CENSORED: Librarian Fired For Defending Libraries’ Historic Neutrality Against the American Library Association’s Social Justice Dictates

Occasionally, librarians reach out to me because of my first book. Shut Up! The Bizarre War That One Public Library Waged Against the First Amendment detailed my writing partner’s and my extremely entertaining three-year fight with the Orland Park Public Library that was overtaken by far-left radicals who insisted men had a right to sexually satiate themselves in public using publicly-funded computers. The fight was epic and it ended in a windfall lawsuit that went our way. That doesn’t happen very often. But besides the criminal element of the story, the underlying thread we unraveled was that the social justice dogma that demanded the bastardization of our First Amendment was coming from the American Library Association that runs libraries and crushes dissenters with an iron fist.

The ALA found a dissident worthy of crushing in bookmobile librarian Ron Kelley. Kelley devoted his life to diversity and inclusion, not in the way that woke college students pretend to by posting platitudes on Twitter and attending the occasional Black Lives Matter protest, but in real ways that left him poorer than he started and eventually out of a job. It all began when Kelley, a bookmobile librarian who served the Najavo Nation in Flagstaff Arizona, checked the Association of Bookmobile and Outreach Services (ABOS) listserve in June and found this message from the American Library Association (ALA).

Since 2016, ODLOS has maintained the Libraries Respond page-a resource for addressing current social justice issues. Our newest installment is Libraries Respond-Black Lives Matter.

The library profession suffers from a persistent lack of racial and ethnic diversity that shows few signs of improving…Many people are feeling helpless, but there are many ways we can center the voices and experiences of Black library workers and the Black community, support the broader Black Lives Matter movement, fight against police violence, and further the cause of racial justice.

This resource provides key definitions and concrete tools for library workers on how they can be involved in the Black Lives Matter movement, from resources on educating yourself to critically examining library policies.

Kelley couldn’t stay silent in the face of what he saw as the erasure of the entire purpose of a library—to provide information in a neutral way without taking a political position. Like Jerry MacGuire, Kelley wrote an epic response about how librarianship is supposed to be that he expected to start a real discussion about the purpose of librarianship. But instead it got him fired. And he didn’t even get any goldfish for the trouble.

Kelley’s call to neutrality and what ensued deserves to be heard as a shrieking alarm signaling the loss of free speech in American libraries. It’s over, and the good guys lost.

The propagandistic posting below, apparently forwarded from the current president of ABOS, about the Black Lives Matter organization is extremely unwise. Overt politicization of this list-serv will destroy this forum. Do members want a political battlefield, strong-armed by ALA-sanctioned propaganda, or an open exchange forum for outreach improvement? Or, truly, in the heart of our festering Culture Wars, are only dictated political perspectives permitted about library outreach programs in these discussions? Such ham-handed, totalitarian directives are apparently endorsed by ABOS, as well as the ALA, to the obvious exclusion of other views. Will this ABOS discussion group kick out (censor) individuals who advocate for a non-political forum?

It’s an old adage that is increasingly under attack: Libraries should provide aid and information to ALL who seek it and not function as a politicized, prejudicial Advocacy Factory.

Diversity? Inclusion? 82% of American librarians are women. Why no interest in gender diversity in this genre of workplace? Or is the presumption here that of the usual “social justice” template, that all males are innately oppressors, naturally affluent, born cursed, and they don’t like “women’s work?” Or are men relatively illiterate? Which stereotype suffices to righteously ignore this glaring stat about women’s dominance of the library world?

Here, below, are some Black authors with alternative perspectives on the Black Lives Matter movement, and/or beyond. I’ve read/viewed some of this material, but not all of it. I formally endorse nothing, I do not know all of which every individual advocates, but recognize that the fundamental purpose of a library is to provide a broad range of information/materials for ALL patrons, and a wide realm of fact and opinion, not solely bending to a favorite, dictated ideological line. A much-needed “diversity of viewpoints,” perhaps the greatest diversity of them all, cuts across race, class, and gender.

Libraries – and this discussion forum — should remain apolitical. ALA — and ABOS, apparently now in tow by the neck — adheres to one-dimensional thought in heralding a single political view while implicitly dismissing/censoring other perspectives, something akin to Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, or Orwell’s masterpieces. Ignoring some strains of thought — and relentlessly highlighting, and overtly advocating for, others — is a discrete form of censorship, as any librarian knows in collection development.

Library workers are supposed to be informed. They ought to be readers, and open wide the doors to ALL visitors, not shut – or narrow — them.

And a librarians’ job should be to serve their communities’ respective needs, not to manipulate information and tell people what to think.

