Wednesday, March 07, 2007


[posted by Callimachus]

Bravo to Nat Hentoff for keeping up the pressure on this story of the American Library Association's shameful refusal to say a word against its beloved Fidel Castro -- even as he throws Cuban librarians in cages.

The American Library Association —the largest organization of librarians in the world — continually declares that it fights for everyone's "Freedom to Read!" and its Library Bill of Rights requires its members to "challenge censorship." Yet the leadership of the ALA — not the rank and file — insistently refuses to call for the immediate release of the independent librarians in Cuba — designated as "prisoners of conscience" by Amnesty International. They are serving very long prison terms because they do believe in the freedom to read — especially in a dictatorship.

Among the many organizations demanding that Fidel Castro and his successors release these courageous Cubans — who have opened their homes and libraries to offer books censored in the Cuban state libraries — are such groups as the library associations of the Czech Republic, Latvia, Estonia and Poland. All these librarians, finally freed from Communism, agree with their colleagues in the Polish Library Association, who say in their declaration, "The actions of the Cuban authorities relate to the worst traditions of repressing the freedom of thought and expression."

... However, the top officials of the American Library Association —as well as the majority of its Governing Council —speak derisively of these "so-called librarians" in Castro's gulags.

As far as I can tell, Hentoff is a lonely voice in working this story. Not that he'd care. I first caught his column on it months ago, when he wrote about the tiny Vermillion, S.D., public library that bucked the big national organization and made the independent Dulce Maria Loynaz Library in Havana a sister library, sending it books, including a collection of Mark Twain.

The ALA appears to be intransigent on the issue. It's not that they're unaware of it. It's that they'd rather trust Fidel.

It's true that these prisoners, many brutalized and in failing health, in their cells, don't have master's degrees in Library Science; but as poet-novelist-educator Andrei Codrescu told last year's ALA Midwinter Conference: "These people have been imprisoned for BEING librarians!" Why dismiss them "as 'so-called librarians' when clearly there is no one (in that dictatorship) to certify them."

... A key ALA official, Judith Krug, heads its office of Intellectual Freedom. In my many years of reporting on the ALA's sterling record of protecting American librarians from censorship, I often quoted her in admiration. But now, she said at an ALA meeting about supporters of the caged librarians, "I've dug in my heels ... I refuse to be governed by people with an agenda." The Cuba issue, she continued, "wouldn't die," though she'd like to "drown it."

The agenda, Ms. Krug, is freedom.

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