TBT: Them radical librarians

I spent my childhood in libraries. Their stacks, their people, were my sanctuaries, the safe and nurturing places where my real community lived (rather than these changing cities where my family seemed to continually be moving). So it makes sense to me that libraries are now declaring themselves as sanctuary spaces—although with political overtones that return us to the radical face of librarians.

The Santa Cruz Public Library.

We now have Twitter feeds such as @LibrariesResist or last Friday’s #DayofFacts—and the delightfully named evocation of my Sixties youth, the Radical Librarian Collective.

Librarians all over have declared themselves in alliance with their diverse population rather than submit to the paranoia of executive orders.

Remember the Patriot Act? The thing rushed through on the heels of 9/11 giving the government rights to poke their nose into our digital, personal, and private lives? Remember how librarians reacted? As the ALA said:

Libraries are key sources of information on all kinds of subjects and from all perspectives for their communities. Reading has always been one of our greatest freedoms. The written word is the natural medium for the new idea and the untried voice from which come the original contributions to social growth.

“Libraries provide a place to exercise intellectual freedom: a free and open exchange of knowledge and information where individuals may exercise freedom of inquiry as well as a right to privacy in regards to information they seek. Privacy is essential to the exercise of free speech, free thought, and free association. In a library, the subject of users’ interests should not be examined or scrutinized by others.”

Sound familiar? Then as now, we find librarians on the front lines—politely; firmly—in pushing back against ignorance and paranoia. The ALA now writes:

“We are shocked and dismayed by recent executive orders and other actions by the new administration, which stand in stark contrast to the core values of the American Library Association (ALA). Our core values include access to information; confidentiality/ privacy; democracy; equity, diversity and inclusion; intellectual freedom; and social responsibility.

“As our strategic plan states, ‘ALA recognizes the critical need for access to library and information resources, services, and technologies by all people, especially those who may experience language or literacy-related barriers; economic distress; cultural or social isolation; physical or attitudinal barriers; racism; discrimination on the basis of appearance, ethnicity, immigrant status, housing status, religious background, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression; or barriers to equal education, employment and housing.”

“We encourage our members to continue to speak out and show their support for and work on behalf of our core values, in their communities as well as with their local, state and national elected and appointed officials. Additionally, ALA has tools and resources online to help you advocate for our core values:

“ALA is committed to using its national platform for speaking up and speaking out for its members and constituents in these chaotic, unprecedented and challenging times. We appreciate the library community’s continued support.”

For ideas of how libraries are stretching out their arms, take a look at the Bookriot round-up, and the PBS article on resistance. (“Libraries are not neutral. We stand up for human rights.”)

Libraries are the place to go for entertainment and enlightenment, facts and opinions, to learn a language or get a tax form, to hold meetings about anything from writing to genealogy.

So today’s Takeback Tuesday message is the: The ALA have got our backs.  You can join them, here.


  1. Merrily Taylor on February 23, 2017 at 8:29 am

    Proud to be a librarian, and yes, librarians have always been in the forefront when it comes to protecting privacy and intellectual freedom. I spent my career in academic libraries and the threat is real: we DID have the FBI and/or other law enforcement agencies come in and ask “for a list of everything so-and-so has checked out.”
    We’d tell them to go away and come back when they had a subpoena. We also didn’t keep certain kinds of records longer than we had to.
    A friend of mine who turned away several such requests discovered later that the FBI had a file on her, in which someone claimed that “she’d been a student rebel at Columbia in the 60’s.” She hadn’t, but clearly they viewed her as a suspicious radical for upholding someone’s right to privacy!

  2. Mary Sharples on February 24, 2017 at 11:13 am

    Librarians have been considered radicals for many years. As a career librarian, I once heard ALA described as a “Communist leftist organization” by a politician. When we held seminars as to how to deal with the Patriot Act, we were attacked as looking for ways to subvert the law. I still believe that libraries will be the last and loudest stand in defense of the First Amendment. Go ahead and stereotype us as austere ladies who say “shhh.” We will still stand up to bullies.

  3. La Donna Weber on February 24, 2017 at 11:23 am

    Long time librarian and member of ALA. Would love to see if FBI/NSA/Homeland Security has a file on me … pretty sure they have my fingerprints since I adopted children from overseas and had to be fingerprinted for that process. I had a boss (stereotype librarian — hair in bun, reading glasses on a chain around her neck) one time who sent me to the front desk any time a man in a suit entered the library. My children say I invented the raised eyebrow and the basilisk stare that dares you to cross that line. Really, I’m the mildest of women … until ….

  4. Triss Stein on February 24, 2017 at 12:37 pm

    Loved this. Librarians are far from the meek little mice of stereotype. When I was in library school -during a previous time of political turmoil – the whole dept walked out in protest and we had buttons that said, “Libraries to the people.” Protectors of actual facts and actual information

  5. Sylvia on February 24, 2017 at 12:37 pm

    Thank you Librarians! What a good reminder. This would make a grand book/plot!

  6. Diane Kazan on February 24, 2017 at 12:43 pm

    You ladies are our defense against budding dictatorships!

  7. Mary on February 24, 2017 at 1:10 pm

    Libraries, and the wonderful caretakers of all that knowledge and information, are the open door to civilization.

  8. LaDonna Weber on February 25, 2017 at 8:15 am

    “I really didn’t realize the librarians were, you know, such a dangerous group.
    They are subversive. You think they’re just sitting there at the desk, all quiet and everything. They’re like plotting the revolution, man. I wouldn’t mess with them.” — Michael Moore (2002)

    • Laurie King on February 25, 2017 at 9:57 am


  9. TheMadLibrarian on February 26, 2017 at 2:18 pm

    “Librarians are the secret masters of the world. They control information. Don’t ever piss one off. ” Spider Robinson

Leave a Comment