The ALA email below solicits activism in the Black Lives Matter movement and offers “resources on educating yourself.” In this regard, do you think that this grossly prejudicial email would dare to encompass the following?

Kelley then listed several black authors and commentators who had either written or spoken out against Black Lives Matter as a political Marxist ideology wrapped in a social justice disguise such as Candace Owens, Taleeb Starkes, Jesse Lee Peterson, David Clarke, and more.

There are many more alternative Black perspectives, but they are not popularly heralded by those with vested ideological devotion to Marxism, post-Modernism, and/or, generally, the “social justice” narratives of the political Left, i.e. the likes of the American Library Association. The ALA has long since failed – by conscious political design – to be an objective arbiter of what is or is not “fake news.” (See, for example, its endorsement of the prejudicial and partisan ideology of “critical librarianship,” which rejects the aims of an objective neutrality. Examine also what brand of individual speaks at the ALA’s conventions, both national and sectional. And who/what is forbidden its forum.)

“Critical librarianship” is a newspeak term that aims to destroy the old way of doing things in libraries—serving everyone equally and without judgment—and instead amplify whatever social justice mantra of the day is happening on the far left. Meredith Farkas, a white woman who claims to know what’s good for people of color, wrote an article entitled “Never Neutral” that was published on the ALA website, that justified the rejection of neutrality in favor of taking sides.

Over the past few years, critical librarianship has become a force that pervades every area of our work, from reference to library instruction, collection development, cataloging, and storytime. Biweekly #critlib Twitter chats (crit​lib.org) address topics across all areas of librarianship. Many librarians are thinking about how they can fight for social justice in their work, which raises the question of whether that work reflects the neutrality that has long been a value in our profession.

One tenet of critical librarianship is that neutrality is not only unachievable, it is harmful to oppressed groups in our society. In a world that is fundamentally unequal, neutrality upholds inequality and represents indifference to the marginalization of members of our community. If the majority of what is published represents a white, male, Christian, heteronormative worldview, then we are not supporting the interests of other members of our communities by primarily buying those works.

But it isn’t enough to buy and stock other works that do represent what the ALA sees as an underserved population, because if it were, Kelley would be exempt from criticism and would be heralded as a hero of social justice for his work in the Navajo Nation instead of being excommunicated from the fold and fired.

Kelley’s post elicited a barrage of hatred and intolerance from other librarians. A representative of the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom propped up his attackers on the post and praised them. Kelley attempted to defend his record and show his actual diversity credentials but was promptly ignored and deleted.

“‘Diversity?” “Social Justice?” I could be a poster boy for these terms,” he wrote. “When ABOS is ready to give someone its Emperor of Diversity and Social Justice Award, I am ready to accept it. Then I will throw it in the garbage.” Kelley went on to detail his long career full of outreach to underserved populations.

Just for starters, I was the principal editor, author of a large number of articles, sole interviewer, and lone photographer (160 images) for a book about Iranian immigration: Irangeles: Iranians in Los Angeles (University of California Press). Many wonderful people — including scholars of various sorts and ideologies — informed and contributed to this book, but the project was my brainchild and it would never have existed without me. One journal – Bidoun — that serves the American Iranian community, and beyond, has noted that the book has “achieved cult status” in the Iranian world.

I spent 6 years on the project and I had no salary. And there was no grant money. As “hateful” as I am portrayed to be, the project was a labor of love and deep respect for ALL people, cultures, and subcultures (true, it is perhaps skirts danger in our insane times to say that when people get fired from jobs for merely saying the obvious racist code “All Lives Matter.”)

I wrote a range of articles for the book, including seven addressing Iranian Muslims, Jews, Assyrians, Armenians, Baha’is, Kurds, and Zoroastrians. I wanted to know what the common denominators were among them as Persians, and what was different. I wanted to share this information with the public, at a time when stereotypes about Iranians were the rule. I went to their religious and/community centers, interviewing leaders and others. I reported on a very wide range of the Iranian immigrant experience. I interviewed numerous people, photographed extensively, and published excerpts of their comments. I made many friends, and learned Farsi well enough to fly to Iran, alone, in 1991 to photograph Kurdish Iraqi refugees of the Persian Gulf War for a relief agency. (This venture of compassion cost me $3,000 out of my own pocket). Irangeles covered every perspective reasonably possible, (with a variety of truly “diverse” interviews), including supporters of today’s Iranian Islamic republic. All perspectives — even the diversely religious and political, some hostile to each other — were treated fairly, respectfully, and had their say.

Who among the “social justice/diversity” censorial ideologues at the ABOS exchange forum can even vaguely match this?

