My husband says that librarians are some of the most radical people he’s ever met.
There is truth in that.
Libraries provide free access to knowledge and intellectual development to all members of society, no matter their race, class or gender.
The Progressive Librarian Guild says that librarians who defend this public right, and these public spaces, are acting in a partisan (or political) way.
“A progressive librarianship demands the recognition of the idea that libraries for the people has been one of the principal anchors of an extended free public sphere which makes an independent democratic civil society possible, something which must be defended and extended. This is partisanship, not neutrality.“~Progressive Librarian Guild
I saw an example of this just a few days ago. The American Library Association say they are “cautiously worried” about the results of the US election and what further cuts might mean to them (they are currently undergoing a major transformation). That’s stronger language than the Prime Minister of Canada used to respond to the Trump victory.
In New York City, there is the group Urban Librarians Unite who hold “read ins” and recognize the needs of patrons who are homeless or mentally ill.
In Britain, the Radical Librarians “aim to build a network of solidarity for those critical of the marketisation of libraries and commodification of information.”
In Canada, the Progressive Librarians Guild Toronto is concerned with “social justice and equality issues, charged with the stewardship of knowledge, championing open access to information, and preserving common space.
This tradition of radical librarians is not new.
Take Dorothy Reeder, for example.
Ms. Reeder, who has the perfect name for a librarian, was the director of the American Library in Paris from 1937-1941. During the German occupation, the Nazi’s kept the library open but banned Jewish members from entering the building. This fearless librarian and her staff defied the occupying Nazis by creating an underground book-lending service to Jewish members. It was a dangerous activity, and one staff member was shot by the gestapo. In 1941, Reeder and the rest of library staff were forced out of the city. After her departure, First Vice-President Countess Clara Longworth (standing in the doorway in the photo above) kept the library open throughout the war.
In 1992, during the Bosnian war, as libraries were destroyed, a group of men and women risked their lives to rescue thousands of irreplaceable Islamic manuscripts – and preserve a nation’s history. The story has been made into a BBC documentary called “For the Love of Books.”
These are just a few examples, but there are many more, like the library in Ferguson, Missouri that stayed open to create a safe space during 2014 riots.
Radical librarians, we need you more than ever.