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Libri, 1397, vol. 47, pp.

301-106 Printed in Gernwny All rights reserved

Copyright Sur 1997 Ubri ISSN0024-2667

Against Blaise Cronin's 'Strategie Pragmatism' and in Defence of Social Responsibility in Librarianship
Napier University, Edinburgh, Scotland


This article critically examines Blaise Cronin's condemnation of social responsibility in librarianship. It does so in a number of ways; first it finds that Cronin's opinion is based not on the evidence that social responsibility librarianship offers, but on a severely curtailed account of its practices. It then examines Cronin's use of language to disparage such practices. The central part of the article offers a case study

and a critique of social-responsibility librarianship, examining sources which - the author argues - should have been considered by Cronin, were his original Claims to have any foundation. Finally, it argues against Cronin's narrow view of librarianship s 'Strategie pragmatism', offering instead an access-based perspective that ultimately finds its best expression in social-responsibility librarianship.

First of all, there is an interest to be declared. This author writes s one of those 'unremittingly misguided' souls currently engaged in that 'shibboleth' of contemporary librarianship, social responsibility. The phrases are Blaise Cronin's and they appeared in his 1995 Libri article. That article, in one of those welcome coincidences all too rare in life, was drawn to this author's attention on the same day s Berman and Danky's 'Alternative Library Literature: 1994-1995' was published. Sanford Berman and James Danky have been producitig 'Alternative Library Literatiire' (hereafter, ALL) for over ten years now, collecting what they consider the best in the field for their biennial anthology. In his attack on the people whose work appears in'the likes of ALL, Cronin eschews all mention of Berman and Danky's achievements. This is unfortunate, since it would have enabled his criticisms to bear on those very issues and actions that he finds 'nremittingly misguided/ His discussion of access to Information, for instance, would have been all

the more informed had he examined, however briefly, the work of ALL's editors themselves. That Cronin nowhere displays any awareness of their work should make us suspicious. Does he know anything of their work? Perhaps he prefers to deliberately ignore their achievements in order to demonise those with an agenda different from his own. Cronin would have us believe that the library profession in the U.S. is awash with a noxious blend of obsessions: 'fundamentalism, xenophobia, censorship, fetishism, infirmary fennism [a term he takes from Camille Paglia], genetic inbreeding (1), social activism and multicultural mania/ For someone who promotes objectivity and scientific values, his language is fll of bluster and disinformation. Cronin declares that this is a 'malaise' in sore need of a 'eure/ Exactly what this malaise is he never specifies. What his own agenda signifies is left equally vague; from the account he provides in the 1995 article it appears to be resolutely anti-practitioner, except where practice is infused with what he terms 'Strategie pragmatism', of which more later.

Chris Atton works in Dunning Library, Napier University, 10 Colinton Road, Edinburgh, Scotland, EH10 5DT, Email: c.atton@napier.ac.uk

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Chris Alton

Against practice, against ethics

That he appears set against practice - specifically a library practice that is concerned with communities of users and the promotion of access in all its forms - does nothing to dispel the picture he paints of himself-as the librarian-scholar, set apart from his practising colleagues (we should remember that Cronin has never practised librarianship in a library; his career has been exclusively in schools of librarianship). Throughout his article Cronin seeks to set himself apart from the LIS Community and LIS education in North America in partictdar. To achieve this he focuses on the use of 'language7 by 'a minority of LIS faculty and others within the professional ranks, [a] minority [that] exerts disproportionate influence on public perceptions of the field, in particular its scholstic credibility/ That he adopts such a focus when his own language is so extreme is worthy of some consideration. First, he accuses this minority of 'fundamentalism/ Cronin notes that some commentaries in LIS are conducted in the language of religiosity, of beliefs, of truths and that this is wholly inappropriate for professional debate. This he asserts, but fails to explain the grounds for his assertion (or indeed, that his assertion is based on more than a mere handful of examples). Such language can, of course, be viewed s that of an ethics-based view of a profession, where moral philosophy is the paradigm. Moral philosophy in the sense of duty, in the sense of equality of access for all people to library Services, to Information. This is not strnge to other professions (law and medicine, for instance); nor should it be to ours. Cronin considers such an exhibition of duty s 'fundamentalism7, but adduces no evidence. Cronin also has much to say about 'xenophobia7, specifically that in the LIS Community of North America. This righteous denunciation of an professional class is based on three clippings from the library press that questioned Cronin7s appointment s Dean at Indiana. For three clippings an entire profession of a continent is denounced, a reaction that is somewhat out of proprtion to the original deeds. Cronin's injured pride sees himself s an Outsider, s one who is outwith 'the walls [of] the orthodox/ He identifies with the heretic, the heterodox (do we see here another ironic use of religious language, or is it merely a

