#alaac14 ALA Council III

Dear Readers,

Here is my much delayed report on ALA Council III, which took place on Tuesday, 7/1/2014, 7:45am-9:15am. Despite the short time schedule for us, we had a full agenda. This session had a considerable amount of drama that started even before the session actually started.

Before I go into that, let’s talk about what was non-controversial. We adopted a set of memorials and quietly offered our respects as the following names were read aloud:

We also easily passed a tribute:

75th Anniversary of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), T-#2.

We also heard and in some cases acted on a number of reports:

A full listing of actions taken by Council during all sessions of the 2014 Annual Conference has been posted to the ALA Council website. Actions by by Council since 2008 can be found at http://www.ala.org/aboutala/governance/council/council_actions.

Now for the drama, which centered around the report of the Intellectual Freedom Committee (IFC) CD#19.3-19.17, which was presented by Chair Douglas Archer.

The bulk of IFC’s report was a bundle of 14 revised interpretations to the Library Bill of Rights that were to be inserted into the ninth edition of ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Manual.

Lest you think I’m going to rant about being presented with 14 bundled documents to approve in a short Council, you should know two things:

  1. Council was provided notice on their listserv when the draft interpretations were made available on ALA Connect back in April.
  2. Chair Doug Archer gave us a heads up a day or so before that he intended to bring the 14 interpretations as a bundle in Council III. While I was uneasy at the time about voting on the package as a bundle, I held my peace at that forum. I kinda wish I hadn’t, but that’s water under the bridge.

I did read the interpretations back in April. For the most part, I think IFC should be commended for the work they did in putting them together.  But I was troubled by the interpretation on Labeling and Rating Systems. I also commented at the time, though in reviewing what I said, I did not offer what would be my core concern at Conference – that the Interpretation treated remote users of a library different from in-library patrons. Specifically in-library patrons could see ratings on packages, but someone accessing the library’s catalog from home or in another system library could not discover what a item was rated as.

I strongly believe in equal treatment in information. What I do remember expressing at the Council Forum where Chairman Archer announced the presentation of the Interpretations as a bundle was that the interpretation on labeling ought to be amended so that either a rating label could be removed and not shown to in-library patrons, or preferably that IF A RATING APPEARED ON THE PACKAGE, that fact should be noted in the bibliographic record. But as the interpretation stood, in-house users could not avoid seeing an item’s rating but remote users could not discover it through the catalog.

After sleeping on things, I resolved that even though Council III was a shortened session, I would try sponsoring a resolution to split the labeling interpretation off the package and send it back to IFC for more work. I asked for a second sponsor as required. Five people stepped forward. I also got a few e-mails insisting I was trying to lead ALA down the road to censorship and that libraries would be forced to insert all sorts of idiosyncratic rating systems into the bibliographic record. My replies that such demands could be thwarted by citing cataloging practice that only ratings actually printed on the item are entered into the bibliographic record fell on deaf ears, in my view.

This was actually the day before Council III. Along the way I’d find out that while the Interpretation on Labeling and Rating Systems had its troubling language for decades, ALA’s cataloging bodies had detailed instructions for entering ratings that appeared on a package in their Resource, Description and Access (RDA) rules. There’s even a MARC field (521) for this type of information. So not only was the labeling interpretation treating users differently depending on whether they happened to be in the library, but this interpretation clearly did not reflect an organizational consensus on what should be in a bibliographic record.

Evening came and I got an e-mail from Doug Archer asking if I’d meet with him before the final Council Forum which took place the night before Council III. I did meet with him and we had a frank and cordial conversation — considerably more cordial than some of my other interactions with some other current and former IFC members. He gave me reasons I found acceptable to stand down from my resolution to split the Labeling interpretation. As some of my would be cosponsors filed in, I let them know of my decision. The forum then had a lively discussion of the Labeling interpretation and from the people in the room, it was clear to me the document did NOT reflect a consensus within ALA.

Now it was the morning of Council III. Things moved along smoothly until the IFC report. Andrew Pace, one of the people I had approached about my resolution to split the Labeling interpretation, presented one of his own to do just that. Much discussion, some fairly heated on both sides, ensued.

Based on some of the talk and implications made by some of the opponents of referral, I wound up voting to refer the labeling Interpretation back to IFC. I felt it was important that IFC understand there was no real consensus for their view in Council.

The motion to refer failed 65 Yes, 70 No. But you have to understand that in normal circumstances, Council normally votes overwhelmingly one way or another. Close votes are NOT the norm. I commend Andrew for forcing a debate that clearly indicated Council’s discomfort with the document. As a result, Chairman Archer has promised a revisit of the labeling interpretation. It won’t be in time for the ninth edition of the Intellectual Freedom Manual, but after Council approves it will go on the web site and be put in the 10th edition. I look forward to seeing what they come up with. As long as the treat in-house and remote users equally and show some sign they’ve consulted with ALA’s cataloging committees, I will be happy to move it forward.

And that’s the way I thought the Council sessions went in the 2014 Annual Conference of the American Library Association.


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