Libraries & Culture 37.2 (2002) 196-197
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Intellectual Freedom and Social Responsibility in American Librarianship, 1967-1974
Intellectual Freedom and Social Responsibility in American Librarianship, 1967-1974. By Toni Samek. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2001. xviii, 179 pp. $35.00. ISBN 0-7864-09616-9 (paper).
This review is framed between two events that occurred in mid-2001. The first was the IFLA Conference "Libraries in Times of Utopian Thoughts and Social Protests" at the end of May in Boras, Sweden. It gave me the opportunity to meet Toni Samek, the author of Intellectual Freedom and Social Responsibility in American Librarianship, 1967-1974. The conference also verified the importance of her topic in academic circles around the globe.
Toni Samek is a young Canadian scholar at the University of Alberta. She takes the reader to the tumultuous era of the 1960s, a pivotal time when a group of librarians awakened to their social responsibilities. These upstarts challenged their field to live up to its rhetoric as an agency of democracy. Its middle-class base needed to be extended to service in the ghettos. Their professional battleground was within the American Library Association.
The book takes six chapters to move from 1967 to 1974. The author adds valuable information about ALA's struggles, compromises, and the changing of the guard during that pivotal period. Hers is an institutional history of ALA with an emphasis on the political maneuvering during its conventions. The thematic focus is one of the greatest ironies in library history. Instead of reactionary forces, much of the opposition to library social responsibilities arose from fellow activists in the intellectual freedom camp. In 1972 David Berninghausen flamed the fires through a public call for "neutrality." Librarians must not take a stand but have information on all sides of the issues; moreover, librarianship per se had no professional role in balancing social injustices. Samek expertly dissects the dissembling and contradictory realities of the situation. She points out the impossibility of neutrality through [End Page 196] an in-depth discussion on the realities of the alternate press, in particular, the struggles of the Radical Research Center, Alternate Press Index, and Sanford Berman, who wrote this book's foreword. Samek's analysis points to the field studies of Celeste West and other scholars at the time. Libraries did not provide balanced coverage. They did not include--let alone preserve--the counterculture voices that would be necessary to any idea of "neutrality" and honest coverage for the sixties. Neutrality was a myth.
Samek allows the narrative to triumph and provides balanced information for the readers to draw their own inferences. But her work is also a scholarly and applied treatise. Her historiography draws directly on Activism in American Librarianship, a work that Mary Lee Bundy and I edited in the mid-1980s. Like Activism, her volume includes a social message and clear political viewpoint. Employing post-Marxist Antonio Gramsci and his concepts of cultural hegemony, Samek points out the peculiar nature of the American bureaucratic system, which allows for concessions to mollify a situation but only up to a point. As she concludes: "Whenever calls for social responsibility challenged ALA's vital interests . . . ALA not only exercised its moral, intellectual, and political leadership prerogatives, but also flexed its organizational muscle to overcome the challenge" (139).
The closing frame for this review was provided by the annual conference of ALA in San Francisco. Members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) greeted librarians with an energetic protest line in front of the Marriott, one of the main conference hotels. In response, the Black Caucus canceled King Award ceremonies, former ALA president Pat Schuman declined to attend a major award, and president-elect Mitch Freedman refused to go to the executive council's sessions at the hotel. The ALA did move its major scholarship fundraiser but decided to go ahead with scheduled meetings that included the Intellectual Freedom and Ethics Committees. Regardless of the financial implications, the lack of sensitivity and defensiveness displayed reaffirmed the contemporary importance and emotional context of...