slip?). No, further: he cites William Henry and identifies himself with everyone dismissed from Henry's elitist citadel. Yet Cronin has never been the outsider. On the contrary, his work is the very bedrock of orthodoxy. His career, his distinctions, his fellowships, his immense publications record, all are testament to the impact he has made on the LIS Community and the wider world. His identification with the underdog is spurious. But who are those groups with whom he appears to make common cause? Surely they cannot be the same minority that he accuses of 'intellectual blinkeredness and intolerance?7 For this is to find common cause with those 'unremittingly misguided7 amongst us who seek to introduce real-world issues into our work, in an effort to make it more relevant and meaningful to the communities we serve. Hence it would be professinally negligent of us not t consider social responsibility, censorship, wmen's rights (though not 'infirmary femimsm7), multiciiltoalism and racism (this last from a critical stance, despite what Cronin woiild have). Yet, apart from a fleeting mention of the American Library Association's Social Responsibilities iRound Table (ALA, SRRT), it is surprising that he does not refer specifically to ny groups or individuals involved in social responsibility issues.

The strugglefor access

The fault Cronin finds with these groups - groups that are paradoxically both powerfiil (exerting 'disproportionate influencex) and powerless (with their 'patently pyrrhic efforts to social and political issues7) - is that they seek the 'politicisation of librarianship/ What Cronin ignores here is that librarianship, like most of civil Society, is already politicised. Decisions are beirig made every day by librarians, their administi'atiQns, their governments, multinational corporations, that affect the nature of our work. Decisions that restrict access to Information in all its forms; intellectual, physical, social, economic, spatio-temporal. Cronin is clearly aware of these issues, since his penultimate section examines each of these aspects of access. But, s the subtitle of that section indicates (7A straw man?7) he does so only to utterly discard their relevance to what he considers the 'right stuff7 of librarianship.

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Against Blaise Cronin's 'Strategie Pragmatism' This is unfortunate, since it not only Signals a fatal weakness in Cronin's understanding of librarianship in toto, it is a central tenet of the type of librarianship he seeks to besmirch. As such, it is open to a critical examination that, had Cronin, sought it, would have provided a more rigorous argument against it than he actually offers. For we should be wary of considering social responsibility librarianship or progressive librarianship s monolithic in either its theoretical basis or its praxis. For whilst its origins are simple enough and its concern with 'speaking truth to power' f ar from novel, it has developed into a number of positions, some of which are inimical to access. Social responsibility in librarianship proceeds from the notion that librarianship s traditionally conceived has disadvantaged significant groups in society - most notably, women, working people, children, ethnic groups. The tradition has done so by developing the library (most notably, but not exclusively, the public library) s an essentially bourgeois Institution, wherein the power ascribed to it has worked to the exclusion of such groups. Furthermore, the Systems that librarians have developed in this Institution to control access to library collections have themselves been subject to the same power. Selection policies, cataloguing rules, classification Systems and subject Indexes, all - it is agreed - have tended to obstruct access to certain types of ideas (particularly those of the disadvantaged groups, s well s those of dissident voices). In other cases, the provenance of materials has been severely limited, for example, in the case of publications from alternative and radical publishers which, s has been shown, have an extremely low profile in libraries, regardless of their content. In such Systems we find power inscribed within them, a power that perpetuates unequal relations of power. The notion of ascribed and inscribed power comes from Dick and Burger's (1995) promotion of critical subject access headings that make 'transparent those value commitments that are either frankly revealed or unwittingly concealed in practices for providing subject access/ Through such a project they hope to ensure both equality of access to Information s well s 'equity of access7 to those materials thus described. It is the inequality of power relations that social responsibility librarianship seeks to counter (Dick and Burger 1995). Sanford Berman offers us an illuminating case study of the varied ways such a practice can impact upon libraries, librarians and their users. He has recently proposed a Toor People's Policy', to be adopted by the ALA, in much the same way s it has adopted the Library Bill of Rights. In an unpublished letter to the ALA's current president-elect, Barbara J. Ford, he suggests, inter alia, the following methods for its Implementation:
1. instruct ALA's Washington Office to actively support legislative initiatives that would contribute to reducing, if not eliminating, poverty itself; 2. produce through ALA Publishing Services a policybased leaflet or brochure, replete with resource and bibliographic citation; 3. urge, s President, that the Library of Congress undertake the cataloguing reforms specified in the SRRT [document] 'Resolution on Subject Headings Relating to Class and Poverty'; 4. mount a major Conference program on issues of class and poverty s serious barriers to equal and effective library use.

