Friday, February 10, 2006

Born in the U.S.A.

ALA Radical Militant Librarian button At the end of December, the New York Times published an article about the F.B.I.'s desire to use its PATRIOT Act powers more broadly. Cited in this article was an email in which an agent complained about "radical militant librarians push(ing) us around."

Needless to say, this caused a lot of discussion in LibraryLand. OK, not so much discussion as crowd noise. To sum up, the three main points were "Wuh?", "Grumble Grumble!", and "Damn right!"

It was nice of the Times to release that column a month before the Midwinter American Library Association conference. That's just enough time for the ALA to throw together a red, white and blue button celebrating our new name. (This would be from the "Damn right!" side of the aisle.)

I looked at that button and thought... "yuk." I mean, we're the American Library Association. We give an award for the best American picture book every year, and all we can come up with is text on a white background? You can't pick up the phone and convince Jerry Pinkney or Tomie de Paola or Eric Carle to put something together for us?

Librarian Avengers Radical Militant Librarian Tote BagSomebody at Librarian Avengers agreed with me, so they put together their own design. At least it has an image in it. Plus, it helped me figure out what I disliked about both buttons.

They're retro-chic. Is that really the way we want to sell the First Amendment? As an ironic appeal to a bygone era? I feel like James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams: "Out! Back to the sixties! Back! There's no place for you here in the future! Get back while you still can!"


As it stuck with me, I found the whole message troubling. Are "radical" and "militant" really the words we want to celebrate? Is this a message worth subverting? We are clearly not going to win the fights for intellectual freedom out of the pureness of our hearts. We need to capitalize on our integration with our local communities. Hell, we need to get our bond issues passed just to keep the lights on. And "radical militant" (read "coastal elite") is never going to do that.

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund shop is doing a much better job of this. Perhaps that's to be expected, from an organization mostly made up of graphic arts professionals. It's easier to get a wide variety of art when you've got a wide variety of artists. But some of those artists are taking back the mainstream symbols... superheroes, the Statue of Liberty, bald eagles, the flag. They know where the battleground is, and they're going to it.

This all started with an electronic whine and cheese festival, and I figured it would be bad for my karma to only add to it. So I put something together. If I had the l33t Photoshop skillz, it probably would've taken 15 minutes. I don't, so this represents a couple hours of work (done in little bursts, followed by frustrated expletives, followed by beer and TV watching). But if I wanted to wear a button which said "you're damn right I'm a librarian, and what of it", well, it'd look like this.

Patriotic Library Symbol

And here's where I was going to say how I can't believe no one else has ever thought of this. And how I'm generously licensing this under a Creative Commons Attribution license, so you're free to try to turn a buck with it if you think you can, as long as you say you got the idea here.

But then I re-Googled it, and found out that the good folks at the Longview Public Library in Texas have already put together something snazzier. Oh well. I'm actually glad to know somebody else got here. Great minds think alike. If you like the idea, if you can improve it, if you can crochet it onto a hemp jumper, please use it.


Blogger John B. said...


There are more than a few words that I usually associate with librarians, but "radical and militant" aren't two of them.

Myabe quiet and reserved, bookish and helpful, sometimes even occasionally rude (I've had one or two bad experiences ever) and no-fun (when they used to tell you to "SHHHHHHH").

This junta of Bush's really worries me more everyday. They function on the 'fear factor' and that we should stop everything and give up all rights in order to protect the country. That is in effect the terrorists' get us to live in fear.

12:07 PM, February 10, 2006  
Anonymous teacherrefpoet said...


1:55 AM, February 11, 2006  
Blogger Joe said...

John, you really gotta come down to the Big Easy for ALA Conference this year. See if we can get "quiet and reserved" replaced with "drunken table-dancers." It's amazing what happens when librarians let their hair down...

But overall, you're right. If the ALA, where it takes 3 hours of debate to sneeze, is Radical and Militant, then Neville Chamberlain was Che Guevara.

TRP: any flack about the "65% solution" up in your neck of the woods?

11:53 AM, February 11, 2006  
Blogger TeacherRefPoet said...

Just got an email from my superintendent about that today, Joe. It shouldn't surprise you to find that we're not fans.

12:32 AM, February 14, 2006  
Blogger Joe said...

Sorry to hear that. Good luck explaining why it's a bad idea.

(If you're on the outside, the "65% solution" posits that education will get better when 65% of the education budget is spent on in-classroom education. Not things like school libraries or maintenance.)

7:59 AM, February 14, 2006  

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