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American Library Association Chooses Poorly PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Jeff Wagg   
Swift reader Stephen brings this item to our attention:

I just wanted to alert your readers that, sadly, one of the best professions for critical thinkers seems to have been infiltrated. Yes, I'm a librarian and usually damn proud of it. But just the other day, as I was checking the conference program for the American Library Association's Annual Meeting in Chicago this summer, there was cause to be less proud. For, there on the program, in the "Auditorium Speaker Series" was a notice that one of the featured speakers was to be... wait for it... James Van Praagh! Arrrgh! Even worse, the write up for the event sounds as if it came right from the computer of a HarperCollins publicist (as no doubt it did). It's full of material that really brings shame to ALA. Here's an abridgement:

"James Van Praagh is a "survival evidence medium," meaning that he is able to bridge the gap between two planes of existence, that of the living and that of the dead, by providing evidential proof of life after death via detailed messages. ... His first memorable encounter was at the age of eight, when he prayed for God to reveal Himself to him and an open hand appeared through the ceiling of his room. Today, Van Praagh is recognized as one of the foremost mediums in the world. In addition to speaking with the deceased, he says he can "feel the emotions and personalities of the deceased," as well as see the spirit in solid form. "

Not much critical thinking going on there. Sad.

Sad is right. I volunteered for a library that is run by a thoughtful librarian like Stephen. She was staunchly in favor of seemingly contradictory ideals: freedom of information, and veracity of information. The year I worked there, she said that Kevin Trudeau's book was in constant demand, but she had a really hard time giving it to people because she knew the information within was unreliable to the point of being dangerous. Ultimately, her job is to provide the patrons with the materials they request, and that's what she did, but she warned them that the book was not supported by science or medicine.

That said, that bio piece of James Van Praagh is a travesty, and it's a shame that the ALA couldn't find a better speaker. If they want a writer of fiction, there are far better authors than Van Praagh.

I sense an opportunity here though. Van Praagh is going to be in a room filled with intelligent people. Maybe, just maybe, those people can ask some interesting questions, and maybe set the tone to be consternation rather than adoration. This can be done without being rude, and might send a message to the ALA that a librarian's role is not only to provide information, but also to provide guidance.

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written by Willy K, March 07, 2009
Optimism Springs Eternal...

Van Praagh is going to be in a room filled with intelligent people. Maybe, just maybe, those people can ask some interesting questions...


I know quite a few "intelligent" people who believe in all kinds of supernatural garbage.smilies/cry.gif

It must be a very difficult decision for a librarian with intact critical thinking skills to editorialize. Maybe they should put the woo-woo books between the science fiction and childrens book sections. Wait a second, I take that back, I wouldn't want to expose kids to this nonsense at such an early age! smilies/wink.gif
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written by daveg703, March 07, 2009
Yep, intelligence ain't no guarantee you don't gonna catch gullibility.
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written by MIkebo, March 07, 2009
I can just see Van Praagh doing a reading in that audience: "I'm getting something about books. Do books mean anything to you?"
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written by MadScientist, March 07, 2009
Librarians should still keep nonsense around for the people who want it, but rather than mix the stuff in with the 'fiction' (which is not real but meant to entertain) and given that this stuff should never be put into 'non-fiction', I suggest a BS section of the library. It should be a segregated section with a large warning sign: BEWARE: This stuff rots your brain. Perhaps a large statue of Cerberus should stand in the doorway with the warning: Abandon all intelligence, ye who enter.
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written by BillyJoe, March 07, 2009
intelligence ain't no guarantee you don't gonna catch gullibility.

You don't "catch" gullibility, it is freely handed out at birth, and you have to strive assiduously to cast it out.
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written by bosshog, March 08, 2009
I often read remarks on this site to the effect that we must engage in debate with believers in a respectful manner and be civil and not be confrontational or condemnatory and so on.
Accepting rubbish like this in our public libraries falls into line with that way of thinking.
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Reality Bites
written by Realitysage, March 08, 2009
To Willy K about: I wouldn't want to expose kids to this nonsense at such an early age!