We may note here a variety of approaches; the direct speech of 'truth to power' in Berman's call for legislative changes; the challenge to the 'inscribed power' of subject headings that misrepresent, marginalise or ignore whole sections of society; the need to critically educate librarians to enable them to locate and acquire materials for these sections of society; and a general need for discussion and awareness-raising within the profession. In short, this amounts to the recognition of the place (and power) of the professional librarian in civil and political life, a recognition that - despite repeated attempts - has still to be instituted in our practice in a thoroughgoing way (something that cannot be said, to our shame, for many other professions).

Contested access: A digression

Whilst improving access to library collections is the goal of these various approaches, philosophical differences in librarianship can give rise to divergent practices, which will have very different results. It is here that we might valuably find objections to certain aspects of social responsibility librarianship and where Cronin might have developed a coherent argument against them. These have been examined most closely by Wol-

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Chris Alton koff (1996) in her discussion of the 'problem7 of Holocaust denial literature in libraries. Her example demonstrates what might be called 7the paradox of access' in social responsibility librarianship. On the one hand, s we have seen, such a practice seeks to improve access to materials by disadvantaged groups and also to improve access to materials specifically by or about such groups, their interests and concerns. On the other hand, the practice can also work against access, by limiting the availability of materials that are deemed deceitful or harmful to such groups. In this latter category we might place Holocaust denial literature. Wolkoff offers three selection decisions that librarians might take:
1. that such material must be included since it is not the librarian's role to act s an arbiter of the moral value or truthf ulness pf an item; 2. that such material must be excluded because it is untrue or hurtful; 3. that such material should be included but labelled s inaccurate.

Arguing from the contingency of what counts s evidence in establishing truth and combining this with an account of the librarian s the neutral collector, she favours the first of these positions. In so doing, she is following the 7strict Interpretation7 of the Library Bill of Rights and offering complete support for intellectual freedom, since she argues that it is only in such a circumstance that librarians can properly fulfil their function s providing access to all views, both Of the denier and of those refute them7. But such a view is far from universally held. Indeed, it prompts us to recall the words of Ronald C. Benge: 'the librarian [that] is indifferent to the nature of the use [to which Information is put], he is not a man but a thing7 (cited in McCann 1989). His compelling example is the collaboration of German "liberal librarians7 during the Nazi period. As this author has noted elsewhere:
. the actions of any professional always take place in a context, whether political, economic, social or cultural. Any claim to professional objectivity must be balanced against the effects of those actions. In many cases librarians have had no difficulty in seeing the importance of the context in which they work. The recognition of diverse social and cultural groups that gave birth to Community librarianship is the most notable example. (Atton 1996).

