
accept the flattery of politicians, technologists and business leaders and
adopt a superficial belief, dependent upon continuing to please them, that
we are "great."


4. Braverman Award - Student Writing Contest


Miriam Braverman Memorial Award
Presented by
Progressive Librarians Guild

Seeks papers concerned with an aspect of the social responsibilities of
librarians, libraries, or librarianship.


§ Entrants must be Library/Information Science students attending a
graduate level program in the United States or Canada.

§ Entries must be the original, unpublished work of the entrant, in
English, and must not exceed 3,000 words.

§ The topic of the paper should concern an aspect of the social
responsibilities of librarians, libraries, or librarianship. This could
include, but is not limited to, such topics as professional ethics in the
age of the USA PATRIOT Act; information as a commodity; the political
value choices of cataloging and indexing; the role of libraries in
bridging the information gap; democratic management systems within
libraries, etc.

§ Each entry should include a cover sheet containing the entrant's name,
full contact information (address, phone number, e-mail address), name of
the institution where the entrant is enrolled, and the title of the paper.
No identifying information, other than the title, should appear on the
paper itself.

§ Entries must be submitted electronically, in MS Word or RTF format, to
BOTH alewis[at] and cgulyas[at]

§ The winning entry will be published in Progressive Librarian and must
conform to MLA in-text citation style. The winning entrant will also
receive a $300 stipend toward attendance at the 2005 American Library
Association annual conference in Chicago, and an award at the annual PLG

§ The judges' decision is final. The act of submission implies the
unqualified acceptance of the conditions of entry by the entrant.

Entries must be received no later than 6pm on February 15, 2005.

Miriam Ruth Gutman Braverman (1920-2002) was a socialist, activist
librarian and longstanding member of the Progressive Librarians Guild, a
founder of the Social Responsibilities Round Table, and a proponent of the
social responsibilities perspective. Miriam's spirit of activism and faith
in the power of people's collective efforts toward social justice is what
the Miriam Braverman Award is intended to foster in future generations of
librarians. ( Read more about her at: )

More information on Progressive Librarians Guild is available at PLG

See the previous award-winning submission at

These submission guidelines are on the web at

Good luck!

5. ARL Joins Others in Supporting Public Access to Government Information

For Immediate Release
November 29, 2004

Public Interest Groups Call for "Cheney Log" to Balance Access,
Confidentiality Concerns

(WASHINGTON, DC) Public interest organizations, including library,
archives and journalists' groups, today filed an amici curiae brief
with the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals. The amici
support public access to information about the makeup of the National
Energy Policy Development Group (NEPDG), convened by Vice President
Cheney in 2001. The amici joining in this brief believe the case is
vital to preserving public access to government information under the
Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) and share the conviction that
broad access to government records protects values essential to
representative democracy and promotes public participation in public

The case was brought by the Sierra Club and Judicial Watch and heard at
the United States Supreme Court in April 2004. The Supreme Court,
recognizing the importance of the issue and the conflicting principle
sof separation of powers and public accountability, sent the case back
to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals for adjudication.

The amici argue that the District Court should accept the Supreme
Court's invitation to develop an innovative procedure for accommodating
the competing interests asserted in this case. The amici recommend
following the familiar model of the "Vaughn Index" used in Freedom of
Information Act cases by the government to identify basic information
without compromising confidentiality. That kind of information, in a
"Cheney Log," should provide a sufficient basis to evaluate whether
non-government persons participated in meetings of the NEPDG or its
sub-groups. If they did, participation would trigger FACA disclosure
requirements that protect against the improper influence of special
interests on government decision-making.

The brief states that, "when important constitutional principles are on
a collision course, as in this case, courts should be wary of any
winner-take-all resolution. The judicial goal in this case should be
accommodation of the competing principles, not the exaltation of one
and the obliteration of the other. Requiring the Cheney Log, based on
the successful example of the Vaughn Index, promises such an effective

The brief can be found at:

The amici are the American Association of Law Libraries, the American
Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the American Library
Association, the Association of Research Libraries, the Center for
American Progress, the DTK Liberty Project, the National Security
Archive, OMB Watch, the Society of American Archivists, and the Society
of Professional Journalists.

