And we’re all people together

We have an organized response, almost two weeks after the Black Caucus of American Library Association (BCALA) released their statement condemning the location of ALA’s 2016 Annual Conference in Florida. I’ve had the enormous privilege of working with other members of the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association (APALA) to discuss what the location means to us as Asian and Pacific American librarians, how we can support our brothers and sisters in BCALA, and how to move as a profession towards respect, equity, and justice. And after two weeks of emails, side conversations, Google docs, and various committees, BCALA, ALA, and presidents of ALA’s ethnic affiliates have released a follow up statement.  So, I’ve been following some of the discussions that have been going on, butthis statement below isn’t mine:

CHICAGO —The values of diversity, equity, and inclusion form the foundation of the library profession and our professional associations. Those values have been challenged by the discriminatory enforcement of the “Stand Your Ground” law in Florida and the fact that ALA’s 2016 Annual Conference is scheduled for Orlando. The Executive Committee members of ALA and the BCALA Executive Board have actively engaged in conversation to determine the best solution to this challenging dilemma. That conversation has been extended to the Executive Boards of AILA, APALA, CALA, and REFORMA with a decision to issue a joint statement of commitment and action.

In response to BCALA’s concern regarding holding the ALA Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida, in 2016, the ALA Executive Board thoroughly explored the options for moving the conference. ALA started by clarifying the facts underlying conference site selection, the implications of trying to move the Orlando conference, and the prevalence of Stand Your Ground laws across the United States. The contracts for Orlando were negotiated originally in 2000; the Stand Your Ground law in Florida became effective on October 1, 2005. Cancelling the hotel and convention center contracts would result in a minimum fine of $814,000. Conferences as large as ALA must be scheduled for specific sites and contracts signed at least 7–10 years in advance. At this late date, it would be highly unlikely that ALA would be able to find another site with availability during our window of late June/early July 2016.

Most troubling is the growing prevalence of Stand Your Ground laws. Twenty-two states have laws that allow for that self-defense provision to be asserted (as of August 2013). An additional 21 states have enacted laws that allow for self-defense within one’s home (called Castle Doctrines). However, each state has implemented and applied the Stand Your Ground laws differently, and it is the interpretation and application of the Stand Your Ground Law in the Zimmerman and Dunn cases, as well as the Marissa Alexander case, that has heightened the urgency for discussion and action.

With that information in hand, our ALA’s Executive Committee and BCALA’s Executive Board decided that the best way to respond to the Florida situation is by turning it into an opportunity to educate, build awareness, and advocate for equitable treatment, inclusion, and respect for diversity. We have agreed on the following actions:

  • Town Hall discussions of racial diversity and inclusion in our profession, association, and communities.
    • Major topic of Membership Meeting at 2014 ALA Annual Conference in Las Vegas.
    • Topic of discussion during Virtual Membership Meeting on June 5, 2014.
  • Support for conversations and actions at the state level facilitated by state library associations or other organizations within the states.
  • Formation of a Special Presidential Task Force involving members of the ethnic affiliates and ALA to (1) develop programs and other opportunities for members to learn about and engage in the issue, (2) build strong advocacy and awareness while at the Orlando conference, and (3) develop communications directed toward the public. The Task Force will be formed immediately. The goal is to use the Orlando conference platform to provoke a national dialogue.
  • Collaboration with local Black and Hispanic/Latino community members and organizations in Orlando to determine the best ways for ALA members to be supportive of them.  This will include compilation of a list of African-American and Hispanic/Latino businesses in Orlando for ALA members to patronize.
  • Outreach to national organizations with vested interest in the Stand Your Ground laws to build alliances and collaborative efforts in advocacy and public awareness (e.g., NAACP, La Raza, Urban League).

Most important to all the ethnic caucuses and ALA is the public and honest conversation that will be generated by our actions. We are committed to building more diversity and inclusion among our members, the field of librarianship, and our communities. We invite all members of AILA, APALA, BCALA, CALA, REFORMA, and ALA to engage with us in moving toward a more just society.

With respect,

Barbara Stripling
(American Library Association)

Jerome Offord, Jr.
(Black Caucus of the American Library Association)

Heather Devine
(American Indian Library Association)

Eugenia Beh
(Asian Pacific American Librarians Association)

Lisa Zhao
(Chinese American Librarians Association)

Isabel Espinal
(The National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking)

Macey Morales
Media Relations Manager
American Library Association

So… what do I think…

Let’s start positive. Very positive, the condemnation of Stand Your Ground laws, and the Zimmerman, Dunn, and Alexander cases. Plus, a pretty wide number of groups is represented in this document, which represents an even wider range of engagement!

Pretty positive, the action items are documented, to keep us accountable to each other. The decision to keep the conference in Florida, and to make sure that we support local communities seems fair to me. As long as it happens. As long as it’s a real commitment to local libraries and activist groups and businesses, and not looking through Yelp for businesses to put in the program and says “Remember to eat at black restaurants!”

Less positive, the action items don’t assign a lot of responsibility outside of the already vested ethnic affiliates. I’m a little worried that this could turn into members of the ethnic affiliates trying to have conversations that other library professionals still don’t want to have.

Not very positive, that second paragraph sounds very ‘splanatory. I understand the desire on ALA’s part to justify their decisions, first to hold and then to keep the conference in Florida, but I’m wary of saying “it’s too expensive” or “its too hard”, because it can sound like money or difficulty were an explanation for not pursuing the safety and inclusion of your members. And I dislike the phrasing that makes it sound like “ALA started by clarifying … the prevalence of Stand Your Ground laws across the United States”. I don’t want people to think that somehow ALA is this big white organization and the ethnic affiliates are outer members that needed Stand Your Ground explained to them.

ALA represents all librarians, and people of color are working with their fellow information professions as fellow members of ALA to make sure that our profession reflects diversity/equity/inclusion.


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