Moreover, it is possible to work in socially-responsible ways that recognise 'diverse social and cultural groups7 at the same time s enabling access to all viewpoints on all issues. Such a possibility is still contested, however. John Pateman, a prominent activist librarian in Britain, is emphatic about the fate of Holocaust denial literature in society. That such works provide to support to racists is reason enough for it to be 'confronted and rooted out - and that includes libraries/ (Pateman 1992: 58). This sentiment, despite what Cronin wold have us believe, is hardly the province of a radical minority that would enforce censorship on all our libraries7 collections. Far from it; such calls for root and branch weeding of this literature have come from representatives of our professional associations too. Rurmalls Davis, representing the (British) Library Association at an International Group Conference in Oxford, England in 1994, followed a speech championing free and open access to all Information with the remark that, since the works of David Irving the best-known British holocaust revisionist were no doubt 'bad writing7 (although Davis admitted that he was not familir with it) his works need not be stocked by libraries (2). While we might remin neutral with regard to the truth-value of the documents we cllect and make available, we can never remin neutral towards the tools and Systems we s librarians have developed to exploit such documents. When these 'reflect Standards and the world views of a small group of the profession's leaders in the United States7 then it is not enough to simply acquire documents from s wide an array s possible, we must also ensure that the cataloguing and classification practices we devise treat the Contents of such documerits equitably (Dick and Burger, 1995). This digression was not intended to reach an unequivocal conclusion about Holocaust denial literature, rather to demonstrate the complexity of an issue that Cronin considers sufficiently unimportant to librarianship to be dismissed s 7 a straw man.7 Why has he been so swift to dismiss it? It is hardly insubstantial. There is a considerable literature on this issue, only a small part of which has been cited here. Is it because its authors are almost entirely practitioners, that they are not in senior positions, that few have any connections with library.schools? Is it to do


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Against Blaise Cronin's 'Strategie Pragmatism' with the perceived marginality of their publishing provenance? Many of the Journals in which such work appears are part of an alternative Publishing process that is not recorded in the likes of Library and Information Science Abstracts and Library Literature; neither will it be found in ISI's citation indexes. Yet it is a sizeable literature, and one that Cronin chooses to ignore. Is he ignorant of such publications s Alternative Press Index, Librarians at Liberty, MSRRT Newsletter, Progressive Librarian? Or does he wilfully ignore them, for fear that having to address their contents directly might weaken his demonisation of their authors s architects of intolerance and bigotry? amines the restrictive practices of ISL Cronin is a member of ISI's Strategie Advisory Board. The same ISI that produces so much data of essential relevance to citation analysts such s Cronin himself. No wonder he wants to promote greater links with 'external R&D funding/ We should remember though, that in addition to providing data for such s he, ISI's Citation Indexes also constitute severe limits on the transnssion and academic repute of scholarly publication. In his analysis of the impact of scientific publishing from the Third World, W. Wayt Gibbs (1995) notes that of an estimated 70,000+ scientific Journals published throughout the world, less than 5% are listed in Science Citation Index. Criteria for inclusion are often hard to meet for Third World publishers: they include providing English abstracts for all articles and purchasing 'a $10,000 subscription to the index' (3). As a member of this board one would expect Cronin to be aware of such practices and to be able to see them s major examples of the politicisation of Information. Cronin's second reason is that librarianship 'does not have access to a meaningful power base/ This is where Cronin back-tracks on his initial claim that the lunatics are taking over the asylum, where he talks of 'pyrrhic efforts to shape social and political issues' and so on. In his terms, 'meaningful power base7 seems to mean access to politicians and 'the President of the United States'. By contrast, the 'power base' of those engaging in social responsibility is from the bottom up. It comes from ordinary people, from grassroots organisations, not merely in getting politicians and bureaucrats on our side. If this work is at all to do with real democracy, with real access for ordinary people, then it is from those people that our power must come. Any other power will be that of an elite, and progressive librarianship aims to fight against the elite, in librarianship, in corporations, in politics. By contrast, Cronin is in no doubt s to where his power base lies. It lies in what he calls 'Strategie pragmatism', a notion he sets apart from the eleven 'paradigms' he lists s 'currently competing for attention and dominance in the LIS domain/ Yet does not this notion itself constitute a further paradigm? And is it not the most pervasive of tihem all, the paradigm employed by commerce and industry and (especially) governments when they wish to establish their own ideo105

Against Cronin
For all that, Cronin insists that the 'politicisation of librarianship' is taking over both the library schools and librarianship throughout the US and that this is an 'unremittingly misguided' movement. He seeks to convince of this in three ways. Firstly, he declares that librarianship 'lacks the necessary intellectual apparatus/ It is difficult to know what Cronin means here. Is he saying that we have not proved ourselves in this field? Or perhaps he means that LIS 's traditionally or reasonably conceived' (Cronin's own phrase) doesn't have such an apparatus. Looking through the current edition of ALL, there are articles that certainly provide aspects of such an apparatus. Charles Willett's 'Social responsibilities and the undergraduate library' (1996) is a piece that this author has f ound valuable in his development of critical thinking skills in urdversity library user education. Willett addresses the economics of Information, picking apart the mechanism by which librarians in academic libraries have limits placed upon them by the commercial and social constraints that higher education currently operates under. It is the economics of Information, moreover, that directs many projects in librarianship, often to the detriment of their social and cultural aspects. We might usefully consider Cronin's own work in this light, work that he implicitly claims is ideologically undetermined or, at best, value-free. There have been some revealing studies of the process of scholarly communication and none so revealing for the present purpose s one that ex-