Press Release Contact List:

American Association of Law Libraries
Robert L. Oakley, Director of the Law Library and Professor of Law
Georgetown University Law Center
Edward Bennett Williams Library
(202) 662-9160

American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression
Chris Finan, President
(212) 587-4025

American Library Association
Patrice McDermott, Deputy Director, Office of Government Relations
(202) 628-8410

Association of Research Libraries
Prudence S. Adler, Associate Executive Director
(202) 296-2296 x104

Center for American Progress
Mark David Agrast, Senior Vice President for Domestic Policy(202)

DKT Liberty Project
Philip D. Harvey, President
(202) 785 0094

National Security Archive
Meredith Fuchs, General Counsel
(202) 994-7000

OMB Watch
Sean Moulton, Senior Policy Analyst
(202) 234-8494 x201

Society of American Archivists
Nancy Beaumont, Executive Director

Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ)
Irwin Gratz, President
(207) 874-6570

6. Create a people-orientated public library service

Submission to Culture, Media and Sport Committee
Session 2003-04. 26 October 2004
New Inquiry: Public Libraries
By Shiraz Durrani

The Government's policy on public libraries needs to be informed by the
following factors:

Globalisation and effects on libraries

The key issue is to decide what the social role of public libraries is.
They should not take the social, economic and political situation they find
themselves in as "given", but actively seek to understand why and how we
arrived at this situation - and also ensure the public understand it too. It
is their role to dig deeper into "facts" that are given to them by their
social environment.

British libraries are in danger of using a commercial version of a "global
library" much like McDonald restaurant outlets which serve the same product
in every part of the world. While this approach may be a useful one in
ensuring a standard level of service, and a useful model for maximising
profits for the McDonald chain, it is disastrous for libraries if they want
to root themselves in their local communities. It is essential that a new
model of needs-based library service is developed at policy level and

For this to happen there is an urgent need for setting up a "public library
innovations & development" think tank with Government support. Further
details of this proposal can be submitted to the Committee in oral evidence
if considered appropriate.

Other important changes that need to be considered include the rules
developed at the World Trade Organisation, especially in the context of
TRIPS (trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights). IFLA has
expressed its concerns over TRIPS in a number of areas such as "not for
profit libraries", intellectual property and cultural diversity. Specific
threats from these are mentioned by IFLA.[1]

These threats to public libraries need to be considered by the Committee
which needs to give a clear direction in ensuring that public libraries
remain public in theory and practice and do not become a tool in the hands
of a global corporate world for making profits.

Faced with a situation where libraries are blind walking into extinction, it
is important that public libraries stand up for a new role of libraries in
society. In the world ruled by corporate globalisation, it is too easy to
drift along with the tide of "neutral" librarianship and do nothing to make
libraries play a central role in liberating people, their cultures, and
their economies from the privatised future that globalisation has planned
for them.

A new approach in terms of vision and practice of public librarianship is
urgently needed. Real democracy and transparency need to flourishes if
public libraries are to be at the heart of social life. The Committee needs
to give leadership in bringing about these necessary changes.

Democracy deficit in libraries

The myth of a "neutral" public library service needs to be exploded. There
is no way that libraries and librarians are or can be neutral in the social
struggles of their societies. Every decision they make - how much to spend
on books, which books to buy, what staff to appoint, how to manage the
service - is a reflection of their class position and their world outlook,
however much they deny this. The power they have been given in running
their libraries is supposed to be used to meet the needs of ALL local
people. But there is a basic lack of democracy in the world of libraries,
which has created "dictator library managers".

What librarians do - and don't do - is not merely an academic question. It
affects our understanding of our natural and social environment, which,
taken in its totality, affects our world outlook, affects what we think and
what we do. It influences the minds of the young generation and becomes the
prevailing outlook of the adult world of tomorrow.

