Libraries to the People

Sanford Berman

If you're a bank manager, real estate broker, or stock market player, you'll emphatically dig at least one large, well-funded public library in the LA area. It's got everything to satisfy the financier and major-league rip-off artist: California Business, The Wall Street Journal and Transcript, Western Financial Journal, Barrons, Commercial and Financial Chronicle, Advertising Age, and a number of expensive investors' services like Moody's and Standard & Poor. But if you're young, hip, radical, impecunious, Black, Chicano, or into one of the many "liberation" scenes, you won't dig it so much. Yeah, it stocks Ramparts (probably because the mag is indexed in the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature, which doubles as a kind of scriptural authority for serial-picking) and Ebony (hardly the voice of Black militancy,) but that's it. The closest it comes to any rag dealing with Third World revolutionary struggles is the African Violet Review.

The library profession long ago adopted a Bill of Rights that enjoins librarians to stock material covering all possible political and other viewpoints. Yet the library in question no doubt typifies actual practice - namely, to offer its readers only safe, orthodox, Establishment-type literature. For this reason, many counter-culturists have (justifiably) come to regard their local school, college, or public library as increasingly irrelevant to their How in hell can the pothead groove on Business Week and Norman Vincent Peale? A feminist get excited over Cosmopolitan and the Ladies' Home Journal? Or an acid-rock fancier find any goodies in the Reader's Digest? It ain't easy. Still, longhaired freaks and madassed revolutionaries are as much members of the community as Big Money Makers and hard-hat "straights." Some even pay taxes or tuition to support the library operation. In short, they've got as much right as anyone to expect their libraries to offer them books, mags, and A/V items that they can relate to.

Nobody can afford to buy everything he wants to read, see, or hear; people in low income strata even less so than most. And not everybody can afford to browse at infinite leisure at a Freep Kazoo or Papa Bach's. The basic rationale for libraries is that they can furnish a broader, fuller range of material than ordinary folks could possibly purchase for themselves or discover in even the best and largest print-pic-phono emporia. Clearly, though, they're not all doing their job.

How, then, can school and public libraries be induced to get with it? Hundreds of activists within the profession are trying their damndest to shake the barnacles off. Among other things, they've demanded that the American Library Association re-affirm its dedication to Intellectual Freedom, particularly by supplying swift, tangible support - in cash and legal aid - to those librarians willing to stand up against troglodyte censors. Already a host of engagé colleagues, from Richmond, California, to Groton, Connecticut, have either been fired or heavily shit upon for daring to stock or defend such subversive, obscenity-laden offal as the LA Free Press, Village Voice, New Left Notes, Evergreen Review, Do It!, and Soul on Ice.

Another undertaking has been to publicize and sympathetically rap about the ever-growing output of offbeat and "underground" presses. A group called the Social Responsibilities Round Table has published Alternatives in Print, a counter-directory to the conventional, Bible-like Books in Print. The Bay Area Reference Center in San Francisco issues a dynamic, creative journal, Synergy, each number featuring articles, graphics, information sources, and bibliographies on topics like "The First Americans," impending ecological disaster, "Library Service to Prisons," "Greenfeel," and Gay Liberation. And an imaginative book-jockey at UC Davis began Sipapu, a homespun newsletter that could easily become a much-needed catalyst/clearinghouse for librarians, teachers, and scholars concerned with ethnic, radical, and UG publishing. Also, several librarians have collaborated with Toronto's Alternative Press Centre in producing and plugging the Alternative Press Index, a quarterly guide to the contents of some 125 Movement periodicals. Still others have tried to awaken foot-dragging brethren to their obligations toward non-silent, unshorn, pissed-off, hitherto-neglected readers through articles and letters in the principal library organs.

Nonetheless, the pressure for change - if it's to be effective - needs to come from two directions: not only from inside the traditionally straight-laced, stuffed-shirted, status-quo- hugging profession, but also from outside, from the liberationists and undergrounders themselves, from angry feminists and alienated students, warring Indians and unshackled Blacks, from proud Chicanos and no-longer-docile Asian-Americans, from boss-burdened workers and impatient peaceniks. It's not merely our right to enjoy easy access to the books, pamphlets, films, tapes, discs, and mags we want, but equally a necessity that the mass of uncommitted and largely uninformed citizens have access to sources that authentically explain what we're all about, that genuinely convey our vision of the "alternative society." If what Middle Amerika knows about the Black Panthers, as an example, derives solely from Time and tv, they'll never understand the BPs, nor all the fuss about "persecution" and "genocide." The Movement, in short, if it's ever to shuck its insularity and really get its message to the Amerikan public, must be made more accessible. Libraries are one route.