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Chris Alton

logical Status quo, but fight extremely shy of defining it too closely, lest we ('the rabble') see just how ideologically determined their 'objective', 'common-sense' view of the world really is? 'Strategie pragmatism', it turns out, is code for littie more than 'library schools working with big business'. What eise can 'diversify[ing] their [library schools'] sources of external R&D funding' mean? His final reason is that librarianship 'does not have any kind of public (or negotiated) mandate/ Because Cronin sees his own work s value- and ideology-free, then he doesn't need a mandate. His work, he declares, is not political. Yet the impact of his underwriting of ISI's citation practice is, according to Gibbs's analysis, greatly in excess of the impact that progressive librarians currently have. His is a position of privilege and power. Theirs is - what? It is to represent those who would use our libraries7 collections, to en^ sure that items are catalogued appropriately, that materials are collected and made available from s wide a rnge s exists, for s wide a rnge of users s exists (actually and potentially). It is from those users that a mandate proceeds, an open, democratic mandate.

education into a downward spiral of bibliometrics and citation analysis that take no account of 'the world s it is today/ Berman and Danky promote a librarianship founded not on elitism and hegemony, but on Community, resistance and progress.

1. It is hrd t know what Cronin means by this phrase. However, its occrrence in this article beside such words s 'lebensram', 'eugenics' and 'diaspora', taken with his implicit condemnation of the struggle for the rights of winen and ethnic people, leaves one mindful of an earlier deplyment of such terms across Europe. That this cmes froiii someorie whose critical 'focus' is avowedly languge' is dubly unfortunate 2. His remarks are documented in Atton, C., 'Censorship and social responsibility7, iri: Berman and Danky, 1996: 65-66. 3. Gibbs, WW. 'Lost science kl the Third World7, Sei entific American, August 1995: 76-83. ISI has denied that any Journal needs to purchase a subscription t ISI in order to qualify for inclusion in it (though this is clearly contested in the article); ISl's position is summarised in 'Clarifictions and eirata7, Seien* tific American, October 1995: 7.

Librarians such s Berman and Danky, through publications such s ALL, provide ideas and documentation for aspects of librarianship that the majority of the profession simply ignores. For all his protestation, that majority does include Blaise Cronin. Progressive librarians are doing a Job on behalf of those who cannot do it for themselves, speaking out on behalf of user groups that have been marginalised and demonised: ethnic groups, the homeless, working people, women, gays and lesbians, even children (all those 'minority interests' that interfere with the smooth running of democracy); those troublemakers that our legislators and powermongers would seek to marginalise even further by the commodification of everything, even of knowledge. Through a decade of anthologies, Berman and Danky have demonstrated that 'progressive librarian', far from being an Oxymoron, is'a sine qua non. They offer a powerftd intellectual and democratic rebuff to such s Blaise Cronin, who advocates the diminution of our professional

Alternative Library Literature, 1994-1995>A biennial anthology, edited by S. Berman and JP. Danky. Jefferson, MC & London: McFarland, 1996. Atton, C. Towards a critical practice for the academic Hbrary. New Library World 97 (1996); 1129:4-11. Cronin, B. Shibboleth and substance in Nori American Hbrary and Information scieiice education. Libri 45 (1995); 1:45-63. Dick, AL. and Burger, M. Transfonning subject access: some critical issues for South African Information Professionals. South African Journal of Librarianship and Information Science 63 (1995); 2: 65-69. MacCann, D. (Ed.), Social responsibility in librarianship: Essays on equality, Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1989:3. Pateman, J. Double points (letter). Assistant Librarian, April 1992:58. Willett, C. Social responsibilities and the undergraduate Hbrary. In: Berman and Danky, 1996: 82-90. Wolkoff, KN. The problem of Holocaust denil literature in libraries. Library Trends 45 (1996); 1: 87-96.

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