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

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.

That is to say, I did what I always do when I’ve gotten myself into something that I’m not sure I really know enough about: I started a literature search. I had already read a number of these articles, but hadn’t taken the time to think about them in a terribly coherent way. As well, I had been reading things via twitter that were germane to the topic. But again, they didn’t all start to add up until I really began focusing on the upcoming summit. And as I read, I realized that, insulated by privilege, I have had the luxury of understanding these issues in a rather limited and selfish way: me and my career; my friends who may have been affected by X or Y; what about my daughter’s future? … (you get the picture).

When I actually started paying attention, I realized how shallow my reading and thinking has been. This realization was happening at the same time that the ALA Code of Conduct flap was unfolding, in particular, in reaction to a piece written by Will Manley (and thankfully archived by Lisa Rabey after Manley made his blog private). I’ve seen CoC statements before (I helped to write one for the Digital Library Federation). It wasn’t the CoC that affected me but rather the reactions of those who questioned why this was needed (they’ve never been harassed, so it must not be a problem, right?), and those who consider it a restriction of their 1st amendment rights (to do what? harass people?! Really?!?). As well, many of the blog posts in support of the ALA CoC were heartbreaking first- and third-person testimonials of abuse suffered in professional situations. This is all of a piece with the larger context of the sexism, racism, agism, ablism, and all the other -isms in the tech industry. It’s all related and it’s systemic.

This confluence of experiences — my involvement with the LTG Summit, the ALA Code of Conduct conversations, the myriad articles about discrimination in the tech industry — plus the guidance of colleagues who are willing to call out bullshit when they see it and who are mentoring me (even if they don’t know it), have helped me to recognize my own privilege, to better discern the discrimination around me, and to realize my obligation as a human being to see how all of these issues intersect with each other, oppressing us all.