The Conservatives Among Us

Healthy dialogue opens minds—and wallets

September 30, 2010

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that politically the library profession is quite liberal. There may be a lot more conservatives in the profession than I know about but if they exist, they are for the most part quiet and under cover.

My experience is that the library profession is not just overwhelmingly liberal but vocally so in supporting various political issues. Despite our core value of intellectual freedom, librarians are not very tolerant of listening to points of view that stray from the basic liberal agenda. That is why conservative librarians are afraid to speak out: They fear professional ostracism.

I’m certainly not asking librarians who are liberal to shed their views. We are all entitled to our own political opinions. But if we don’t reach out and start a good-faith dialogue with the growing number of conservative politicians in our cities, counties, and states, we will fall farther and farther behind in the budget war, which we are currently losing very badly.

Politic polemics

When was the last time that a big name conservative thinker or politician was invited to speak at a high-profile library conference? Why is it that the Al Gores of the world are always invited to ALA conferences but not the Rush Limbaughs or Sarah Palins? Is it because librarians would rather be validated in their viewpoints than challenged?

Many liberal librarians will tell you that they equate the conservative movement with censorship and stringent fiscal policies. But these are two reasons why, instead of shunning the growing conservative movement in this country, we should engage it in a vigorous dialogue. 1) Is it really in our profession’s best interest to oppose all attempts to filter pornography in the children’s room computers? 2) As for funding, we should be reaching out to conservatives in a vigorous and confident way. If we would stop condemning conservatives and begin talking to them, I am confident that we can convince them that libraries fit very nicely into their political agenda:

  • Conservatives say they are into self improvement—the great American pastime of pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps. The library is probably the number one self-help institution in America. It’s where immigrants go to learn how to assimilate and succeed.
  • Conservatives say they believe strongly in family values. What institution in America does more to serve families than libraries? We cater to the needs of everyone in the extended family from infants to great-grandparents. Go to any (open) public library on a Saturday morning, and you will see that it is filled with families.
  • Conservatives say that they believe in fiscal responsibility. What American institution does more with less than the library? What government agency serves more people? What city department gives you more bang for the buck?
  • Conservatives say they believe in the Bill of Rights and in particular the protection of their religious liberties afforded by the First Amendment. What profession does more to protect First Amendment rights than the library profession? Our profession’s First Amendment emphasis may differ from the conservative movement’s emphasis, but here at least is a place to start a constructive give and take of views.
  • Conservatives say they believe strongly in the importance of religion. What institution does more to provide a wide range of information about all the world’s religions than the library?

Finally, conservatives say they represent the will of middle-class Americans. Let’s take them into our libraries and show them how much their middle-class constituents use our services.

The reality is that libraries have much to offer conservatives, and conservatives have much to offer libraries.