Librarians, Gender, and Tech: Moving the Conversation Forward

"Woman teaching geometry" Illustration at the beginning of a medieval translation of Euclid's Elements (c. 1310 AD) via Wikipedia CC.
“Woman teaching geometry”
Illustration at the beginning of a medieval translation of Euclid’s Elements (c. 1310 AD) via Wikipedia CC.

Dear Internet,

Nearly a year ago, there was a small explosion over a post I had written on why men should not write about gender and technology, which stemmed from conversations that were being held simultaneously over several similar mailing lists and blog posts.  At the end of the post, I had proposed in the following to help keep the conversation flowing:

  • Donate to the Ada Intiative.
  • Start/chair an interest group for women in technology in LITA, the technology arm of ALA
  • Start a GeekGirl Dinner in your area.
  • Use Meetup.com to start/find groups in your interests (there were loads of Women in Technology interest groups on MeetUp).
  • Depending on where you work, what you do; start off-site initiative for women to have a hack-a-thon
  • Find local hackerspace communities to start a women’s initiative
  • Use professional conferences to propose panels/groups/discussions to get more people aware but also to pay it forward
  • Create a women in tech book club at local bar/coffee house
  • Donate time to do mentoring to high school and middle school girls
  • Donate to or become a sponsor for a nearby women’s conference, like GeekGirlCon

In keeping with the spirit of my suggestions, this week I presented with a load of great people on gender, technology, and libraries at Internet Librarian.

Twenty four hours later, I was publicly sexually harassed. Like I said, the irony was not lost on me.

Now that the conference is over, I am home and I have had a few days to simmer on the events of the week, I’ve decided to take up the mantel permanently on the topic. My reasoning for this is layered, but primary cause is I don’t think we’re doing enough in the profession to bring this to the forefront of our mind. I only tend to write about it when something has happened either to me or I’ve become impassioned for another and my opinion must be heard! I’ve noticed that others seem to act the same way, thus the discussion tends to dip and rise depending on what is getting peoples ganders up at the moment.

I was curious as to how others are discussing it within the profession, so here are a few examples of how we’re not addressing this topic:

  • A search of “sexual harassment” in American Libraries turns up only 23results, most on opinions on events occurring in the late ’90s and on public court cases
  • A search of “gender technology” in American LIbraries Magazine turns up 27 results, much on the concentration on gender in the classroom
  • ITAL, the journal for LITA, has no results on “sexual harassment,” and two results on “gender,” one of which about the financial disparity between men and women and discussion on the roles of women in technology, which is low, in a profession where the role of women is high
  • Code4Lib Journal has no mention of “sexual harassment” in its journal, and “gender” brings up conference reports on forums on inclusion and diversity. To be fair, a lot of the big discussions happen on their mailing list, but that doesn’t entirely erase the fact there is no discussion happening in their journal
  • As far as I can find, until now, there is no known topic or panel of women, technology, or gender that have taken place on local or national forums in terms of panels, posters, or discussions at conferences
  • There was no known Code of Conduct at ALA Annual 2013, or any other ALA related conference. When I asked and asked, I was constantly told this was a “topic of discussion” stretching back for many years but no one was actively working on it because it was assumed it was not needed. Thanks to Andromeda Yelton, who rocks my little socks, and others who helped get this out of the discussion period and into the actual tangible thing. Hopefully this will be taken up by other arms of ALA for their future conferences.

Then there is always the other side of sexual harassment — the side of men being harassed by women. I had a conversation with a male librarian while at Internet Librarian who regaled me of stories of sexual harassment occurring towards him while at conferences, meetings, and the like. Now what is interesting is social convention states that as a male, he’s supposed to not only take it, but be flattered by the attention. Why are we also not discussing this?

Another intriguing thing about this topic is the fact the discussion seems to be happening all over and around librarianship, via national outlets and personal blogs, but not within the profession itself. Some good examples of these conversations that give a lot of food for thought are:

Now some of the above writers are librarians, others are not, so when I say “within the profession itself,” I explicitly mean within professional journals, organizations, and conferences.

