interview with Alvin Schrader, CLA president


This month I talked to Alvin Schrader, current CLA president and professor who teaches and writes a lot about intellectual freedom. I’ve enjoyed his issues based Feliciter editorials more than the usual “as the president I went here and did this”type diary entries. This issue he writes about the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression. I respect and admire Alvin a lot. Here’s our conversation.

Tara: Please tell us a bit about yourself…

Alvin: I am a farm boy from central Alberta raised to believe in education, hard work, and equality. I was also born a criminal, and remained a criminal for 25 years, until same-sex adult sexuality was decriminalized in 1969. But it was another 36 years before I became a full citizen, when the marriage act was passed in 2005.

You’ve been a librarian for a long time, how have intellectual freedom issues changed over the last 30 years?

The Internet has dwarfed all of the format issues, and the censorware challenge is far from won because of the abysmal ignorance of politicians and policy-makers about the way language and language indexing work.

Another change has been the growth in research and professional literature compared to 25 years ago.

The other change has been a growing awareness by librarians and by some educators of the central role that intellectual freedom plays in our profession. But there’s still too much lip service.

Please share a few titles, or links that you consider to be must reads on intellectual freedom issues.

Everybody should read Aeropagitica by John Milton and On Liberty by John Stuart Mill. After that, there are so many books and articles. The annual Freedom To Read Week book is a must. And the ALA Intellectual Freedom Manual is the resource guide though of course it has a U.S. perspective. Naturally I would like everyone to read Fear
of Words
because I wrote it! But it predates the Internet era.

You’ve written about including LGBT/queer resources in collections–why is this important?

Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel said at the Mayor’s Pride Brunch in 2007, “The health of the LGBTQ community is a barometer of the entire community.” How much truer is this of information providers then. But we have a long way to go from the disgraceful days of the bitter protests by American librarians to the American Libraries cover of ALA’s Gay and Lesbian Task Force marching in the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade in 1992 during the ALA conference.

There is a wonderful DVD produced in 2004 by Lynne Barnes called Reaching Out: Library Services for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Youth (order from, $20 US, 16 mins.) In it, Jewelle Gomez says, “I
thought I would find myself in the word. I thought I would find myself at the library.”

The IFC has made buttons that say “I read banned books”. People often ask me at the grocery store checkout what banned books I’m reading. What banned or challenged books have you read lately?

Just about everything I read has been challenged or would be if the wrong people find out they are out there and in our libraries! The challengers create my reading lists for me.

Of course, all of the same-sex children’s picture books including And Tango Makes Three and a wonderful French-language one out of Quebec Ulysse et Alice, and many YA books such as Luna, Swimming in the Monsoon Sea, True Believer, Rainbow Boys, Geography Club, The Order of the Poison Oak, Stitchers, and Alison Bechdel’s graphic
novel Fun Home.

Then there is the chilling Pink Blood: Homophobic Violence in Canada, by Douglas Victor Janoff, who documents one murder and two violent incidents per month over the past 15 years in Canada!

Thank you Alvin!

If there is someone you think I should interview, please leave your suggestions in the comments.

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