Below is my email to ALA OIF in response to the changes to the interpretations on Meeting rooms (http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/librarybill/interpretations/meetingrooms), specifically my concerns with the process that led to this specific wording along with the alarming nature of the wording itself. I also include comments regarding the troubling response: http://www.ala.org/news/press-releases/2018/07/ala-oif-responds-library-bill-rights-meeting-room-interpretation-update
“If a library allows charities, non-profits, and sports organizations to discuss their activities in library meeting rooms, then the library cannot exclude religious, social, civic, partisan political, or hate groups from discussing their activities in the same facilities”
I was planning on addressing the changes to the interpretations on Meeting Rooms with a blog post, but just spent an enormous amount of time on this email, so sharing it instead. I have added a link to the Unicorn Riot leaks of the Discords by white supremacist groups which I refer to in my paragraph on my research and use of libraries by specific hate groups. A search on the term “library” in these files turns up some upsetting and unpleasant stuff, but does provide evidence to support my comments. These leaks do not compromise the privacy of any individuals. Discord is a semi-private forum of primarily anonymous users. If you look at what is being posted you will understand why it is anonymous.
I am providing my comments to you on the recent changes to interpretations on Meeting Rooms passed during the 2018 ALA Conference.
While I have read that the intent was not necessarily to place hate groups on the same level as religious, social, civic, partisan political groups, I have some very deep concerns with a statement on inclusion that includes hate groups. This is the opposite of what it means to be inclusive, especially given that the ALA definition of a hate group is “a social group that advocates and practices hatred, hostility, or violence towards members of a race, ethnicity, nation, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation or any other designated sector of society”. The wording is not simply “controversial”, it is dangerous and alarming. It validates hate groups by including them in the same breath as other legitimate groups. While your interpretation of the law indicates that these groups must be tolerated, they do not by any means have to be acknowledged, legitimized or validated. The inclusion of them in that sentence does just that.
I am also very concerned with when this wording was added. The document that went to conference did not contain these terms and many of the ALA Council members have spoken out about how this change was not brought to their attention. When I first questioned it, I was told by an ALA representative that the vote was unanimous, however, a council member spoke up to note that they had voted no. Expressing this decision as unanimous, while possibly an error, was not fair to this council member who spoke up nor to those of us who had many questions about the process. Furthermore, while it has been disclosed that the language was inserted during the second council, there is still a lack of clarity of these details, specifically who added it and how many were even aware of this addition. This lack of transparency is disturbing and makes me question the motive.
I have seen the response that attempts to clarify that this addition was to simply provide guidance for avoiding lawsuits by these groups. First, I will say that it is entirely possible to provide guidance without actually putting these groups on equal ground with other legitimate groups. A different wording must be considered, a phrasing that separates hate groups in some way to make it abundantly clear that they are being tolerated but not welcomed. My current research is on white supremacist groups and I have seen how they are weaponizing the first amendment in order to gain attention and further spread their message of hate. They actively seek out the policies of locations in order to either exploit them or abuse them. Their threats of lawsuits should never be answered by an acknowledgement of this tactic, even in the name of protecting libraries from these lawsuits. It is a capitulation to their terroristic demands and unacceptable. Including them in the sentence empowers them and plays to their hands. Again, I will point out that it IS entirely possible to guide libraries on the law without validating hate. It is possible to both uphold free speech and protect those who that speech threatens and I expect that my professional organization is both willing and capable of doing this without overtly bowing to the demands of those who weaponize free speech in the name of hate.
As mentioned before, I research some of these specific hate groups. That research has brought me into both physical and online contact with people whose sole mission is to eliminate and destroy my friends, family, colleagues and the patrons I serve. It is unpleasant and unnerving. I have had my friends and family raise concerns about the mental toll this takes on me, being exposed to things that I want to never see, read or hear again. On a personal note I will tell you that reading the term hate group in that sentence was like a punch to the stomach. My initial thought was “how could they be classified in the same sentence, clearly those who wrote this do not really understand the sinister and extremely present danger of these groups”. The validation of these groups by ALA was shocking and betraying. I can not imagine how my colleagues who are the direct targets felt when they saw it. The inability for ALA to recognize this is baffling. Calls for diversity, equity and inclusion are negated in the simple dismissal of the concerns of safety and well-being of those whom you purport to support in a response that says “yeah, we get that it was controversial”. I would expect a much more empathetic and compassionate response to the true emotions of alarm, fear, and concern. A recent panel at ALA even highlighted the harassment of our colleagues brought on by these hate groups, and the lack of consideration for anyone who has been through that experience is astonishing. I don’t think one should have to have been harassed or targeted by these groups to truly understand the impact they can have. I would not wish that on anyone, but it seems that protecting free speech and avoiding lawsuits is more important than acknowledging the harm being done in that action and demonstrates a glaring dissonance.
In my research, I have found that plenty of hate groups are using libraries (https://discordleaks.unicornriot.ninja/discord/). They have access to the information like any other individual or group. They are printing their propaganda on our computers, hanging fliers on our buildings, finding out when groups of the people they wish to target are meeting and purposefully placing their hate during those times. They malign our displays on diversity and speak violently about workers and patrons. Their intellectual freedom is not being compromised in ways that would require the organization to go out of its way to state that all groups are welcome and yes, especially hate groups.
In closing, I am requesting the following:
*Specific details as to the addition of the words “hate speech” and “hate groups”. This is owed to the members of our council who were presented with changes that were not brought to their attention. This is owed to all of us who, despite your attempts to dismiss it, are hurt and upset by an inclusion of hate groups in a statement on inclusivity.
*Immediate rewording of the interpretation so that it does not verify hate groups. This is not merely controversial, it is dangerous, and a refusal to acknowledge the danger is tone deaf and dismissive to the patrons and workers who are at risk from these groups.
*A formal response unlike the one issued that actually acknowledges that hate groups do indeed present safety issues for both the patrons and library workers. The response given is outrageous in its defense of hate speech over safety and its overall lack of empathetic tone. The response issued does not acknowledge library workers and it continues to seek to protect the free speech of hate groups over the safety for patrons and workers. I would suggest a response that doesn’t put safe space in quotations as if it were unwarranted to strive for places of safety even if it may not be possible, the quotes surrounding this term are condescending and indicate that safety for patrons and library workers is not as valued as the speech of those who wish to prevent places of safety from actually being achieved.
I look forward to the answers to my requests.