Blacks who find nothing live in their local library collections should insist on subs to soulful, uppity periodicals like the Black Panther, Black World, Journal of Black Poetry, Black Rap, Nommo, Black Theatre, Sechaba, Black Scholar, Lotus Quarterly of Afro-Asian Writing, Mozambique Revolution, Zimbabwe Review, Uptown Beat, Liberator, Freedomways, and Britain's Black Voice, and ensure that Malcolm X, Earl Ofari, DuBois, Lutuli, Fanon, Cleaver, Mandela, Mondlane, Angela Davis, Nkrumah, Amilcar Cabral, Bobby Seale, George Jackson, and Nyerere, as well as the literary and other produce from Jihad Productions, Emerson Hall, Afro-Am and Black Star Publishers, Drum & Spear, Afram Associates, and the Broadside, Black Academy, and Third World presses get on the bookshelves.

The young, hip, and yip should make it goddamn clear that they want the local UG rags in their local library plus a generous selection of other "alternative" and rock-oriented publications (e.g., Rolling Stone, Evo, Great Speckled Bird, Kaleidoscope, Other Scenes, Nola Express), not to mention the loving, effervescent creations of irrepressible poet-guru-jesters like Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, and Allen Ginsberg.

Bona fide "radicals" and everybody else uneasy with a System that systematically fucks over most of its own people and much of the world should express their reading tastes to the nearest "Reader's Advisor," emphasizing that the Nation, New Republic, and Progressive ain't exactly identical to Liberation, Radical America, and Tricontinental. And that Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Sen. McGovern, and Tom Wicker aren't quite the equivalents of Paul Buhle, Dave Dellinger, and Tom Hayden. Similarly, the library that so effortlessly stocks cartoon statements by Herblock and Mauldin needs a little prodding to get the more pungent right-on stuff concocted by Ron Cobb and Ed Badajos.

Chicanos and Puertoriquenos know what fine stuff like Con Safos, Regeneración, El Malcriado, Grito del Norte, Palante, and La Raz has been tumbling out of the barrios but not reaching the library racks. Likewise, the Asian-Americans' Gidra, Getting Together, and Hawaiian Pono Journal are wonderfully rare in most libraries. Ditto the wealth of Amerindian publications, from Rainbowpeople to the Indian Historian.

It would no less amaze gays to spot Gay Sunshine or Come Out! in a library mag collection than it would startle a feminist to sight Everywoman, Aphra, Ladder, or the excellent Baltimore quarterly, Women. Similarly, David's turned-on sons and daughters vould surely prefer the Jewish Liberation Journal to Commentary or the B'nai Brith Messenger.

Teachers and parents anxious to rescue our kids from the spirit-stifling education rut, those dedicated to "free schools" and nonauthoritarian classrooms, can profitably invest a few minutes to clue in Marian on the plentiful books and mags that underlie and stimulate the ongoing breakthrough in pedagogy: This Magazine is about Schools, New Schools Exchange Newsletter, Teacher Paper, New Directions in Teaching, England's Rank and File, Berkeley's New School of Education Journal, and the seminal works by Paul Goodman, Edgar Z. Friedenberg, Jonathan Kozol, Herbert Kohl, Sylvia Ashton-Warner, A.S. Neill, John Holt, and others.

Draft-age men, as a matter of sheer survival, ought to rock the library boat until it responds to their needs with some of the abundant material on how to thwart Selective Service, including the poop-sheets confected by our Canadian comrades for potential exiles. And maverick, Brass-bugged servicemen could well blow a little smoke to persuade libraries near their bases to provide a few of the nearly hundred GI anti-war rags like Bond, Fatigue Press, and Dare to Struggle, none of which they're likely to encounter in on-base facilities.

Not all workers fit the standard media-image of complacent, flag-waving hard hats. Some think, worry, and act about things like war - and automation-triggered unemloyment, upside-down national priorities, sell-out "labor bureaucrats," sexist/racist hiring, training, promotion, and union-joining practices, dehumanizing shop conditions, and international working-class solidarity. They, too, should find on library shelves a little more nourishment than the party-line American Federationist or roseate United Mine Workers Journal. Why not Workers' Power; the grassroots Miner's Voice (U.S.) and Mineworker (U.K.); Detroit's Inner City Voice, organ of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers; the Institute for Workers Control Bulletin; Fifth Wheel, a monthly tabloid produced by independent-minded teamsters in the San Francisco Bay Area; and the 35¢ per year (!) Catholic Worker?

