Learning to See by Listening to Others: On Discrimination in Libraries

Sign says "Stop, Look, Listen"

CC by-nc-nd 3.0, http://www.freefoto.com/preview/23-23-16/Stop-Look-Listen-Sign

Months ago when I heard from Rachel Frick that she was working with others to organize a summit on leadership and gender, I volunteered immediately to help in any way I can. As a woman in a “woman’s profession,” where the vast majority of librarians are women and the future is decidedly digital, I’d been fretting about technology and libraries, my own skills, and where I’m going professionally. I thought this would be a great opportunity to talk with others about the challenges (both age-old and more modern) to women being valued for their work and to their moving into leadership positions. Rachel invited me to be on the advisory group of the LTG Summit, and then I started to do my homework. … (Read the rest here)

On Not Being the Mom





I recently had an interesting conversation with a colleague from another university. It was a casual talk over brunch where she was telling me about her fear of not being taken seriously by central IT at her new campus because she didn’t come from a deep technical background. As an older, white, male IT director, my head immediately shifted into my lecture on how I’ve often heard this exchange, how IT never understands, and how their default answer is always “no”. I usually stick up for the IT shop, but it never really goes anywhere because IT has pissed everyone off and are perceived to be beyond caring. But before we even got there, she said someone had suggested she bring them cookies, because geeks like cookies. I gotta say, I’ve always been in favor of this approach, because… cookies. And as I said that, she went in another new direction with the conversation, saying that, as a woman, she never wants to be cast as the “mom” in a situation. Our mutual female friend at lunch agreed. As it happened, my 17 year old daughter was also with us, and agreed with both of them.

I hadn’t really heard this “don’t be the mom” reaction before, and I argued back that it might help with a situation that needed different dynamics (the mean ol’ central IT folks always saying no being disarmed by a rush of sugar and consideration from a customer). Of course, I wasn’t listening closely enough, so as the reaction tripled across the ladies at the table, I backed off and heard more. “I can see bringing in food to your employees, but why should I feed a peer?” was the reaction from my library friends.  “As soon as I started feeding my friends, they stopped seeing me as one of the crowd and I became more of a Mom,” was my daughter’s thought.

In my eyes, a plate of cookies is such a nice thing to do that I couldn’t see anything wrong with it.

But I see it now. Cookies = cooking = imposing traditionally female gender role = conflict. In fact, talking it through, I wasn’t sure I’d trust a plate of cookies from a guy, where I’d have no trouble accepting one from a woman. I’d assume the guy found them somewhere and was passing them off to me and that woman had made them herself. It’s always so much fun uncovering little pockets of privilege/unaware bias in ourselves…

Ok, that’s a whole mishmash of stuff with no real resolution, but I wanted to get it down before I forgot it. I enjoyed being made to stop and listen and understand another perspective. I enjoyed seeing the synergy that two library professionals and my daughter tuned into because of the way their gender is cast. I enjoyed trying to better characterize the role and reactions that IT gets cast into, and why it all becomes so negative. I also enjoyed hearing a perspective that I didn’t anticipate because my biases are so active in the background of my mind.

I don’t think I have a fix but I can continue trying to understand my biases and keep listening.

Turning Conversations Into Action, An Invitation to the LTG Summit

There are many conversations happening out there in libraryland around issues of gender and technology.

A panel at ALA in two weeks, ongoing conversations about ALA Code of Conduct, the libtechgender group with vast amounts of passionate blog posts, tweets, and face to face conversations — These activities and conversations have been happening for a while and are very, very useful. Sessions, tweets and conversations remind us of the importance of this issue. They are, however, dispersed and do not always allow for the opportunity to delve deeply into action based steps and progress simply due to time available or focus to advance the conversation deeply. We invite you all to bring these conversations to a place where we can take join together to take action.

Read how the Leadership Technology Gender Summit is approaching the framing of the conversation in the challenge question and in the meeting format here and here.

Let’s convene, learn from each other, and do something about it. The LTG Summit is a space to allow us to do this. We invite you all to join us and actively participate in an attendee driven event that gives us the opportunity to take the conversations into action.

Registration is now open: http://www.ltgsummit.org/registration-hotel/

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.

we need a logo!

Sending out an SOS…


The Summit organizers are looking for a logo, something clean and simple we can use to brand our social media/website/letterhead (do people still use letterhead?)

So rev up your vector graphics software/crayons/gouache and submit a jpg to ltgsummit@gmail.com before the end of 2013.

We promise you fame, glory, and eternal bragging rights. (We will say nice things about you and come up with a goodie to send your way in thanks.)

Announcing the LTG Summit

As libraries grow increasingly digital and technically complex, how will the gender inequities that are also prevalent in the information technology field impact librarianship? The field of librarianship is largely made up of women, and yet women are significantly underrepresented in leadership positions.

This summit will convene a group of dynamic, invested, and creative people from varied backgrounds and types of libraries to discuss these issues and examine how we might build a future for libraries and librarianship free from gender bias. We hope to inspire practical, actionable approaches for a brighter future. What is the library community doing right? Where can we improve?

The LTG summit will provide the opportunity for focused attention on a big challenge for our profession. It is the organizers’ intent to include thoughtful library professionals at all levels of the field and regardless of gender who wish to participate in a dynamic set of conversations about leadership, technology and gender in libraries and related fields.

Mark your calendars for March 19-21, 2014 in Austin, Texas. This event will immediately follow the Electronic Resources & Libraries conference with overlapping workshops focused on coding and project management skills.

This meeting is being organized by:
Bonnie Tijerina, Head of Electronic Resources & Serials at Harvard University and ER&L founder
Rachel Frick, Director of the Digital Library Federation Program at Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR)
Amy Buckland, eScholarship, ePublishing & Digitization Coordinator, McGill University, with guidance provided by an extensive Advisory Committee.

Advisory Committee members include:
Marguerite Avery, Senior Acquisitions Editor, MIT Press, and Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society
Chris Bourg, Assistant University Librarian, Stanford University
Emily Clasper, Systems Operations Manager, Suffolk Cooperative Library System
Trevor Dawes, Associate University Librarian, Washington University in St.Louis, ACRL President
Declan Fleming, Chief Technology Strategist, University of California, San Diego Library
Cindi Trainor Blyberg, Community Specialist, Springshare; President, LITA
Jennifer Vinopal, Librarian for Digital Scholarship Initiatives, NYU
Matt Zumwalt, Founder MediaShelf, Data Curation Experts, DataBindery

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