Now this post is meandering all over the place, but lets add more on what to do to keep the conversation going:

  • Started near the end of 2012, I formed LibTechWomen with Becky Yoose, Bohyun Kim,  Andromeda Yelton, and many other awesome people as a way to create a safe space for women and their allies to talk about these and every other issue under the sun. You can find us, mainly, via Facebook, Twitter as @libtechwomen and #libtechwomen, and GoogleGroups.
  • A national summit, Leadership-Technology-Gender, is happening at the end of Electronic Resources & Libraries conference in March, 2014. Great start, but we need to keep this at  local level as well
  • Start doing panels, proposals, forums, Q&As at at library related conferences, local and specialized
  • Use this topic as a launch pad for discussion in your classes. (Thanks, Nick!)
  • Start implementing a Codes of Conduct1 at your conferences, meetings, and other large gatherings
  • Start writing on this topic on a regular basis both in personal blogs AND professional journals, most specifically NOT just when something happens
  • Push this topic on Twitter using #libtechgender

Over on my professional site, I’ve started to curate all of this into a page of its own. You can track the updates by subscribing to the tag here when I write a new article or checking the page manually or subscribing to the page’s RSS feed to get updates when the page itself is updated.

As always, I have obviously not covered everything so if you have an article, link to an already happened or upcoming panel, or whatever, please feel free to drop a comment below or contact me.

I also encourage discussion on this topic from all perspectives, as more voices the better, whether here, your own blog, or on Twitter using #libtechgender. But please keep it civil.

xoxo,
Lisa


1. I’m going to be writing more on this topic at a later date, as I think this is just as important as talking about sexual harassment and women in library technology

This day in Lisa-Universe in: 2012

Live Action Sexual Harassment

Dear Internet,

It started out innocently enough.

I was standing outside of a karaoke bar with some friends, when an obviously drunk guy invades my personal space, got into my face and said, “Can I ask you a question?” I said sure and he asked how I liked his football jersey. I replied I had no comment on it. He said he liked my shirt and wanted to know if I would take it off for him. I said no. He said how much would it take for me to take it off. I replied a million dollars. He said he didn’t have that much and wouldn’t I just want to take it off for him? Again I said no, and as I was speaking started inching closer to a male friend of mine who was near me. A girlfriend who was also with me interjected and said I wouldn’t have anything to wear if I took off my shirt. Drunk guy gestured to his jersey and said I could have his jersey in trade if I wanted. I again replied in the negative while by this time, standing so close to my male friend I could feel the fabric of his clothes on my bare arms. Mr. Drunk got distracted for a brief moment and I took this as my opportunity to get the fuck inside. Bouncers figured out what was going on and started steering the guy into a waiting cab.

This all took place under the span of five minutes. Probably even less.

I’m in California for a conference; presenting on sexual harassment with the emphasis on being a woman in technology, a primarily male dominated profession. The irony of the exchange above is not lost on me.

The rest of the evening took a dark turn in my head. I’ve been in a really great space for a few weeks now and I’ve been enjoying this conference immensely. While this is the first conference I’ve attended in a long time solo, meaning I had no obvious conference buddy or TheHusband with me, I’ve not been alone. I’m seeing a lot of old friends while meeting new. I am pissed that out of all the obvious places for this could have happened, it had to be here.

Getting sexually harassed is not a new thing to me and I would argue it’s not a new thing for any woman. But in that scant amount of time, this jerkoffs attitude towards me stripped me emotionally naked and for that I am angry. I was made to feel like an object of someone’s whim, someone who could have hurt me, someone who felt I could have been bought for a few dollars. Someone who took away my power as a person.

In the beginning of the evening, the hours had flown by but now, the rest of the evening slowed to a crawl. Several of us were game on closing the bar down but all I wanted was to get back to my hotel room and protect myself. I tried to shake off the fact perhaps I was overreacting – I continued with the facade of happy go lucky: Guinness was still consumed, I still sang at karaoke, and to the world it seemed like nothing had happened but internally, I no longer felt like me but a piece of meat being appraised, valued, and reappraised again. To Mr. Drunk, who will have forgotten it by the morning, it was probably nothing. He was drunk. He didn’t mean it. He was not that type of person. He’s a married man.

Excuses will be made, by him. By me.

Once I made it safely to my room, I stripped down and took the hottest shower possible. I scrubbed myself several times over and brushed my teeth so hard, my gums were almost bleeding. When I get back to Michigan, I’ll probably throw the shirt away.

Being overly self-aware, this stripping of power by Mr. Drunk has accelerated the feeling of fragility. I’m clawing to not feel anxious, to not feel exposed, to not feel sub-human. He obviously doesn’t know my story – because why would he? I was just a random woman who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. But I know my back story, I know how I struggle with my own emotional boundaries, and all of the protection I have worked so hard has now been weakened, my borders are compromised. I start to question how even my most benign of clothing choices became the object of his attention, his needs, his wants.