Manipulation of information, whether conscious or unconscious, is an
important matter, not only in local life, but in international relations as
well. Librarians can become tools in the hands of those seeking to
manipulate whole populations to think along their lines - or stand firm to
support the democratic rights of the people manipulated. There is no third
way here.

Thus there is an urgent need to create a new type of people-oriented,
democratic libraries and librarians who are directly answerable to the
communities they serve.

Libraries and society in Britain

There is usually a time gap between the emergence of a new social reality
and that reality being accepted in people's consciousness. In the case of
Britain, changes after the Second World War resulted in the loss of the
economic power of Britain, a fact reflected in the loss of the British
Empire. However, at a larger social level, the British society has not
fully absorbed this fundamental loss of economic and thus political power.
Lessons and reality of history are shut out from social consciousness by
denying the reality of a new world where Britain is no longer the superpower
ruling the world, where China is flexing its muscles to become the most
powerful nation in the world.

In a society that has sought to shut out the reality of a new globalised
world, it is not surprising that its libraries have shut themselves in a
dream world of presumed superiority and "professional" might. The fact that
the library world has not come to grips with changes in British society is a
reflection of the British society as a whole not coming to grips its new

The Committee needs to give urgent attention to having a reality check of
what the current social role of public libraries is and what it ought to be.
A greater awareness of the real international and national forces at play in
modern society needs to inform public library policy and practice.

Creating a people-orientated library service

There is thus an urgent need to develop a library service that helps to
create a new consciousness among people about their real role in society and
also about the position of their country in the context of the wider world.
Only on such wider awareness can a people-orientated library service be

If there is going to be a true people-orientated library service, it is
necessary that there is a clear understanding of social forces within which
a particular library service operates. Libraries and librarians face a
number of challenges today. The first need is for all librarians to
investigate their society and communities. Mao's recommendation at a
political level - "no investigation, no right to speak" - is equally valid
in the information field. It is important to understand working people's
lives and struggles, be one of them, and then seek ways of creating a
relevant library service.

In all societies with class divisions and class struggles, library services
tend to be a service for elite by elite, providing a service to the
dominating classes and their allies only. In situations like these, the
process of liberating the library service for those previously excluded is
the key role of library workers and professionals.

The challenge is to develop a service that is open to all irrespective of
class, race, gender, ability, age, sexual orientation, political beliefs,
etc. The service needs to be an inclusive one which reaches out to all who
are currently excluded. Yet this task is not easy and needs careful thought
and planning.

As is the case in all social movements, there are no specific guide books on
how to create a liberated, "open" library service. It is only the actual
practice of learning from people that will provide a solution that is
relevant to our particular social situation and will help us build libraries
without walls.

But just learning from people is not enough. The next, and perhaps the more
difficult, step is to turn our ideas into action. This is best done by
empowering the excluded so that is they who decide how our library resources
should be used and how our energies are spent. People themselves will then
be the best judges of our success or failure. It is in putting these ideas
into practice that a people-orientated, "open to all" service can be built.

Libraries can be at the centre of this vastly changing world. Effective
leadership in the information field can make libraries places where
different social, political and economic forces in conflict can deposit
their various views, experiences, knowledge and world outlooks and help
create a society at peace with itself. By ensuring that these contradictory
forces have an equal chance to be acquired, stored, heard and understood,
librarians and libraries can create a new social role for themselves. They
will then have played a meaningful social role in creating more just and
"equal" societies.

Abdul Kalam, the President of India, has pinpointed the root cause of social
and political conflicts in the world today:

. [the] world over, poverty, illiteracy and un-employment are driving
forward the forces of anger and violence. But, societies, which includes
you and me, have to address themselves to the root causes of such phenomena
which are poverty, illiteracy and unemployment. [2]

Librarians everywhere have a role to play in eliminating the root causes of
poverty, illiteracy, unemployment and inequality. It is no longer
acceptable for libraries and librarians to refuse to take this social
responsibility seriously. The choice is simple: if the information
profession does not take its social responsibility seriously, it will no
longer have a social role. People will then develop alternative models of
information and knowledge communication which do meet their needs. There
will then be no libraries as we know them today.