You may not do it, and perhaps be able to persuade schools and libraries not to do it. But most parents certainly will in one form or another.
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written by BillyJoe, March 08, 2009
I think Willy was having a bit of a joke.

But you are right, in this day and age, it's impossible to prevent your kids' being exposed to anything. All we can do to minimise any damage is to encourage critical thinking.
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Questions from the audience
written by DrMatt, March 08, 2009
"Why haven't you won the JREF's million-dollar prize?"
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Counter the fraud with real information
written by hopfen, March 08, 2009
See if you can have a small table outside the entrance to the room before his performance.
A display of informational books on the subject might be well received.
For example:
Full Facts Book Of Cold Reading (4th edition), by Ian Rowland
Master the Art of Cold Reading, by Angel Harper
Cold Reading and How to Be Good at It: An Authoritative Book Vital to the Career of Every Actor, by Basil Hoffman
and many others...
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A wonderful opportunity.
written by inhaler, March 08, 2009
I've the strange coincidence of having a booth at a community college in which he is speaking at come September. I like the idea of the cold reading books on the table, but I prefer to use my presence there to ask him a wonderful array of questions...

Other than the "Why haven't you won the JREF's million-dollar prize?" by DrMatt, do you guys have any other ideas? smilies/grin.gif
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written by BillyJoe, March 08, 2009
Other than the "Why haven't you won the JREF's million-dollar prize?" by DrMatt, do you guys have any other ideas?

Yeah, don't ask that question.
It's dead give away.
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written by Caller X, March 09, 2009
Sad is right. I volunteered for a library that is run by a thoughtful librarian like Stephen. She was staunchly in favor of seemingly contradictory ideals: freedom of information, and veracity of information. The year I worked there, she said that Kevin Trudeau's book was in constant demand, but she had a really hard time giving it to people because she knew the information within was unreliable to the point of being dangerous. Ultimately, her job is to provide the patrons with the materials they request, and that's what she did, but she warned them that the book was not supported by science or medicine.


Her job is to hand over the book. The commentary you say she offered is probably in violation of a signed ethics agreement. It's exactly the same as if she said "Sir, I'll give you this book on magic, but it's not supported by the Bible." What are your librarian friend's credentials in "science" and "medicine"?

If any lady librarian tried that nonsense with me I would say "This book predicted that you wouldn't show me your tits."

Problem solved. And I'm talking about the sceptic librarian.
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written by sibtrag, March 09, 2009
Her job is to hand over the book. The commentary you say she offered is probably in violation of a signed ethics agreement. It's exactly the same as if she said "Sir, I'll give you this book on magic, but it's not supported by the Bible." What are your librarian friend's credentials in "science" and "medicine"?


I agree that a librarian is on shaky ground if she presents herself as an arbiter of truth. However, there are ways to do this properly. One would be to clearly label the statement as personal opinion..."I find the contents of that book hard to reconcile with my understanding of science and medicine". Another would be to just recommend that the reader view the contents of the book skeptically. Of course, that is good advice for any information source.
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written by jeff in chicago, March 09, 2009
"Van Praagh is going to be in a room filled with intelligent people."

Or perhaps he will be in a room with mostly empty chairs.

Hey...a person can hope...
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written by Roo, March 09, 2009
A "survival evidence medium"? What does that even mean?

Do people have to pay to get in to listen to JvP speak? It would have been more sensible if they'd lined up a skeptic to speak as well, to try and inspire a reasonable debate. Now that WOULD be interesting to see. As it is, I daresay the evening will be little more than a massive plug for books and TV shows thinly disguised as a 'lecture'.
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A question for JVP
written by EricLR, March 09, 2009
Why is it your readings so closely resemble the "Steve Schirripa: Judgemental Bastard" segments on The Tonight Show, only he has MUCH less time to "read" the people, and is more entertaining?
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written by BillyJoe, March 09, 2009
That librarian would probably have you for sexual harasssment.
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