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.

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