The Committee has an important role in ensuring that public libraries emerge
from the deep social sleep into which they have sunk - generally isolated
from the people and communities they are expected to serve. There is a
further danger of decision makers and managers living in a dream world where
regular assurances are given by interested parties that all is well and that
libraries are at the centre of social life. The Committee needs to give a
clear guidance about the future role of public libraries and help create a
totally new mindset needed if we are to save the library for a new

Shiraz Durrani

19 November 2004

[1] The IFLA Position on The World Trade Organization (2001). Available at:

[2] Kalam, Abdul (2004): "Dynamics of terrorism and violence". Philosophy
and social action. Vol. 30 (2) April-June, 2004.

7. A critique of "anarchist librarianship"

(With apologies to anarchist librarians who don't want to be taken

First, I'd like to provide a little background for my treatment of this
subject. On the PLG discussion list recently, John Buschman attacked the
"anarchist librarian" identity that rose to noticeability in the late
nineties, thanks primarily to Chuck Munson's website and email discussion
list. John's reasons for attacking it at the time he did were left
obscure in his messages, but it is clear enough from his writings that it
is something he has thought about for some time and associates, tenuously,
with postmodern emphases on identity generally. His attack asserted that
"anarchist librarians" are posers, committed only to an identification
with a well-understandable ideal but without actual political commitments;
that anarchism is an adolescent political identification that rather
irresponsibly rejects involvement with existing institutions and real
politics, preferring childish "DIY" projects whose dependence on the
infrastructure and culture of those institutions it does not acknowledge;
that "anarchist librarians" are not truly a part of the political left but
are merely hipsters. Their anarchism should not be taken seriously, he
asserts; when criticized about the incongruity of "anarchist
librarianship" they reply that the questioner should study and learn about
the seriousness of anarchism as a political philosophy, but they, at the
same time, are not seen to follow any serious anarchist practice or to
engage in serious discussions of problems of anarchist librarianship,
instead simply capitalizing on the incongruity of the "anarchist
librarian" label by being "difficult to understand" and therefore hipper
than the naive questioners.

I will admit at the outset that I partially agree with this assessment; I
think there is a degree of uncomfortable truth in it. At the same time,
my association with individual anarchist librarians, whom I originally met
in at ALA conferences while I was still in library school and have met
with personally at intervals for years afterwards at library conferences
and Anarchist Book Fairs, teaches me that they at least deserve to be
taken seriously, and that anarchism, as a political philosophy, is often
misunderstood, and that because of this an examination of some of the
implications of "anarchist librarianship" is warranted. Among the
anarchist librarians who originally got me thinking about these issues are
Chuck Munson, whom I just mentioned and whom I appreciate because he is
sincere in the true Godwinian sense; Howard Besser, the former LIS
professor who now leads the Moving Image Archiving and Preservation
program at NYU (though he has always liked to say he has to decline the
great honor of being called a librarian because he is a mere professor);
Julie Herrada, who curates the Labadie collection of historic anarchist
material at the University of Michigan; Jessamyn West of
fame, who, though she no longer calls herself an anarchist, still holds
the same values; Laura Quilter, who is now studying law at one of the top
law schools in the country and mixes anarchist ideals with a practical,
admirable, real-world effort to make the world a better place; and though
he has never quite identified himself as part of this group, Chuck D'Adamo
of the Alternative Press Center, who is very sophisticated theoretically
and is unquestionably politically committed and active. I respect all of
these individuals and know them well enough to know that, for them, their
anarchism has been more than a mere pose but, in different ways,
represents the outcome of a long and passionate thought process and a
genuine political orientation to life.

My own conclusion is, however, different. Regarding anarchism, I certainly
sympathize with the idea of a society in which people are rational and
sensitive enough that law and government are not needed (except perhaps
for things like the provision of infrastructural regulation), but I cannot
imagine that it is law and government that prevents this society from
coming into being, and I also cannot imagine that any society in which
people organize themselves to achieve communal ends can be free of
hierarchy and relations of authority, whether acknowledged or not.
Regarding anarchist librarianship, I think that there are real
contradictions inherent in the idea, and that it is immature for anarchist
librarians simply to gloss over those contradictions, which they often do.

