Hidden in the Stacks
Thanks for Zoë Carpenter’s article “Librarians vs. the NSA” [May 25]. There is a story behind the American Library Association’s advocacy of privacy issues related to the NSA. The ALA is an organization of 57,000 people with a huge number of subdivisions and a governing council. The most prominent advocate against the USA Patriot Act and NSA abuses and for the protection of whistleblowers has been the ALA’s Social Responsibilities Round Table (SRRT). Although the ALA has several intellectual-freedom bodies, it has been more timid than the article suggests.
ALA opposition to the Patriot Act has been limited to Section 215, commonly known as the library-records provision. In contrast, the SRRT advocated opposition to the entire act. The SRRT has advocated support for whistleblowers by name, but the only response by the ALA has been general resolutions that articulate nice principles. The SRRT’s initial resolution in support of Edward Snowden was actually passed by the council, then revoked a few days later at the urging of the intellectual-freedom bodies and the council’s legislation committee. Apparently, they thought the resolution would interfere with the ALA’s normal lobbying activities in Congress. It has been very difficult to get the ALA’s Washington office to lobby for a number of successful SRRT-initiated resolutions, including opposition to the Iraq War, torture, and government disinformation.
My point is that mainstream organizational leadership will rarely take bold positions without being pushed by grassroots activists. That point was left out of your story.
ALA SRRT councillor
Wounds of War
When I was in the US Army in Germany on VE Day, they scoffed when I said it would take 50 years to understand fully what was going on right then. The pungent summary by David Nasaw, “The Fruits of World War” [May 25], is an excellent example of what I meant. First come aggressive impulses and the thirst for profiteering in support of the extraordinary potentials of war. Then there is the tooling up for engagement and the conflict itself. But with the termination of war, somehow profits morph into costs. This article is a useful summary of the appalling, lingering, mostly unreported suffering that happened as millions struggled to get back to some semblance of normal life—or at least something more than just survival following the war.