Gorman, Hosts Hail Libraries; Albright Tackles Cuba & More
At the American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference in New Orleans on Saturday, ALA President Michael Gorman began the Opening General Session with a video review of library coverage over the past year--the salvaging of the Salinas Public Library, the reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act, and the ravages of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Gorman asked the audience to stand in a moment of silence for those lost in the aftermath of the hurricanes. "Libraries brought a sense of normalcy" to those affected, he said, and the national media picked up on the important role libraries played. Announcing that ALA's Katrina Fund now tops more than $370,000, with $100,000 distributed previously to the library associations of Louisiana and Mississippi, Gorman symbolically distributed (with giant checks) another $100,000 to Louisiana, plus $50,000 for Mississippi.Grateful New Orleans notables were on hand to thank librarians for their extensive support. Via videotape, musician Wynton Marsalis praised librarians, whom he said are rarely recognized or adequately honored. He likened books to music as "tools of transformation." New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin hailed libraries as "center points for our citizens in the diaspora" of the hurricane aftermath. He also praised librarians for committing to the conference location, in effect "sending a message to the world right now that New Orleans is okay." Louisiana Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu--a rival to Nagin in the recent mayoral election--added some levity, asking visitor not to forget "paying your taxes at Harrah's Casino." Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was the featured speaker; as the first female to hold that office, and the highest any female has held, she received a standing ovation from the mostly-female audience. Albright called libraries fun, the biggest educational bargain on the face of the earth, and a laboratory for freedom. She drew applause for her stand against the Patriot Act. Still, not everyone was welcoming. ALA's Social Responsibilities Round Table (SRRT) issued a statement saying that keynote speakers should "have helped shape the world in ways consistent with basic humanitarian and library values," and that Albright did not deserve the honor. Albright was vocal about the need to support the independent libraries in Cuba in their opposition to government censorship, but also diplomatically praised ALA for its fact-finding visits there and ties with professional Cuban librarians. Citing her history as a refugee from communist Czechoslovakia, Albright was vocal in her attack on the Cuban government, yet also clear on the necessity to end the U.S. embargo on travel and commerce. Her careful presentation was the result of homework. ALA executive director Keith Fiels said that, after ALA learned that Robert Kent of Friends of Cuban Libraries had contacted Albright, ALA made sure the former Secretary of State had access to ALA's positions--a reaction, obviously to Andrei Codrescu's comments on Cuba in San Antonio in January. "We asked that she share her remarks in advance," he said, "and ultimately the remarks she showed were the remarks she made. She captured both sides and we think she did a great job." "What we preach abroad we should also practice at home," Albright said in a segue, as she began to talk about her new book, Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs (HarperCollins). Ethics must be a part of foreign and domestic policy, whether it's the war in Iraq, interfaith understanding, or dealing with the Christian right, she said. We must learn to use religion as a force for conciliation, especially when our foreign policy is now as unpopular around the world as during the Vietnam War. While we must not allow terrorists to succeed in dividing up the world along religious lines, Albright said, we also must return to our own ideals, especially in the treatment of prisoners and respect for human rights.
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