So if you think the professional "insiders" currently attempting to yank library collections into the nitty-gritty NOW are on the right track, help out the struggling brothers and sisters - and incidentally give a push to the whole provincialized Movement - by putting the pressure on those librarians who, while probably reluctant to "controversialize" their fiefs, may be even more reluctant to face a jumbo-sized hassle over preserving their sterile, stagnant, no-wave- making purity.

And on a related tangent: has anyone checked out a card catalogue lately? Well, it's the open-sesame key to any library's collection, a vital finding-tool. And the chances are overwhelming that it contains an unbelievable pile of crap. Not necessarily the books represented by the 3x5's, but rather the antediluvian subject headings employed to describe what the books deal with. (Usually subject-cards are interfiled alphabetically with author and title entries, but they can easily be identified since the headings are either capitalized or printed in red.) Most fair-minded persons would raise a royal shitstorm if they discovered headings like NIGGERS, GOOKS, or KIKES, right? The reality, unfortunately, isn't much better than those hypothetical forms. In fact, actual, active headings like NEGROES, KAFIRS, YELLOW PERIL, and JEWISH QUESTION demean whole categories of mankind and subtly reinforce age-old, utterly pernicious stereotypes. NEGROES, for example, is a slaver-spawned term no longer dug by most Black people, who would readily opt for AFRO-AMERICANS, AFRO-BRAZILIANS, etc., as more accurate and acceptable forms. KAFIRS, ostensibly designating the Xhosa and certain other South African peoples, in Herrenvolk parlance means "Niggers," YELLOW PERIL freely translates into "Watch out for the greedy, multiplying, rat-juice-drinking, slant-eyed dinks." And JEWISH QUESTION is a disgusting euphemism for gas-chambers and carnal-ovens.

Gays are defamed through an equation of Homosexuality with "Sexual deviation." Children, according to the prestigious Library of Congress subject scheme, are fit objects - like chain-gangs or factories - for "Discipline" and "Management." WOMEN AS PHYSICIANS, LIBRARIANS, etc., unmistakably suggest that the "fairer sex" belongs exclusively in the kitchen or maternity ward.

Africans, among others, are "Native races" or "Primitives," explicitly linked with cannibalism and savagery. And America, unlike Britain, France, Portugal, Belgium, Italy, Denmark, Germany, Spain, and the Netherlands, has never messed around nastily with "colonies," but only benevolently administered a few "Territories and possessions" (i.e., Puerto Rico, Micronesia, Hawaii, Samoa, the Philippines, Okinawa, the Virgin Islands, etc.).

A book on the shameful mass internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II ordinarily gets the doubly assinine rubric, JAPANESE IN THE U.S. No form acknowledges that Japanese, Chinese, Filipinos, and Mexicans in the U.S. may also be Americans. Instead, they remain perpetual aliens, a fate seldom suffered by full-blooded WASPs.

In the religious sphere, the Mosaic God is denoted GOD (JUDAISM), the Muslims', GOD (ISLAM), etc. But the Christian deity is simply and exquisitely GOD. Period. And such examples of pro-Christian favoritism are legion.

Okay. If this sort of embedded racism, Western chauvinism, prudery, misogyny, and senility rubs anyone the wrong way, let librarians know about it. Urge them to humanize their own card catalogues and campaign for changes in the basic subject schema - LC and Sears - upon which most such cataloging is based. We're never going to straighten out the world unless we first straighten out our heads. And libraries can be an important factor in this.

Nice slogan, "LIBRARIES TO THE PEOPLE!" But it can only be realized when people make their libraries invigorating, just, and responsive.

For more information on the "social responsibility" movement among librarians and its multiple Task Forces, contact Tyron Emerick - SRRT Clearinghouse, The Library, Kansas City Community Junior College, 727 Minnesota Ave., 66101. Celeste West edits Synergy for BARC, c/o the San Francisco Public Library, Civic Center, S.F. 94102. (It's free to public libraries. Ask yours to get it.) A year's sub to Sipapu costs $2 from Noel Peattie, Route 1, Box 216, Winters, Calif. 95694. Direct orders for Alternatives in Print to Ohio State University Libraries, PC, Room 322a, 1858 Neil Avenue, Columbus, Ohio 43210; $4. The Alternative Press Centre (Bag Service 2500, Postal Station E, Toronto, Ontario, Canada) will gladly furnish data on the API and alternative press scene. Prejudices and Antipathies, a full-scale critique of Library of Congress subject heads "concerning people," is available for $7.50 from Scarecrow Press (52 Liberty St., Box 656, Metuchen, N.J. 08840.) And for details on the fast-proliferating minority publishers, write the Council on Interracial Books for Children, 9 East 40th St., NYC 10016.