I'm not going to provide an exposition of anarchist theory, but I will say
that if you think anarchism is primarily about Freedom, I can join in with
the anarchist librarians who say that you could probably use a little
education in its theory. Godwin, Proudhon, Bakunin, and Kropotkin, who
were the founders of anarchism as a political movement, each had a vision
in which freedom was important primarily as a means of bringing about a
rational, responsible community of individuals, but in each case it would
be a community that would be self-governing via informal censure -- not
necessarily all that libertarian (unless you are a follower of Max
Stirner, who founded a separate tradition during that time period).

I am also not going to attempt a critique of the contemporary anarchist
movement, except to mention that while as a political identity it is no
different from any other radical political identity in its affordance of a
whole range of inauthentic as well as authentic ways of claiming it, I
think it does tend to attract a greater number of privileged white people
who want to be "Left" in a way that doesn't force any tough choices or
sacrifices, because its absolutist nature allows its believers to wash
their hands of realities that don't measure up to its ideal of human
society (such as electoral politics and union organizing).

What I am going to do is show why I believe that the "anarchist librarian"
identity does involve a real contradiction, while being as fair as I can
to librarians who are anarchists.

It was Jessamyn West who provided the prototype for the defense of
anarchist librarianship, saying,

"I've said it once, and I'm sure I'll say it a zillion more times:
anarchists are NOT against organization, or pro-disorder; they are against
centralized forms of governance and hierarchical power structures in
general. So, while hierarchy in the workplace is a problem, hierarchy in
the card catalog is not."

Unfortunately for those of us who remain unedified, she has pretty much
left it at that, though she did attempt to address my line of questions in
an interview I did with her in Library Juice about two years ago:

My argument is that hierarchy in the card catalog is in fact linked to
hierarchy in the workplace, and it has to do with the fundamental basis of
modern librarianship in a collection of standards for the organization of
information. Modern librarianship has its beginnings in the very
un-anarchistic nineteenth century phenomenon of multiplying efficiency and
productivity through the standardization of processes and tools, and in a
broader sense. This standardization is at the heart of the Industrial
Revolution and the process of rationalization that went along with it, to
which the anarchist movement was part of a large reaction. Melvil Dewey,
among others, contributed immensely to the standardization project that
makes up the bulk of library science. Standardized cataloging and
classification are the primary examples, but there are many others,
including such things as the dimensions of a catalog card and the "Library
Hand," both dead standards now but functioning in their day.
Standardization of all of the methods of librarianship brought major
benefits: it enabled cooperation between libraries and it unified the
profession so that when one had learned the standard methods and tools one
could function as a librarian in any library. The twentieth century only
saw the standards of the profession extended into new technological areas.
Libraries have also made use of standards that exist in the broader
infrastructural context at a variety of levels, ranging from the barcode
standard to the age-old standard of the sequence of letters in the
alphabet. But it is the standards that are specific to librarianship that
give libraries the skeleton of a unified institution.

Technical standards, as Chuck Munson has pointed out to me, are generally
created in a collegial, cooperative setting (in a process that he likes to
say is anarchistic). He likes to cite the development of the standards
underlying internet protocol and the open source software that drives so
much of the internet as examples of anarchistically-produced standards and
tools. There is certainly a cooperative spirit operating in these areas
of technology development, but once the technology and the standards are
developed it requires the authority of hierarchical, usually large
organizations (corporations, scientific and professional societies,
universities and governments) to bring them into common adoption.
Furthermore, all of that collegial, cooperative, scientific work is only
possible in the context of an infrastructure that is institutionally
supported by these hierarchical, authority-bearing organizations. Even
open-source software development is tied to such institutions, albeit
often indirectly.

