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Atonal Bell

Apparently Steven Bell likes to position himself as controversial, or perhaps he likes to be a “curmudgeon.” Have you ever noticed that curmudgeons are always male? But I digress. To me, Bell’s recent LJ piece about the Obama keynote, now circulating the blogs, was as refreshing as warm, sour milk.

Pardon me, Steven me laddie, but it was both fitting and necessary that Obama praise librarians for their work on the Patriot Act. You ponder, “I left Barack Obama’s opening keynote wondering when ALA will develop some backbone and seek out a keynoter who will challenge, anger, or confront us.” As a veteran of the Internet filtering wars–and they were, at times, brutish and nasty–and as one of the first public commentators to write about the Patriot Act, which in January 2002 felt like going way out on the edge of a limb and then jumping off, I happen to prefer it when the intellectual-freedom instincts of most librarians are affirmed, gladdened, and anointed. But if you feel differently, why not run for ALA president on the “Ashcroft is my Keynoter” ticket? I’m sure John can do a good job deconstructing everything we believe and know in our sturdy little librarian hearts.

What would it take to make you happy? Should we rend our garments and wail that our catalogs suck and we are not particularly good at outreach? We already do that every day on umpty-ump lists and blogs, and we did it in quite a few programs at the conference. Should we have, not a keynote, but a Great Expiation, where we kneel in shame at our failings? That will certainly refuel the directors struggling to improve budgets and increase access.

I’m not sure what a “shopworn Patriot Act cliche” looks like, but let me trot out a few cliches myself. I was there for Obama, and he was as crisp and fresh as a cool breeze off the bay, as warm as a cup of hot chocolate, and as affirming as the sun rising on an Easter morning. Sorry he didn’t float your boat, Bell, but Obama, for me, was a just-in-time keynoter.

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