Category Archives: conversation starters

Why I am attending the Summit

I have multiple reasons for attending the Summit ranging from personal growth in the area of leadership, support from library administration to attend the Summit, general and genuine interest in diversity in the workplace (actually everywhere!) wanting to help others, and visiting Austin!

I am new to the field of librarianship and to l + t + g. I may have a different story than many here, or maybe not. I am a white female who has worked in higher education IT for 14 years at two different academic institutions in the Midwest. The last two and a half years have been spent in an academic library IT setting after receiving my MLS degree. I do not have a degree in IT and my training has been both formal and informal. I am currently not in a leadership role.

I have been fortunate to see fairly equitable ratios of male to female colleagues within these IT settings, with my current library IT job seeing the most equity in gender breakdown. I have also been fortunate in that I have had several male supervisors and colleagues who have helped connect me with the right people on campus, see me as an equal, and have seen and recognized my potential. I do realize this is not necessarily the norm and it also does not address the lack in leadership roles or salary differences for women in IT within library environments and otherwise. I’d like to help change that in whatever small way I can!

Because the IT field tends to be male-dominated and the field of librarianship female-dominated, I am very interested in how we can meld the two more evenly. The readings people have suggested have been really helpful and I’d love more suggestions from others. I am hoping to work with like-minded individuals at the Summit and bring back some easy take-away items that would be simple to implement upon returning. I’m also hoping that by hearing more stories and experiences about this from others, that I might be able to share some things that have been helpful throughout my career and help develop some plans moving forward.


Some items to consider

Although the points below aren’t being addressed in this post, they represent some ideas about which I was thinking as I was writing the above.  Others may use these points as a guide to thinking about the issues of leadership, technology and gender.

  • While I have had many, many successful interactions with IT people, IT people can sometimes have a different way of communicating. Not bad, just different. Learn to ask questions if you don’t understand something. Don’t be defensive.
  • Can this trend be mapped to certain locations across the U.S. (i.e. – are some areas of the country better at doing this? Small private institutions vs. large public? What can we learn from them? Etc.?).
  • Does it depend on centralized or decentralized IT at your campus? How can bridges be made in a decentralized environment or otherwise?
  • Mentoring others.
  • Start the discussions at your institution.
  • Do your homework – one of the ways I have gained respect for myself is by making sure “I have left no stone uncovered” before asking for help. Being thorough in trying to find solutions to a problem before asking.
  • Continually read up on technology-related happenings.
  • How are we defining technology-related jobs in libraries?
  • Looking to research to prove successful models?

What are we talking about when we talk about leadership, technology, and gender?

We are delighted by the increased attention being given to topics related to gender, technology, and leadership, and we are hopeful that the LTG summit will be a productive addition to those conversations. In order to more fruitfully frame the set of possible conversations and topics we might cover at the LTG summit, we offer these initial ideas about what we might talk about when we talk about leadership, technology, and gender in libraries. We encourage readers to suggest additional topics in the comments.

  • Diversity/representation in library technology (and in libraries and higher ed in general):

    • what are the current demographic statistics for technology jobs in general and within libraries specifically? What are the trends?

    • what can we do to increase representation of not just women, but of other underrepresented groups as well?

    • what are examples of successful efforts to increase the representation of white women, people of colors, queer people, and members of other underrepresented groups in technology fields?

    • are there problems/solutions that are particular to libraries?

  • Sexism, racism, ableism, etc. in libraries/library technology:

    • silencing, microaggressions, and other individual behaviors

    • how does the prevailing straight white male culture of technology manifest in library technology?

    • what can leaders do to reduce individual discriminatory behavior? what can all of us do?

    • what can be done to change the culture of technology in libraries to be more welcoming and inclusive of all peoples?

  • Learning:

    • how can we take responsibility for our own education on these issues and effectively learn from others? (without offending/demanding “diversity 101”)

    • what are good sources of information on issues of gender, leadership, intersectionality, etc.?

  • Leadership, mentoring, modeling behavior:

    • whom do we look to as good models?

    • how can we as (emerging) leaders affect positive change in our orgs and in the profession?

    • what part can mentoring play in our own education and in the education of others?

    • how can we develop mentoring relationships with others (as mentees and as mentors)?

  • Gendered nature of technology itself:

    • how do the tools and technologies we build reflect both individual biases and the white patriarchal culture in which they are produced?

    • what can we do to try to build tools and technologies that reflect more inclusive values?

  • Intersectionality:

    • how does gender intersect with other statuses and axes of oppression? (race, sexuality, gender presentation/identity, social class, ability, etc.)

    • how do we acknowledge and address the role of privilege (white privilege, male privilege, straight privilege, etc) in these conversations and in our actions?

  • Community building:

    • how can we develop communities that foster continuing productive conversations on these issues?

    • what conversations are already going on, how can we contribute?

    • How can we bring these conversations back to our own organizations (without being didactic)?

  • Action:

    • how can we transform our talk into effective action?

    • how can we be more thoughtful in our everyday work?

    • What are some concrete things that we can implement within our own organizationss?

    • What professional resources are available to support us (e.g., ARL’s Diversity and Leadership Programs)?

On your mark…

Registration is finally open for the LTG summit. I don’t know about you, but I am really excited about this meeting, for a number of reasons.

It is always nice, the transition from planning to doing.  We have set the stage , and, thanks to Jennifer Vinopal’s literature review (see her blog post), provided a space for  foundational resources with a Zotero group.

