Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Loneliness of a Conservative Librarian

David Durant, curator of the conservative librarian blog, Heretical Librarian, has written a wonderful, and wonderfully measured, piece called The Loneliness of a Conservative Librarian in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Normally when we compliment something by saying "I couldn't have done it better myself" what we really mean is "Good job!" In this case, however, I was struck by the near-perfect pitch of the article; its marshalling of reasons and evidence to support the main argument; and its ability to say so much in a short article. I really couldn't have done it better. Read it.

While David describes perfectly the experience of being a lone conservative among lefties at Library graduate school, what I remember most is the overwhelming ideological intensity of the faculty. David has let his ALA membership lapse. No great loss to David. But I remember a professor telling me that if a student of his chose not to join ALA, for whatever reasons, he would refuse to help that student in any way, including a letter of recommendation. It was axiomatic to this prof that ALA's politics are good, and if a student didn't think so, then the student wasn't fit to be an archivist.

Some tidbits from my grad school days:

My Historical Research class spent three days "studying" the positive effects of the local Communist Party on the lives of minorities in that community. We never did get to those primary sources...

My class on Bibliographic Description listed as "required reading" no less than six works by the radical writer Michel Foucault. I never figured out what this had to do with bibliographical description of rare books.

This same prof complained that the Library school should not take our picture, as they did at the beginning of the program, claiming that "this is the way the apartheid government in South Africa stifled dissent and crushed rebellion." As far as I know, no student ever had to endure electro-shock for their revolutionary views. He also claimed, seriously, that the small windows in the Rare Book and Manuscript Depository of the university were deliberately constructed that way to allow them to function as machine gun platforms should the university every experience any real rebellion. I offered the view that maybe the size of the windows was related to the desire not to expose the rare books and manuscripts to sunlight, as this tends to hasten their deterioration. He ignored me. Probably for the best.

The head of the program, since departed, gave a seminar on the Robert Maplethorpe pictures that caused so much controversy due to their explicit depictions and federal funding. We got to see the famous photo of a naked Maplethorpe with a bullwhip stuck in his anus. She also showed us a photo by Mapplethorpe's protege which showed a four-year-old girl sitting down, raising her dress to reveal her vagina (no panties). She had, as our Director said, an "impish grin that revealed her hidden sexuality." Me and the woman sitting to my right were horrified, but we seemed to be the only ones. But, as David Durant points out, many often choose not to speak out in order to fit in.

At a party I happened to be chatting with this same Library School Director (who is a very nice lady, by the way), and I asked if she would be voting for Nader in the upcoming election (most everyone in the program was a Nader supporter). She bristled and said that she would NOT be voting for Nader, since he had made a sudden turn to the right. I wasn't drunk enough to pursue the subject.

Did I like the program? Yes, though so much of what was taught was either non-essential or completely worthless. There were a number of good professors. We had one conservative, a member of the National Association of Scholars, an organization dedicated to the depoliticization of the university.

Another prof who taught Film Preservation was a model of what a good, liberal professor should be. An Aussie, he was inconsolable after the conservative John Howard won reelection in Australia (I bought him a beer). He was alway open-minded, kind, generous, and able to express his opinions without implying that those who disagreed with him were fascist scum. I don't think his contract was renewed. Once as he pondered a vacation to the UK I teased him: "Going home, eh?" Many Aussies HATE hearing Britain refered to as their "home." Though the majority did vote to keep the queen as their sovereign.

A mixed bag, mostly to the left politically, but needing not a transfusion of right-wing ideologues, but rather, a thorough depoliticization of the environment with a greater focus on librarianship. There is simply no way that you can uphold standards of professionalism while using your position to beat others over the head with your politics.

In my next posting I'll tell you about the time I pissed off an entire class.


At 8:20 AM, Blogger Robert M. Lindsey said...

Man, your library school experince sounds a lot like mine. Not the same exact examples, but certainly the same vibes.


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