An old, inaccurate, yet remarkably durable image of the public librarian is a middle-aged spinster with reading glasses secured by a small chain around her neck perched on her nose. For her, quiet is not just a state of being but a command that exudes from every pore. She chooses her clothes for utility rather than fashion. She speaks in pinched tones, but her diction is remarkable. After the library closes at 9:00 p.m., she goes to a small apartment, sips a cup of tea, reads a bit and then retires for the night. The following day, she gets up and prepares to do the same thing she did the previous day.
Hiding Behind Stereotypes
Most modern librarians chafe at this stereotype since it is not a complimentary picture. However, in one context, it serves the “community” of librarians very well. That image is so non-threatening that it makes anyone fighting against the American Library Association (ALA) sound absurd and unduly aggressive.
Until the Drag Queen Story Hour controversy surfaced in 2019, few saw the ALA as a threat to anything. Indeed, most people were probably unaware that the ALA even existed. Those who did know probably thought that ALA meetings took place around a tea table on Sunday afternoons and that discussions centered around overdue book fines and catching those who wrote notes in the page margins.
Such assumptions indicate the danger of using personality as the basis for one’s assessments. Like many associations of public employees, the ALA grew increasingly radical throughout the last half-century. Public images like those described above shielded those changes from public view.
Radical Ideas Packaged Within Leftist Personalities
For instance, the ALA states that its “Library Bill of Rights” was drafted in 1939 and amended six times, most recently in 2019. Doubtless, there are copies of the original version still in existence, but the current form of the document reads in the language of “woke” academicians. The more detailed paragraphs of its official “Interpretations of the Library Bill of Rights” all carry twenty-first-century dates.
Enter Emily Drabinski. In the photograph used by several news outlets, she confirms some aspects of the stereotypical portrait. Her wide smile softens but does not conceal her sense of purpose. Her utilitarian dark khaki shirt provides no evidence of any style, nor does her close-cropped hair. Oversized multi-colored frames replace the reading glasses.
The image changes when one reads the now-deleted social media post she sent out when the ALA elected her to its top position.
The Marxist Lesbian Librarian
“I just cannot believe that a Marxist lesbian who believes that collective power is possible to build and can be wielded for a better world is the president-elect of @ALALibrary. I am so excited for what we will do together. Solidarity.”
In the months since being named to the post, ALA President Drabinski has become a “poster child” in much of the American press. Many left-leaning media outlets place her image prominently as a part of the ALA campaign to prevent parents and communities that disagree with them from having any influence over the materials to which their children are exposed. Politico stated the case in overly-simplistic and liberal-friendly terms.
“Conservatives in a growing number of states, including Alabama, Wyoming, Missouri, Texas and now Florida, have severed affiliations with the ALA, in part over the group choosing a new president, Emily Drabinski, who in 2022 tweeted that she’s a ‘Marxist.’”
“All Stories Available to Everyone”
That self-description apparently heavily influenced Texas’s decision to withdraw from the ALA. The Christian Post quoted Texas State Representative Brian Harrison, a key proponent of the Lone Star State’s decision to cut ties with the ALA.
“‘I have been made aware that the American Library Association (ALA) has elected Emily Drabinski, a self-proclaimed ‘Marxist lesbian’ and member of the Democratic Socialists of America, as President’, Harrison wrote. ‘Texas should be leading the fight against Marxist ideology, not subsidizing it.’”
Understandable as Rep. Harrison’s view may be, it would be a significant error to focus extensively on personality. Making this fight about Emily Drabinski is to miss the point. She is a symptom, not the disease.
Dubinski certainly understands that. Her self-description dodges the real issues. Right-wing attacks on her personality turn her into a victim, and the “woke” world takes victims very seriously. In an ABC News interview, Drabinski spelled out the ALA position.
“The point is not to have certain kinds of books or certain kinds of stories, but in fact, to have all stories available to everyone…We have doubled the number of staff in our office for intellectual freedom, we are expanding our programming related to legal support for librarians…And the most important element is in this campaign for us ‘unite against book bans,’ our forward-facing public-facing campaign…to come together around the right to read.”
However, the ability to “double the number of staff” and “expand our programming” is directly related to the money available to the ALA. When libraries withdraw from that organization, they also take their money. The ALA operates on a membership structure. Those memberships are not inexpensive—2023-2024 rates ranged from $183.00 for “very small” libraries to $2098.00 for systems that are “very large.”
Until recently, such membership fees were simply part of the cost of a public library system. They were only one line item on the library’s budget and received scant attention. The ALA’s radical stand has changed that situation. Meg Kilgannon of the Family Research Council explained, “Groups like the American Library Association are being exposed as not merely unnecessary expenses, but indeed malicious enforcers of the worst orthodoxies of the Left.”
Montana State Library Commissioner Tom Burnett echoed those sentiments. “Marxism stands in direct opposition to the principles of the Constitution of the United States. It’s fair to discuss and learn about Marxism, not to affiliate with Marxist-led organizations.”
Mr. Burnett’s colleague, Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen, agreed. “We do not need to be tethered to a national organization that does not honor our great state, our values, or our nation as being America.”
Personalities Pass, Principles Are Permanent
Reacting against personalities is always tempting. It is easy and usually satisfying, at least in the short term. It takes far less effort to comment upon someone’s physical appearance, tone of voice or state of dress than to absorb and deflect the force of that person’s arguments.
However, such attacks are usually ineffective in the long run. Removing Emily Drabinski from her post at the head of the ALA, while welcome, would not address the root cause. Her replacement could easily be just as radical, but whose image is less grating on the public consciousness. A sweetly soft-spoken heterosexual president of the ALA could still be an ideological Marxist. She could also be just as convinced that exposing children to pornography advances the statist, anti-family agenda.
The real enemies are not the personalities but the wrong principles they hold. Eventually, all individuals will pass from the scene. On the other hand, the ideas to which they give their lives —for better or worse—endure throughout the ages.