Nearly three centuries ago, Benjamin Franklin began the first American public library in Philadelphia. Although not the first library in the world (that honor goes to one established in 668 B.C., or thereabouts), libraries have supported their patrons by upholding community standards. At the vanguard of that movement was the American Library Association (ALA), formed in 1876. For about a century, ALA fought for community standards and library neutrality across the fruited plain. Unfortunately, all that came to an end about three decades ago.
Much to the dismay of many of its members, ALA is today at the forefront of Drag Queen Story Hour, transgender normalcy, the LGBTQ+ movement, inappropriate materials for children, and about every other left-wing flapdoodle one can think of. Until now, ALA was the only game in town to which libraries could attach themselves for support and a bully pulpit voice.
Enter the World Library Association, a new association that returns libraries, especially public ones, to library neutrality on controversial issues and recommits them to upholding community standards. It isn’t that WLA eschews controversial matters. Rather, it seeks to establish itself in community standards and reflect values inherent in that community while remaining politically neutral.
As its website proclaims, “Public libraries are places where anybody can go and learn about anything or just relax and enjoy a public space in peace.”
This breath of fresh air for libraries should also be one of great relief to parents. Until recently, libraries were safe places where anyone could relax in an atmosphere free from political upheavals and social chest-thumping. This is the atmosphere in which libraries were established nearly two centuries ago and were, until recently, the mise en scène in which learning could take place in any hamlet in the country. While not every public library has jettisoned its charter of community standards, many have, and with ALA’s blessing.
But WLA isn’t for public libraries alone, but also for school libraries. Again, the website contends that “School libraries are often essential to educating children and as such special rules apply for the wellbeing of children.”
One would think such common sense would be, well, common sense. School libraries have become, again under the now dark clouds of ALA’s leadership, hotbeds of political and social activism. Many, though not all, school libraries now seek to “educate” children in ways to which their parents would object.
WLA is but a fledging association. Membership is free (a far cry from the hundreds it costs to join ALA), and its mission is still undergoing refinement. The association seeks to reestablish libraries free of inappropriate materials for children, an internet not subject to the salacious eyes of (mostly men) seeking a free thrill, and a politically neutral library work environment.
States seeking a new library association as they begin to jettison the American Library Association should look to WLA as a refreshing alternative. So far legislators in Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, and Wyoming have called upon their state library associations to disassociate themselves from ALA. Doubtless, more will come later and not a moment too soon. The World Library Association is the perfect alternative.
It’s too early to say whether WLA will become formidable enough to take on ALA, one of the strongest lobbyist forces in the capital. But it is not too early to begin rooting for the underdog. ALA president Emily Drabanski shows no sign of relenting in her efforts to do what she claimed to do from the beginning. She heralded her election as “[a] Marxist lesbian who believes that collective power is possible to build and can be wielded for a better world.” Legislators who view this approach as inimical to libraries should waste no time in withdrawing funds from libraries that seek to perpetuate these views.
When I began my profession as a director in a small academic library more than 40 years ago, ALA was only then beginning to involve itself politically. Taking its cue from the National Education Association that had begun its leftward tilt years earlier, ALA began a white-hot pursuit of left-wing ideologies year after year. Annual meetings of ALA devolved from places to meet colleagues, look at the job market, and learn best practices, to soapboxes for everyone from Germain Greer to Hillary Clinton.
Make no mistake about it: the American Library Association seeks to change the world of libraries into its left-of-center image. It is astonishing how quickly and successfully ALA has made its ideology felt. My local public library is currently embroiled in a controversy over age-inappropriate materials in the children’s section — material, mind you, that were you to try to give away free on a public street corner would get you arrested.
And that is why the World Library Association is such a refreshing change of pace. A change had to take place outside ALA, and WLA is the first to step forward with that change. Whether it will survive in today’s crucible of political unrest is anyone’s guess. For now, anyway, the World Library Association is the best alternative.