Hate groups in meeting room B, right next to the children’s books

In June of 2018, the American Library Association updated its Library Bill of Rights section on inclusion and meeting space to explicitly include hate groups:

“Public libraries are bound by the First Amendment and the associated law governing access to a designated public forum. A publicly funded library is not obligated to provide meeting room space to the public, but if it chooses to do so, it cannot discriminate or deny access based upon the viewpoint of speakers or the content of their speech. This encompasses religious, political, and hate speech.
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.”

Naturally, there’s been an outcry from the librarian community. The hashtag #NoHateALA has been trending on twitter, with librarians and other library staff speaking up and refusing to honour such a statement:

Twitter user @readerology wrote:

Explicitly stating that hate groups, along with religious and political groups, should be allowed to use meeting rooms in public libraries is misguided and creates a false equivalency. Please reconsider the words in the statement on meeting rooms.

Twitter user @mfumarolo wrote:

Pretty much agree with this entire thread. Libraries are no longer safe spaces if hate groups are normalized within our walls. We must be better than that now more than ever. #NoHateALA #libraries

But not everyone agrees. In the aforementioned group (of which I, full disclosure, am a member), there have been multiple discussions in the last two weeks about the ALA resolution.

A dismaying number of people have defended the resolution in the name of free speech, perhaps forgetting the dictum that one person’s rights end when they infringe upon another’s.

“It is important that free speech is not encumbered. What a person considers ‘hate speech’ could be ‘my opinion’…”

Others worried about the potential for lawsuits:

“If the hate group acts civil the entire time and they are denied, they can sue your library based on the Skokie decision.

Still others disingenuously suggested that without the resolution, religious rights might be at risk:

Meanwhile, there are a lot of library staff who are members of one or more groups that are directly targeted by hate groups. People of colour, LGBT+ people, Jews, Muslims have all been made targets for hate and discrimination; and if this is somehow in doubt, one need only view recent hate crime statistics, not to mention the news, to see that anyone who is a member (or who is perceived to be a member) of one of these marginalized communities is at risk.

For my part, I’m Jewish and openly bisexual. For those of us who are members of a marginalized group, this isn’t a fun thought experiment; it’s not a philosophical question. When there have been multiple viable political candidates running for office who are running robocalls saying “the Jews must be stopped”, it’s no longer academic. When people say that we as librarians we must allow hate groups to book space, it tells me that they don’t value my life or safety, or that of many other people.

And it’s not just about library staff, either. What about the patrons? Do these supposed free speech proponents think we can have neo-Nazis rolling up to the library and then honestly say it’s a safe space for Black children (who are also valued community members) to read and play? Are children of colour and their families expected to feel comfortable using the library when white supremacists effectively have been welcomed?

At a certain point, it has become clear that for some members of this online community, the theoretical and rhetorical ideals of certain boilerplate policy statements supersede the lived experience and safety of library staff and library patrons. This is disappointing, but as many people can attest, not unbelievably surprising.

It remains to be seen what, if anything, the ALA will take from these discussions, which are happening publicly on Twitter and Facebook and elsewhere online. A living document was created to crowdsource adaptations to the Library Bill of Rights; the discussion continues there. My personal hope is that the ALA reconsiders, or at least elaborates its language to create policy that gives librarians and library administrators policy precedent to disallow formal hate group meetings (even if we can’t prevent individuals who hold abhorrent views from accessing our services).

But, as one member of Library Think Tank astutely noted, these discussions illustrate why the profession of librarianship has remained so homogenous.

“If you’re wondering why our profession struggles for diversity, just refer to these threads and you’ll find a big piece of that puzzle.”

I believe deeply in the principles of librarianship as articulated in the ALA’s Library Bill of Rights. I believe in equity of access, I am against censorship, and I am a proponent of free speech. But when someone’s idea of “free speech” constitutes danger to library staff and library patrons, it’s no longer acceptable, and we need to speak out about it.

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I have included in this essay screenshots of comments from Library Think Tank, which is a public and open group on Facebook. As such, I have assumed that everyone commenting there is aware that their comments may been viewed by anyone with a Facebook account or other access to Facebook. However, if anyone wishes to rescind their comments or wishes to be anonymous, please contact me and I will anonymize your words.