Some are going to read this and think,”What’s the big fucking deal? You were at a bar, some drunk asshole was a dick, you weren’t hurt physically. Get over it.” But that’s my fucking point, it IS a big deal. This has NOT been the only instance of sexual harassment that’s happened since I’ve been here. Shortly after I presented on my panel, I was out with a group of people, many who were at my panel. Without fucking fail, several of those in our group spent longer than necessary staring at my rack. Yes, I do have a nice rack. It’s pretty apparent I have a nice rack. But when I’m sitting there having a conversation with you and I’m watching your eyes flick from my tits to my face and back again CONSTANTLY as we’re talking; when it becomes clear you’re not really paying attention to “me” but the aforementioned nice rack, then any respect I’ve ever had happened for you has been stripped.

As it was, so it will be; this will be fodder for future panels, for examples and illustration purposes. The cycle continues.

xoxo,
Lisa

To collect or not to collect, that is the question: part i

Backstory

First, I must reveal a secret to you: I have had no formal training or have taken classes in collection development.  So my methods of selection and purchasing may be a bit more erratic than others in my position.

Now the next thing I’m going to tell you is that I worked at a book store for five years and one of my primary responsibilities was ordering in new titles, weeding out unpurchased titles, and general section maintenance.  I was in charge of one of the largest sections in the store which comprised of fiction, poetry, SF/F, romance, mythology, manga, graphic novels, and gaming books. This is my education.

The blasphemy: To me, collection development in a library and maintaining a section in a bookstore are strikingly close to being the same process.

Some librarians, when I’ve postulated this hypothesis, have argued with me that there was NOTHING remotely similar between the two functions. I disagree. Are we both collecting for the community? Yes. Are we being mindful of what we’re collecting? Yes. Are we promoting our collections via various means? Yes. Are we purchasing titles on recommendations? Yes. Do we accept donations? Bookstore: To an extent, if they have used book section. Libraries: Typically, yes.

How are these not similar?

When my friend Carolyn started her new gig as an academic librarian recently, she approached myself and a few other  mutual academic librarian friends for advice on collection development in an academic environment.

As I had been thinking about this very topic for some time given my own unorthodox background, I thought this was a perfect time to write something up.

Collection Policy

GRCC Library‘s multipage collection policy can be best summed up as thus:

The library collects to support the curriculum in any capacity. We also collect titles by authors that are connected to the city or state in some fashion. In addition, we will collect for professional development if the titles are applicable across a fairly broad spectrum.

I should mention what we purchase, we are mindful we’re purchasing for an area that is incredibly narrow: community college. Not quite high school, not quite four year universities so purchasing items can be a bit tricky.  While we have a fiction collection, we’re less likely to purchase fiction titles since we’re a block from GRPL. The exceptions to this is if the title is by a Michigan author or an instructor is teaching a class with a specific title, in which we’ll then have copies available. We also collect to support events on or connected to campus if the person has a book, journal, or other out in publication.

I sometimes stretch the boundaries a bit and will purchase items that are not only not in our collection but are also not easily available to obtain from the state consortium.  An example of this is Henry Rollins, writer, poet, spoken word and general renaissance man, who tours a lot to support his work. He’s been attached to various larger universities in the state for his performances and yet, the availability of most of his work is incredibly limited to get  from our state consortium.  I took this opportunity to change that by buying all of his available print work for our collection.  In so far as I know, we’re the only library in the state with a large catalog of his available print works.

The library is structured as follows: there are five full time librarians and two adjunct librarians who share liaison duties. Each librarian is a liaison to numerous departments and as liaisons, one of our jobs is to buy materials to support that departments curriculum needs.  My departments are:

Now items that cross departments (a title that could be in either one or the other OR something we’ve seen and think the college should own) or reference based, are purchased via mutual agreement between the fulltime librarians. We have a set budget that is divided across the departments and how much each department gets fluctuates every year. For example, I have one department I cannot spend all their allocated sources no matter how much I try, so this year I’ll put the surplus back in the pool to reallocate to another department for next year.

Our collection development budget is for print, ebooks, video, periodicals. Databases are reoccurring costs are not included in this line item .

We have to spend the cash within our fiscal year (July 1 to June 30).

This is all pretty straight forward and easy to follow.  I have the policy in hand, a list of my departments, and a budget to spend.  So now what?

Part ii: The Slings and Arrows