Michael McGrorty is an ALA Councilor and a man of conscience. He is one of the few people who has made more than a mention about the Salinas libraries and he pushed the ALA to approve a resolution about the libraries’ closing. He’s also a damn good writer. Please read some of his writings about the closure of the Salinas Library System (his most recent ones are here and here). In the former of the two, he wrote some interesting propositions about the ALA’s purpose in protecting libraries:
1. The situation in Salinas and other places demonstrates that our organizations need to be able to respond with various forms of assistance.
2. There is no better use of organizational funds than helping imperiled libraries. Once we acknowledge that we can proceed. If this isn’t true, we should wipe the slate and start over.
3. ALA (and possibly state organizations) should have permanent staff who spend a significant amount of time solving problems in local libraries—the big issues like funding, patron privacy, censorship. If we don’t do this, then we are a set of slogans without teeth.
4. The immediate objective in Salinas is to obtain funding through successful passage of an initiative in a future election cycle. That’s the job—a political campaign. There are many among us with the experience to lead that charge.
5. Sending out somebody to make a speech isn’t going to make it happen. If the locals could do it alone, there wouldn’t be a problem.
6. Read Number Two over again. I would be perfectly happy to alter or dissolve any portion of the activities of ALA to support local library initiatives. There is nothing more important than the preservation of library services.
7. If this is too much for the organized library establishment, then it is perhaps time to establish something new and more vital. The library comes first.
While I’d be the first to argue that the ALA should fight for librarians, I agree with Michael that the libraries must come first for the ALA. We are nothing without libraries. What I don’t know is exactly how the ALA should try and help imperiled libraries. And should the ALA fight for each individual library or fight the larger problems that threaten libraries? I certainly agree with Michael that the ALA should not sit silently while entire communities are deprived of libraries. This is consistent with the ALA’s mission, priorities and goals:
Priority Area B. Legislation/funding
ALA will promote legislation at all levels that will strengthen library and information services. Means will be developed for facilitating the effective competition of libraries for public funds as well as for funds from the private sector.
1. Libraries have adequate funding from public sources (local, state, federal).
2. ALA members are well informed about opportunities for raising funds from private sources.
3. Reliable and timely statistics and information about all sources of library funding are available.
4. Congress consistently approves legislation favorable to libraries.
5. Local governing authorities and state legislatures consistently approve ordinances and legislation favorable to libraries.
6. Information about legislation with potential impact on libraries and library service is easily available.
As more libraries face similar situations to that of Salinas, the place of the ALA in working on a local and national level to protect libraries from closing will increasingly come into question. Hopefully Michael and other ALA councilors will continue pressing the ALA to take action on this most important issue.