In the library world, the MARC format, MARCXML, MODS, METS, Z39.50 and a
host of other technical standards are maintained by the Library of
Congress, as are the Library of Congress Classification System and the
Library of Congress Subject Headings. These standards and others like
them form the basis of the practice of librarianship as a unified
profession. (A shared ideology and a body of intellectual doctrine are
extremely important as well, and are historically tied to the development
of early standards, but the standardized methods play a skeletal role in
the body of the institution.) There is always collegial criticism of
these standards, and LC and other standards developing organizations
respond to that criticism, but there is nearly universal acknowledgement
that even a flawed standard is better than no standard. In fact, it is
the recognition of the importance of standards that is the reason for the
continued pressure on LC to reform its Subject Heading list. There is
cooperative, collegial work involved in the setting of various standards,
to be sure, but what the Library of Congress has to do with them is more
than just "the office work." The Library of Congress, in the case of the
standards it maintains, organizes that activity and provides the authority
so that what results in each case is a standard that whole organizations
can adopt in order to be able to cooperate with other organizations.
Similarly, the American Library Association is the publisher of, and
provides the authority for, the Anglo American Cataloging Rules.

Hierarchical structures of authority, I should point out, are not
automatically "undemocratic," though anarchists would tend to have it that
they are. Organizations institute bureaucratic structures partially in
order to prevent individuals from having too much power and acting
arbitrarily. Societies institute formal voting procedures in order to
make authority accountable to the people. These systems never function
perfectly, and often do not even function well, but the belief that life
without them is necessarily more democratic, or that hierarchy and
relations of authority and coercion do not exist where they are not
formalized or acknowledged, is false.

In response to this line of thinking, one member of the Anarchist
Librarians discussion list asserted the relevance of the difference
between "authority of" and "authority over" -- standards, she would have
it, being created and adopted purely by the "authority of" type of
relation. Evidence supporting this argument would be in the fact that
standards are generally produced by non-governmental organizations and are
promulgated and accepted without the force of law (NIST notwithstanding).
They are more like regulations than laws, only there is no penalty for not
following them other than being less able to participate in larger

Unless, of course, you are a worker.

If you are a cataloger in a large library and you decide you would like to
use the Hennepin County List for subject headings, instead of the standard
LC subject headings used by your institution, you will learn quickly that
the promulgation of standards is an "authority-over" game where the rubber
meets the road. Standards are spread not by free individuals but by
organizations with a hierarchical structure. Their use demands that
individuals subordinate themselves, at least minimally, to the larger
organizations in which they participate.

Many anarchists would argue that a more democratic, less hierarchical
organization could just as easily decide to stick with a library standard
and that therefore relations of hierarchy and authority are not necessary
to spread standards. The problem I have with this is as follows. What
they are suggesting is the voluntary adoption of standards, so that we
follow standards but without any form of coercion. Rather than a question
of what competing standard to adopt (which is a question that arises
whenever new technologies are being introduced and is the occasion for
conflict and power struggles between nations as well as institutions),
let's take the question of whether to be "standard" or "non-standard."
This could be a question of whether to use LC subject headings or create
our own. To the extent that we adopt the standard, we are choosing more
order and more organization, and to the extent that we chose to be
non-standard, we are choosing less order and less organization in the
system. Jessamyn says anarchists are "NOT against organization or
pro-disorder" but are "against centralized governance and hierarchical
power structures in general." Her dream library, which may be internally
democratic (or, as I believe, involves unacknowledged hierarchies and
power relationships), in choosing whether to be "standard" or
"non-standard," is only free to make a choice that is predetermined,
unless it DOES chose to go against organization and order in the larger
system. Assuming order is desired, the sense in which the choice to
follow the standard is voluntary is rather empty. In essence, it is
centrally dictated by the authority of the standards developing
organization, which is realized in the broad acceptance of the standard by
the community. It is difficult to see in what sense this choice is a
voluntary choice if it is assumed that order is what is desired, because,
by definition, no alternative exists. (This paradox exists at the general
level of anarchist theory as well, in the idea of obeying norms
voluntarily. The proof that it is voluntary is in your ability to behave
not in accordance with the norm; but that involves not obeying the norm.
The anarchist claim of autonomous order is paradoxical; the paradox is
apparently solved by saying that freedom is not the ultimate goal, but
that a pairing of autonomous individuality and community are the goal.
The paradox remains though, in the sense that social order without "law"
still involves hierarchical relationships and relations of "authority
over" if it is in any sense dependable; the "voluntary" nature of
conformity in an imagined anarchist society may consist only in harmony,
happiness, and informality, which are only held rather awkwardly as a
political ideal, as they are clearly a matter of faith rather than

