American Library Association Chooses Poorly PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Jeff Wagg   
Swift reader Stephen brings this item to our attention:

I just wanted to alert your readers that, sadly, one of the best professions for critical thinkers seems to have been infiltrated. Yes, I'm a librarian and usually damn proud of it. But just the other day, as I was checking the conference program for the American Library Association's Annual Meeting in Chicago this summer, there was cause to be less proud. For, there on the program, in the "Auditorium Speaker Series" was a notice that one of the featured speakers was to be... wait for it... James Van Praagh! Arrrgh! Even worse, the write up for the event sounds as if it came right from the computer of a HarperCollins publicist (as no doubt it did). It's full of material that really brings shame to ALA. Here's an abridgement:

"James Van Praagh is a "survival evidence medium," meaning that he is able to bridge the gap between two planes of existence, that of the living and that of the dead, by providing evidential proof of life after death via detailed messages. ... His first memorable encounter was at the age of eight, when he prayed for God to reveal Himself to him and an open hand appeared through the ceiling of his room. Today, Van Praagh is recognized as one of the foremost mediums in the world. In addition to speaking with the deceased, he says he can "feel the emotions and personalities of the deceased," as well as see the spirit in solid form. "

Not much critical thinking going on there. Sad.

Sad is right. I volunteered for a library that is run by a thoughtful librarian like Stephen. She was staunchly in favor of seemingly contradictory ideals: freedom of information, and veracity of information. The year I worked there, she said that Kevin Trudeau's book was in constant demand, but she had a really hard time giving it to people because she knew the information within was unreliable to the point of being dangerous. Ultimately, her job is to provide the patrons with the materials they request, and that's what she did, but she warned them that the book was not supported by science or medicine.

That said, that bio piece of James Van Praagh is a travesty, and it's a shame that the ALA couldn't find a better speaker. If they want a writer of fiction, there are far better authors than Van Praagh.

I sense an opportunity here though. Van Praagh is going to be in a room filled with intelligent people. Maybe, just maybe, those people can ask some interesting questions, and maybe set the tone to be consternation rather than adoration. This can be done without being rude, and might send a message to the ALA that a librarian's role is not only to provide information, but also to provide guidance.