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International Responsibilities Task Force
of the American Library Association's
Social Responsibilities Round Table

Defend Cuban and US Libraries
Tarnel Abbott
January 7, 2004
The following letter was written by Tarnel Abbott, Librarian. Views expressed in this letter do not necessarily reflect the views of IRTF, SRRT, or ALA.
I am a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley with a degree of Master of Library and Information Science. I have been a public librarian for 18 years, an ALA (American Library Association) member for most of that time.
In February 2003 I went on a tour of libraries in Cuba with a group of U.S. and Canadian teachers and librarians. We visted local/regional (provincial)/special/ academic libraries and the National library. We toured the literacy museum, we visited an independent publisher of handmade books, we attended the professional librarian conference and the Havana Book Fair. In my experience, the Cuban Libraries are amazingingly intact. The libraries, the librarians and the books are respected, and more: treasured. The Cuban libraries are material poor (no surprise given the embargo) but strong on open hours, outreach and programming. They welcome donations.
I have spent much more time in Mexico in my life than I have in Cuba. It is much harder to find a public library in Mexico than it is in Cuba. I have long been a fan of Nat Hentoff, who has been a champion for libraries for many years, and recently a strong and articulate spokesman against the USA P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act , but I wonder, where he is getting his information about Cuban Libraries from? Has he ever actually visited a Cuban Library?
Has he visited my library? My library has recently joined the third world. Until recently, we have had a great book budget and open hours, this is partly why I came to work here. The library was respected. Now, our hours and budgets have been so gutted that after 13 years of fulltime employment with the City of Richmond (CA) I think I might be laid off, and my social sciences book budget has gone overnight from $8,000 per year to $2,000.
In an era when all departments which don't generate money will be shut down as the city "right-sizes" will Nat Hentoff come to my defense? And who will be left to maintain those libraries he loves to defend, who will be there to buy his books? Who will know what the BORDC [Bill of Rights Defense Committee:] is? The death of the library is the death of a culture, the death of democracy. When the public is denied reasonable access to public documents, to history, technical and practical literature, culture the richest nation in the history and the world--who will defend us?
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