But perhaps I have been too presumptuous about what anarchists librarians
want. Perhaps they ultimately prioritize localism over the value of a
unified profession, and would be quite happy to see librarianship
consisting of small, democratic, autonomous libraries doing everything for
themselves, each in different ways, without shared systems that facilitate
cooperation and without a unified sense of what a library professional is
and knows. That is possible. It is, however, so far away from both the
professional's and the common public's understanding of what librarianship
is that the sense of contradiction in the idea of an "anarchist librarian"
would be validated. Anarchist librarians could argue that this is what
makes their vision radical; I would only point out that it is incompatible
with 20th and 21st century library practice as we have known it and would
necessitate a severe loss of functionality; it would be a pre-modern

To take this position, I should point out, is not to reject the value of
localism altogether; compromises can be made between the interests of
organizing on a large scale and maintaining local autonomy to meet local
needs, as the Hennepin County Library did during Sanford Berman's years as
head cataloger and other libraries do in other ways. Such compromise
positions should not be confused with anarchist positions, however,
because they recognize the importance of some degree of subordination to
larger organizational structures and standards regimes, and that is
precisely what anarchism does not allow.

Anarchists value their history and generally see great value in the
preservation of the cultural record and in its accessibility, and have
natural affinities with librarianship's role as a cultural/informational
commons where civil liberties are held sacred. The contradiction lies in
the fact that librarianship, as an institution and a project of society at
large, demands larger structures of organization than are possible to
achieve without formalized hierarchical relationships and formally
specialized roles - cooperation amongst much larger groups of people than
are capable of functioning under the strict rules of the concensus
process. Anarchist librarians take for granted, and simply do not see,
what this society-wide organization of the institution does for the
practice of librarianship, or do not see that it involves, at many levels,
hierarchical structures and a kind of large-scale organized activity that
is precluded by their beliefs.

This outlook does not preclude me from seeing the ways that the overall
process of the rationalization and the subsequent rise of the information
society have given rise to oppressive social arrangements and have been
used to maintain inequality. My position as a socialist is that we can
balance freedom and organization in a society that maintains dynamic,
organized, highly functional, democratically controlled institutions for
the sake of humanity as a whole (rather than for controlling classes).
(Librarianship and socialism, as I feel is obvious, are deeply compatible.
They are more compatible, as we are seeing increasingly with the erosion
of the public sector by privatization and anti-tax policies, than
libraries and capitalism.)

That is my point of view on anarchist librarianship, in a nutshell. I
wrote privately to Jessamyn West and to Ed D'Angelo, anarchist (or former
anarchist) librarians who I believe would be able to offer
well-thought-out rebuttals to this argument. Jessamyn declined because
she is travelling to Australia for an international conference on
intellectual property. Ed did not reply to my email, but he usually does,
so my assumption is that he has been out of contact. I will entertain the
idea of providing room for a rebuttal in a future issue.

For further reading:

Ritter, Alan. Anarchism: a theoretical analysis. Cambridge University
Press, 1980.

Olshan, Marc A. "Standards-making organizations and the rationalization of
American life." The Sociological Quarterly. Vol. 34, No. 2 (1993). p.

Agger, Ben. "Work and Authority in Marcuse and Habermas." Human Studies,
2 (1979). pp. 191-208.

Mattli, Walter and Büthe, Tim. "Setting international standards:
Technological rationality or primacy of power?" World Politics, 56
(October, 2003). pp. 1-42.

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