Now is the time to queue up the conversation.

Ever since Bonnie, Amy and I started brainstorming about the Summit in the late Spring of 2013, I have had great one-on-one conversations with many folks about this meeting:  What are the goals? Don’t you think you are being a bit limiting/over-reaching? How does this meeting relate to (insert reference many of the other activities here)? What do you think about the ALA Code of Conduct conversation? Is this really an issue?  I have learned a lot from these conversations, about myself, my community, and my profession.

The biggest take-away for me is that now is the time to move this conversation from the fringes to the core and that the challenge is bigger than one person, one organization, or one interest group. There is so much to talk about – there is room for everyone.

It is important that work together and share the floor.

But we need to know how to have a conversation. Or maybe – we need to remember how to be civil and brush up on our listening skills.

We have to be willing to be challenged, confused and curious. We have to have courage to be honest and admit what we don’t know.

I just finished reading a little book by Margaret Wheatley – Turning to One Another: Simple conversations to restore hope to the future. In it she talks about the power of a simple conversation and “when we begin listening to each other, and when we talk about things that matter to us, the world begins to change” (p.13).

She notes that it is not easy to have a true conversation – as we have forgotten what it means to have a conversation, sitting in meetings where everyone agrees (or the opposite where shouting and aggressive behavior chill the room). “These experiences have left us feeling hesitant to speak and frightened of each other…but a good conversation is very different from those bad meetings. It is a much older and more reliable way for humans to think together”.(p.28)

Leadership is a key principle for the summit.

For me, leadership is not to be confused with “administration”, but more along the lines of: How do I lead from where I am, by example? What do I have within my realm of influence? When I see the opportunity to change the system, will I have the courage to make the choice for positive change?

Or simply put, what can I do? For now, it is working with my friends and colleagues to create a space for a fruitful conversation about gender, technology, its implications on the library profession, and identifying ways we can lead change and progress.

As Wheatley says, “[l]arge and successful change starts with conversations among friends, not those in power. Change begins from deep inside a system, when a few people notice something they will no longer tolerate.”(p.29)

So, let’s all take a collective deep breath and dive in.

Framing the Conversation

The LTG summit organizers and advisory committee have been hard at work figuring out how the first LTG Summit will materialize.

Needless to say, holding a meeting that focuses on the issues relating to technology and gender in libraries is a difficult one to plan. There are many paths to pursue, perspectives to consider and ways to actually run a meeting.

Because this is a complex topic that involves a range of stakeholders we have decided to go the unconference route and use Open Space Technology to organize the event.  (More about how the Summit will be organized can be found under the “How” tab.)

Open Space works best when the following conditions are present:

  • Complexity, in term of the tasks to be done or outcomes achieved;
  • Diversity, in terms of the people involved and/or needed to make any solution work;
  • Conflict, real or potential, meaning people really care about the central issue or purpose; and
  • Urgency, meaning that the time to act was “yesterday”.

(Owen, Harrison (2008). Open Space Technology: A User’s Guide (3rd ed.). Berrett-Koehler. ISBN 978-1-57675-476-4.)

Our topic definitely meets the criteria.

In fact, we might just meet the criteria a little too well. Because the conversation is complex and urgent, with so much potential of conflict, it makes planning the event sometimes difficult to maneuver.

A good example is our decision to use the Open Space Technology meeting format.  Some wished for a more traditionally-programmed format; others wanted to allow the conversation to be more organic and driven by the community.

The most interesting part of the planning came when we were tasked to come up with a problem statement. A key part of Open Space is bringing passionate players across multiple disciplines to address one specific question or theme.

Initially, we had created this statement:

“How do we expand the technology and leadership opportunities for women in Libraries?”

Although good, something was lacking. It needed a little more oomph.

So we began to tinker, edit, wordsmith, until will gave into the temptation to have the summit conversation as we edited the basic problem statement. You can see for yourself, and follow the threads of our discussion by going to our Google doc.

That is what happens when passionate people are involved; we tend to dive right in. But it kept us from committing to an initial statement. We needed to stop searching for an all encompassing statement, because there was always going to be a gap, a need for more, and a feeling that it wasn’t complete. It wasn’t going to be complete until we had the summit. We had to be okay that our problem statement wasn’t perfect.

As they say, perfect is the enemy of the good. What we created had to be good enough, for now. Because what we need now is a starting line, albeit a line drawn in shifting sand, but a place to begin.

Our LTG Summit problem statement, better yet, our challenge question, is now:

 “What can we do to combat gender inequality and sexism in library technology?”

Knowing that our problem statement challenge question does not reflect all the things we need to know, does not encompass the many paths and perspectives, and is not perfect, is okay.  Just knowing it is not definitive is an achievement unto itself.

It was hard to stop tweaking the language, but we decided to do just that, so that we could throw open the conversation beyond our small group. That is the point of the summit, really, to have a broader conversation.

In order to satisfy the need to keep tinkering, we decided to use the LTG summit blog to help foster awareness and understanding prior to the summit so we can make the most of our face-to-face time.

Each week one of the advisory committee members will share their work, perspectives, recommended readings, and address the challenge question.

We might not all agree on how to get there and that is fine. There is a lot of this problem space to explore and share.  But what we do agree on is that it is time to bring the conversation out into the daylight in a way that will move all of us forward.