Why we keep on going
The Progressive Librarians Guild has become a different sort of enterprise than its founders originally envisioned. Visions of a national organization with chapters and by-laws and so on seem to have peeled away. Any student of history or the sociology of organizations should not be surprised about the unintended consequences of efforts at organizing for change. In organizing for change, you are changed too. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing.
PLG has, for one reason or another, remained SO unstructured that, while it did not maintain its original identity in pristine form, it has persisted and become something else, something serving important purposes. It continues as a coherent current of opinion, as a vehicle for activity, and as a rallying point at different times for different causes. Its convocation seven years ago effectively revitalized an increasingly feeble library radicalism which had begun, even in SRRT, to lose its impetus. It has also become, to use the over-used phrase-of-the-moment, a "network" and even if this organizational form is transitional to something else, it happens to be what we have at the moment and we can probably use it more effectively if we recognize it as such.
PLG, as it was originally conceived, is still today both inside and outside of the "official" library organizations, in particular, ALA. As an affiliate of SRRT we represent the view that SRRT as a whole needs a global vision of social librarianship and cultural democracy and that SRRT cannot be effective as just the sum of task force activities. We are the (self-styled) "left-wing" of SRRT, whose explicit identity as such allows SRRT to be the umbrella group that it is, that it should be, representing an actual spectrum of liberal to far-left options. Within ALA, PLG members have been outspokenly in favor of more concerted action to restore organizational democracy, get "progressive" councilors elected AND to get them to work in concert as a coalition against the dominant consensus within Council and the ALA executive. We have recently begun organizing a Progressive Caucus in ALA Council/Membership for action within Council in advancing a social responsibilities agenda.
Outside of Librarydom's official national organization, PLG leads an elusive, but perhaps equally important, existence as a program and an identity for librarians all over the country who are NOT involved in ALA, allowing us to feel that we are part of a community of radical librarians, that we are not alone, that we are linked through each other's individual activities to each other and to the various social movements and struggles. This aspect of PLG can now be enhanced by the existence and use of PLGNET, our listserv. By the time this is published in the SRRT Newsletter, PLG will have its own website up and running.
Our journal, Progressive Librarian has just published a double issue 12/13 (Spring/Summer 1997). Over the last seven years we have published articles representing both attempts to develop a critical librarianship and materials meant as interventions on particular issues with implications for libraries, librarians and librarianship. Through the journal we have sought to encourage a librarianship which reaches out to connect with developments in radical pedagogy, critical communications theory, the political economy of information, and other related fields of activity in which countercurrents to the orthodoxies of the status quo are raising important questions about culture and society. The present editors, Henry Blanke, John Buschman, Elaine Harger and myself, want to take this opportunity to urge all SRRT members to consider sending us articles they think would be of interest to readers of Progressive Librarian. We urge SRRT members too to subscribe to PL, to make sure their subscription is current, and to try to get their institutions to subscribe. The journal has not been bankrolled by SRRT, so subscriptions and membership dues are extremely important for us to keep the journal going.
What then is PLG today? It is a network of librarians and groups and institutions sharing a common commitment to radical librarianship, promoting solidarity and communicating vital information about activities and issues as they emerge. It is the publisher of Progressive Librarian, a journal which represents a unique "left" perspective on library issues viewed in a broad political and cultural context. It is an affiliate of SRRT which continues to put on programs at ALA promoting a critical discourse on library issues. It is the instigator of the new Progressive Caucus in ALA.
Let me close by urging all SRRTers to consider joining PLG, subscribing to our journal, participating in our panels and publications and suggesting themes for new ones. Yes, we know the waves of activism in librarianship have ebbed and flowed, but PLG is alive and well. You can help make it an effective voice for the library Left.
SRRT Action Council
ALA councilor at large
Tue, 14 October 1997 16:31:37 -0500