A morning session by Susan Hill, a conservative Christian librarian [her description] from a conservative community in Ohio with a population of about 20,000 and the publisher of the Rural Library Services Newsletter. The blurb in the schedule indicated that this session would be more about being conservative in a left-leaning profession, but it was, intentionally or unintentionally, primarily about Christian librarianship and the need for more tolerance in the profession generally. Full disclosure: I generally come at this particular topic from the other angle and was curious to see what this speaker had to say and was pleasantly surprised at much of her perspective and outlook. The audience of about 30-40 [update: many more showed up after I sat down near the front] seemed to be mostly people who agreed with her perspective, but this is just a guess based on the people I knew and the questions that were asked.
Ms. Hill opened by mentioned that these things bothered her when she first started attending ALA conferences:
- “ALA sponsored” float in the gay pride parade in San Francisco
- Existence of a ALA sponored roundtable for GLBT folks, “there was never an offer for a Christian round table”
- Conferences have had liberal slates of speakers bashing the President
- being told that you “have to separate your personal from your professional views”
- She tolerates people with liberal views, and feels not tolerated for her conservative Christian beliefs when she would tell people that she would pray for them, etc.
- She was told by other librarians on mailing lists that she couldn’t be a good librarian with her belief system
Speaker’s main points for the session
- encourage staff to set life priorities which will help them set communication strategies
- talk about the importance of intellectual freedom from a conservative point of view
- provide strategies for communicating with staffers with opposite points of view
- Newsweek: 79% of people in the US consider themselves “spiritual”
- Newsweek: 84% say that spirituality is important in their daily lives
- Gallup: 55% of Americans say religion is “very important” to them
- Gallup: 42% of Americans say they are “born again” or evangelican Christians
- Gallup: 93% of Americans own a bible.
- Gallup: 65% of Americans claim tobe a member of a church or synagogue
- Gallup: 65% of Americans think that the Bible answers “most or all of the questions of life” (which leads to my next question, from a librarian perspective)
- there are more, I think you get the idea
On Separating Personal Beliefs from Professional Life
- God says “why do you deny me at work?”
- God says “How can you not pray and be a good witness during the day?”
- God says “Why do you only want to serve me after work hours?”
The Importance of Setting Priorities
Ms. Hill told a story about Rick Husband [corrected!] who was the lead astronaut on the Columbia and how he was a devout Christian, he placed his priorities like this:
- God First
- Family Second
- Career Third
She suggested that once you figure out what comes first, you can then make your determinations about how to effectively operate in a workplace situation.
Intellectual Freedom and the Christian Librarian
Ms. Hill strongly believes in intellectual freedom and makes this real at her job. Her library does not filter the Internet and they decided against it consciously and passed up e-rate money, she tried hard to balance the collection (keeping in mind that she lives in a very Christian and conservative community), they have a USA PATRIOT Act policy.
- “intellectual freedom is a hill that I will die on”
- Foundation of our profession is intellectual freedom
- Collections have to reflect communities BUT communities are not always balanced so it’s important for professionals to balance out a collection
- Talked about attending a session in Atlanta on the intellectual needs of gays and lesbians “I was scared” but “I was grateful that I went” and she has used that information to help flesh out her library’s collections
- Discussed the USA PATRIOT Act and her library’s speedy response to it, just like their tornado/fire policy
Communication Challenges, Tactics
- find common ground: “we are all here to provide free and unfettered access to current compelling and authoritative information”
- Importance of not using personal attacks
- We should be able to respectfully share waht we believe and respectfully listen to what the other person believes and accept our differences.
- “I respect your right to vote, breathe, eat and drink what you want and I would appreciate the same from you”
The real true upshot of this discussion was that everyone needs to work with and get along with other people. This means being the best sort of person you know how to be but also respecting other people’s boundaries in the workplace, and as their librarian. The session did NOT get into sticky topics like witnessing to others in the workplace as an employee — though Ms. Hill had a good anecdotes about doing the right thing when a girl asked her about spellcasting — or dealing with the larger issue of ALA and politics, and political issues generally (though there was a slide that said “As a Christian I must support our President”) but my general feeling is that if Ms. Hill and people who share her beliefs can really walk the talk, and people who have opposing viewpoints can do likewise, we’ll all be feeling much better about our diverse and complicated workplaces.
Questions/Comments Afterwards (paraphrased, except where noted)
- There is a Christian librarian group that meets at every ALA and has a mailing list
- Another commenter from OK stated that librarians of faith need to stay very active with legislators especially as they are making decisions about libraries and library funding. Legislators hear a lot from the left, but they also need to hear from conservative library advocates to say hands off our libraries as well.
- Commenter Why do you need to refer to yourself as a Conservative Christian librarian, why can’t you put your profession first like I might call myself an Atheist Teacher Librarian?
- Commenter: Suggestions for librarians who are conservative who are uncomfortable with where ALA money goes? Speaker: When I voted for that Republican party in 2004, there are many things they do that I don’t agree with… you have to pick and choose…. the same way you pay taxes. Direct quote:” My voice in ALA is more important than being absent in ALA”
- Commenter: The word Christian applies to such a wide range of people and keep that in mind when you’re thinking of tolerance. Christians may disagree with other Christians and many Christians are not conservative or Republican.
- Commenter: You can be Conservative and non-religious, the description for this program said conservative and did not say Christian and yet it is almost exclusively about Christian librarianship
- Commenter: HR director discussed having a non-denominational holiday party that was intended to be inclusive for everyone and got a lot of negative press for NOT having a “Christmas party”. Speaker sympathized, direct quote: “I’m not going to shove my Christianity down your throat but I certainly want to break bread with you at Christmastime… They will know we are Christians by our love, we don’t have to protyletize to them.” Says that holiday parties do NOT compromise the belief systems of Christians if the intent is to hold a seasonal holiday event inclusive for and welcoming to everyone.
- Commenter: I see by your AL article that you don’t filter the Internet, what if you see someone looking hardcore porn? Speaker: The lab is right where we can see it, and our staff is roaming, this has not been a problem. My staff would not hesitate if we saw something that was offensive… we would call the police. We couldn’t find a filter that was working for us.