Stop. Take a deep breath. Be startled. I just got started.

Kelley’s work for the Navajo Nation should be recognized by anyone claiming to want underserved populations to be uplifted.

In my current library job, one of my responsibilities is to serve the Navajo Nation that strides the eastern side of Arizona. (God help them during the Hell they are going through in the current pandemic). I have written proposals (my ideas, my initiatives) and landed TWO grants to get books and movies – about the Navajo, and some other Native Americans, including the Hopi – for use by the Navajo community and others. The first grant was expressly devised to acquire books and movies created BY NAVAJO individuals who defined their OWN experience and community—memoirs, poetry, films, and on and on. Whatever I was able to find…The later, second, grant was to get books and movies by anyone about the Navajo. This recent effort has been to get as many perspectives as possible, to widen and inform the results of the first grant.

I also went out of my way (beyond bookmobile duties) to land a THIRD grant (I also wrote that proposal – by my own initiative) to get a few thousand dollars-worth of educational/technological tools for a “STEM” project at a Navajo school in Leupp, Arizona. I joined with a wonderful library coworker whose expertise was to set up a program at that school, and she further partnered with an educational center in Phoenix to get the project accomplished.

MAYBE one of my persecutors at ABOS has done something vaguely like that.

But I’m still not finished pulling myself out of the extremists’ cesspool. If you’re lying down on the floor, flustered with shock that your routine stereotypes of dissenters don’t stick in my direction, don’t stand up yet.

Before being branded a heretic, Kelley was heralded by local media as something of a hero to the Navajo people. Kelley’s work with senior citizens and bringing them multicultural entertainment in nursing homes should also have been praised and added to his list of accomplishments when his employer was considering firing him over his opinions about librarianship.

Instead, Kelley received a letter two days after he argued with the speech police that was from his employer notifying him of his heresy. “This notice is to inform you of our recommendation that you be dismissed from your position as Librarian with the City of Flagstaff effective immediately,” it said.

The notice named the listserv post specifically as the reason and said his firing was the content of his speech.

On June 9, 2020 at 11:14 a.m. you sent a response regarding the referenced resource. Therein you described the communication as “propagandistic” and called the discussion a ‘”ham-handed, totalitarian directive.” You also provided links to several authors that have offered “alternative perspectives on the Black Lives Matter movement’” and indicated that these authors argue that “the systemic racism charge is bogus” and further told the listserv in closing ‘please go riot on your own time.

Advocating for neutrality became an “ethics violation,” and Kelley was fired. His now-deleted response to the ALA piranhas who were out for blood is everything that needs to be said about cancel culture and the new totalitarians of the left.

What matters is allegiance to an enforced ideology, even if it means the free flow of ideas must be stopped solely with naked libel and character assassination. Left-wing or Right-wing, a Thought Police is a Thought Police.

Who among you dares to hoist your comparative peanut to my lifelong commitment to social justice and diversity? (The real things, not the groupthink fake. A social justice endeavor in which you have nothing at all, personally, to benefit. A social justice endeavor in which you, personally, actually lose ground in your won struggles with an innately unjust world). Abusers, slanderers, what would you like me to teach you about those themes? How about an introductory course on how to treat fellow human beings with respect and dignity, even those who disagree with you? But how do I open your mind to-through your maze of dictatorial blindness and hypocrisy-true and holy TOLERANCE. Which of my libelers has the courage to offer me an apology? Will it happen? Of course not. It doesn’t matter what my life history is, or the kinds of good I do today. I must bend to your totalitarian will, I must be your face in the mirror, I must think what you think, or I am deemed categorically, irrecoverably, evil.

If an individual with my demonstrable track record, in lifelong devotion to “social justice” and “diversity,” is so routinely gang-raped by a mob of ideologues, with follow-up by “library leaders” and allies who encourage and champion them, what does it mean for anyone else who dares, with a far weaker resume, to have a free thought about anything the Comrade Corps doesn’t like?

Kelley received many responses from librarians privately thanking him for his comments but all asked for anonymity and refused to support him publicly for fear they too would be left out of work. This is the totality of the effect of the ALA’s “Office of Intellectual Freedom,” which is neither intellectually competent or committed to any kind of freedom.

Kelley is currently writing a book about the fall of the American library system to the left and can be reached at freethink1@protonmail.com if you are a librarian who has similar concerns. While it seems like Kelley has a good wrongful termination suit, finding lawyers that will not bankrupt him has been an issue. With only 180 days from his firing to file a suit, Kelley isn’t sure if he will be able to file with time running out and no resources. The ACLU isn’t interested in his case. As it stands, he’s just one more championless victim of cancel culture.