No Legitimization Through Association: the CIA should not be exhibiting at ALA

Dustin Fife
Jul 2, 2018 · 4 min read

An Open Letter to the American Library Association and Membership

Let’s make the point of this open letter unmistakable: the Central Intelligence Agency should not be an exhibitor at American Library Association events. The values of ALA and librarianship are incompatible with the CIA. Allowing the CIA to exhibit at our conferences is an endorsement of what they do and have done. Last weekend, at the ALA Annual Conference and Exhibition in New Orleans, the CIA was an exhibitor.

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(Above: the CIA’s exhibitor details from the ALA 2018 Annual Conference website.)

The core values of librarianship set forward by ALA Council include democracy, privacy, social responsibility, and access.(1) The CIA is opposed to all of these things, most of all democracy. The CIA has participated for decades in the violent overthrow of governments while propping up dictators all over the world.(2) The CIA believes in absolute secrecy for itself, but total surveillance for all others.(3&4) The CIA makes use of ultra-secretive “black sites” to conduct torture and extrajudicial detention.(5) We need not list their entire history to show that library workers should not be associated with them. In an era where democracy is in jeopardy, where the government and its agencies are under the control of a dangerous white supremacist regime, library workers must take a stand against undemocratic forces — particularly those as powerful as the CIA.

We refuse to lend credence to the CIA through association and we ask our fellow library workers to join us. We should not allow them space to recruit library workers to become intelligence analysts, which was the focus of their booth. Even if they wish to come to our conferences just to market, for example, The World Factbook, we must refuse them. Furthermore, we would do well to critically examine a “fact book” produced by an agency with the CIA’s worldview.(6) Rejecting an incredibly powerful US intelligence agency is not censorship, it is resistance.

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(Above: CIA materials from ALA Annual. They were recruiting for digital intelligence, which is another way to say “global surveillance”.)

As a voluntary membership organization embodying the values of librarianship, the American Library Association must work with vendors, exhibitors, and conference speakers who reflect our values. ALA must think about what this means. Perhaps it requires taking a stand against vendors who collaborate with human rights violators — for example, Thomson-Reuters and Microsoft hold multi-million dollar contracts with ICE, the agency responsible for separating families and kidnapping children at the border and throughout the country.(7) If ALA is serious about its commitment to library values, we also need to critically examine how we invest our money — in fact, the conversation about divesting from fossil fuels and other destructive industries has already begun, but needs wider support from both ALA Council and membership.(8)

Library workers are powerful. We have a strong reputation in our local communities and across the world as being steadfast stewards of democracy, intellectual freedom, equity, and social justice. We attempt to honor these values through our collections, programs, and services and we recognize that our libraries need continuous examination in a systemically unjust society. Those values should extend to all that we do. A more democratic world is possible, and we believe that library workers can be at the forefront of this charge.

2 July 2018

Alison Macrina and Dustin Fife

I am a library worker and I agree that ALA should not work with the CIA.

Add your name to this letter by messaging @flexlibris or @DustinTheFife on Twitter.

Alan Wylie

Simon Bowie

Kevin Sanders

Jessamyn West

David Hughes

Bobbi Newman

LeeAnn Wilmot

Mark Matienzo

Ruth Tillman

Olivia Wilkinson

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Emily Drabinski

Melissa Hubbard

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Michelle Gibeault

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The Amelia Anderson, PhD

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Mike Monahan

Leslie Kahn

Emma Crofts

Beth Bruch

Josh Rimmer

Jason Griffey

Jen Johnson

Olivia Miller

Kate Crowe

Becky Yoose

Sarah T. Roberts, PhD

Melissa Morrone

Jenna Freedman

Jim DelRosso

Leah Richardson

Alison Clemens

K-Fai Steele

Tiffanie Wick

Sarah Melton

Brian Marino

John Overholt

Lia Ryland

Megan Kinney

Sara Brown

Marisa Reichert

Margo Gustina

Bill Meltzer

Katie Elson Anderson


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