At the conclusion of the ALA meeting, the organization's council, its governing body, approved a resolution opposing the efforts by the U.S. government to "limit access to informational materials by Cuba's libraries." In addition, the ALA International Relations Committee voted to establish a "protocol of cooperation" with the Cuban Library Association, known by its Spanish acronym, ASCUBI.
The decision was a setback to the ongoing efforts by supporters of Washington's drive against the Cuban Revolution--organized into the misnamed "Friends of Cuban Libraries"--to get the ALA to endorse so-called independent libraries in Cuba and to accuse the Cuban government of censorship and repression of intellectual freedom.
"Friends of Cuban Libraries" was launched in 1999. The main individuals publicly associated with this operation are Jorge Sanguinetty, a commentator on Radio MartÝ, and Robert Kent, a reference librarian at the New York Public Library with a long history of activity against the Cuban Revolution. Radio MartÝ is the U.S. government's propaganda station directed against Cuba.
The debate in the ALA began in September 1999 when a committee of the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) endorsed the "Friends of Cuban Libraries" campaign and sent a letter to the Cuban government to that effect.
A panel discussion at the ALA meeting titled "Cuba: Sovereignty, Development, and Intellectual Freedom" took on the counterrevolutionary campaign and reported on fact-finding trips by U.S. librarians to Cuba. About 60 librarians attended the meeting.
The panel included Rhonda Neugebauer, Latin American Studies bibliographer at the University of California in Riverside, and Larry Oberg, a librarian at Willamette College in Salem, Oregon. Ann Sparanese, the head of adult and young adult services at the Englewood, New Jersey, public library, chaired the meeting.
Marta Terry, president of ASCUBI and past director of the JosÚ MartÝ National Library of Cuba, was scheduled to speak but was not granted a visa by the U.S. government in time to attend the conference, according to ALA official Mark Rozenzweig.
Neugebauer, Oberg, and some 14 other U.S. librarians had participated in a two-week fact-finding trip to Cuba in March 2000. They visited university, high school, elementary school, and public libraries on the island. They also visited many of the so-called independent libraries.
"Cuban libraries are an important component of Cuban society and serve thousands of people on a daily basis," Neugebauer reported. "Librarians in Cuba are eager to provide materials of all kinds to their users, who are very well educated about Cuba and about the world and who read a lot."
"Librarians in Cuba do an exceptional job disseminating ideas and information, despite the US economic embargo," Oberg noted. "They take their outreach obligations seriously," he added, pointing to the high priority given to bookmobiles and branch libraries in isolated rural locations, and the school libraries and librarians that exist in virtually all elementary and secondary schools.
Neugebauer reported on the delegation's visit to the so-called independent libraries. "These 'libraries' appear to us to be a public face for a dissident movement within Cuba that has its leadership, financial support, and media operations outside the country," she said. "The individuals who operate these 'libraries' are neither independent, nor are they librarians."
None of these individuals were able to name any books that had been banned by the government, Neugebauer said. When asked if they had material not available in the Cuban library system they pointed primarily to newsletters and printouts of U.S.-based organizations dedicated to the overthrow of the Cuban Revolution.
Following the March 2000 fact-finding trip, Kent sent a letter to the ALA's Committee on Professional Ethics, charging that Neugebauer had "no intention of supporting intellectual freedom during the library program she will be conducting in Cuba." In May 2001 the ALA sent an official delegation to Cuba to participate in a conference of Caribbean librarians.
Sparanese concluded the discussion by noting that the real counterparts and colleagues of U.S. librarians were not the "independent" librarians, but the hundreds of professionals who had to work everyday with shortages of paper, literature, computers and printers due to the hostile U.S. policy.
Bill Kalman is a member of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 120 in San Lorenzo, California.
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