Libraries, Archives, Technology, Impending Doom
Hold onto your hats, librarians, you’re hardly going to believe these two bits of news. Yes, they are that busted.
First, comes the saga of the Evanston, IL, public library and Ali Abunimah. Abunimah, who lives in Chicago, is the man the Forward called “the leading American proponent of a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” He writes and speaks extensively in defense of Palestinians.
You may have noted that Palestine & Israel have been much in the news lately, with all people being killed in Gaza, and depending on where you get your news you will have been presented with different views on the matter. [Let me be clear: this author takes the view that the state of Israel is currently at a very active point in its ongoing project of the colonial theft of Palestinian lands and the destruction of Palestinians as individuals & as a people; that, yes, this is comparable to other historic instances of apartheid, occupation, and ethnic cleansing; that the state of Israel and Zionism are not the same as Judaism; that Israel is not a democracy; and that anti-Semitism is neither the same as anti-Zionism, nor is it at all welcome in the fight against Israel’s destruction of Palestine; that it is just for Palestinians to defend themselves, and that attempts to make the two sides equivalent are utter bullshit.] I am skeptical of the use of alliteration in the hands of government officials, so “terror tunnels” are about as legit as freedom fries. The news tells us the gaudy details of every twisted Israeli ankle, and yet hardly mentions the number or dead & injured in Gaza, or the destruction of vital infrastructure. The UN is investigating war crimes.
Anyway, Abunimah has a new book out, The battle for justice in Palestine, and is doing what authors of new books do — giving talks on their work. One such was scheduled for August 11 at the Evanston library (after being moved from the 4th due to its coincidence with Tisha B’Av). Last Saturday, the 2nd, the library tweeted that Abunimah’s talk would be rescheduled. That tweet was the first Abunimah had heard he would be rescheduled; when he checked the library’s calendar, the event had been deleted. He wrote about this later that day.
As he says, the actions of the Evanston library were in contradiction of the ALA’s Library Bill of Rights, which charges libraries with challenging censorship and with working in concert with “all persons and groups” also interested in doing so.
I’m sure the Evanston library and its director, Karen Danczak Lyons, received some flak once word got around. Ultimately, the event was again scheduled for August 11, and there will supposedly be further related events. I certainly hope that these future events aren’t merely a chance for Zionists to spout off their truthy talking points and continue to try to justify genocide and colonialism, but I’m not really holding my breath.
So. Library schedules speaker. Probably receives angry noise from patrons. Doesn’t stand up for principles of librarianship or the justice the speaker was to convey. Cancels, issues meal-mouthed statements. Gets more flak from other side. Reinstates so as not to look like a complete fucking bigots, issues more mealy-mouthed statements.
Might I humbly suggest that the correct path would have been to issue statements that politely point out the exact principles outlined by the ALA Bill of Rights and other documents, and to keep the planned event on the schedule? Then invite suggestions for other (non-hateful) speakers, get on with life, and call on the support of the library community if the haters persist.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the library world, there’s Librarians & Archivists with Palestine. I also hear that a BDS resolution is in the works; watch this space…
And then there’s the surprise Cumberland County library in Pennsylvania got in the mail from the Department of Agriculture. The Mechanicsburg library thought it might set up a seed library — they’d give seeds to locals, and at the end of the season, those people would restock the seed library from what they’d grown. Great idea, right? Empowering people with food sovereignty. Providing fresh produce. Giving people the tools to learn new skills. And all circumventing the agribusinesses that supply most gardiners with their seeds.
Enter the Department of Agriculture. Which says the library was violating the Seed Act of 2004. Which is supposed to prevent bio-terrorism or whatever, but sounds like it was written by agribusiness. To be in compliance, they’d have to do extensive testing on their seeds, which I suspect is not in the budget.
You can tell this is actually bullshit by the word salad that the Department threw out to justify it: “Agri-terrorism is a a very, very real scenario…Protecting and maintaining the food sources of America is an overwhelming challenge…so you’ve got agri-tourism on one side and agri-terrorism on the other.”
Libraries can’t facilitate the sharing of seeds because TERRORISM. Yeah, the terrorists are going to bring us down via the veggie gardens in Mechanicsburg, PA. Seriously, though, what the hell is she even talking about? Agribusiness is well known for overstepping what should be its boundaries. We see, for example, the patents held by companies like Monsanto, and their ability to prosecute farmers for doing farmers stuff; or the ways in which ecoterrorism laws are used against environmental and animal rights activists who document agribusiness. If we were actually concerned about our food sources, perhaps we’d look to the monopolization of them, their environmental devastation, and so on, rather than bugging some back yard veggie growers and their library. But, again, I won’t hold my breath.
In casual social media conversation, a law student friend (who is also a librarian) says this is likely not actually in the purview of the Seed Act, which is mostly about interstate and international commerce, and suggests we poke our professional organizations about it rather than letting this one library system bear the trouble alone. Another friend, who happens to be an invasive species expert (and the Department of Agriculture cited invasive species as a concern) called it “claptrap”; she notes that seed swapping over a large geographical area may be a problem for the spread of plant diseases, but that on a local scale it would not be a concern. [Note that these were casual observations. Don’t be building your legal challenges on it.]
At least this time we will be laying the blame squarely at the feet of our fucking federal government; the librarians did their due diligence when creating the program. I hope somewhere along the line someone has the patience and funding to challenge the federal government on this bullshit interpretation of the Seed Act.