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

13 Comments

  • Kate Kosturski

    4 November 2013 at 10:31

    I also remember some people thinking that Code of Conduct at a conference = Big Brother is Watching You, so part of this fight is explaining that the two are not related.

  • Andromeda Yelton

    4 November 2013 at 10:53

    In re the code of conduct, thanks to agitation by you and others, plus expert cat herding by Mary Ghikas (ALA senior associate executive director), ALA voted at its October meeting a week or two ago to have one. Yay! I don’t yet have a linkable-web-page version of this so I have not run around Telling All The People, but they’re open meetings so it’s not like it’s a secret or anything. 🙂

  • Andromeda Yelton

    4 November 2013 at 10:56

    So much so. Techies are familiar with the discussion but non-techies are not, so IME extending the discussion into non-techie spaces means you have to plan for spending time on defining terms, framing the issue, etc. Otherwise you’re interpreting the vocabulary from frameworks of very different assumptions, which quickly turns into a comedy of errors.

    I do think many people are fundamentally very sympathetic to a lot of the issues if you frame them right: safe spaces, inclusivity, due process, etc. are things that resonate with a lot of people. It just takes time and careful wording to communicate it that way.

  • […] inspiring and empowering panel we had at Internet Librarian on Library Technology and Gender (and Lisa Rabey’s great call to action to keep the conversation going), energizes me to take the torch up and work with Lisa and other like minded individuals to carry […]

  • edrabinski

    4 November 2013 at 14:42

    Hi guys! I’m not tech focused in my own work but I certainly am gender focused. I edit this book series for Rory Litwin’s Library Juice Press. We have a bunch of great books already out and on the way, so if you haven’t checked them out, please do. http://litwinbooks.com/series-gender.php And maybe there’s a book you guys want to do. I’d love to have something in my series about this gender in technology issue.

  • biblyotheke

    4 November 2013 at 14:52

    Yo! I’d love to do this! I’m dropping you an email now!

  • Jim Peterson

    4 November 2013 at 17:58

    Hey Lisa, it was great meeting you and listening to that panel discussion. If you should ever need a guy’s point of view in terms of being the techie working on an all-female staff, I’d be honored to be included.

    Hope this really takes off and becomes a society-changing discussion. The stories I heard blew me away.

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