Musings on Increasing Diversity of a Tech Conference

I saw some tweets linking to the Fossetcon call for papers and, to be honest, I’ve recently become somewhat more interested in maybe presenting on my Tyrann of Open paper as a way to do a little to try and help improve FOSS culture1. My interest was peaked because they seemed to making some effort at outreach, as well as expressing a clear commitment for diversity.

Yet, as I read over the details of the conference, it occurred to me what struck me as wrong about this. Stuff like this is a good first step, but nothing on the page shows any clear organization support for this stated desire to increase diversity. It simply stops at expressing a desire for diverse papers/presenters and that they’ll extend the CFP if they aren’t getting enough. But it there is nothing demonstrated to show how this will be supported.

By ‘support’ I mean several different things.

  1. Money. Yes, it is crass nowadays to discuss money, but when we look over the demographics of many FOSS projects, we already know that the majority of people are white men. This means that if you want your FOSS project or conference to attract a diverse group, you must be recruiting and targeting people who aren’t already involved in FOSS in any formal way2. Combine this with the reality that women, as a whole, make less money then men. And that women of colour (and some/many men of colour) make even less money than white men, we immediately run into a problem of money. If I see no indication of either scholarships or the availability of funding to get me to the conference? I’m not going. I can’t. I’m too poor.
  2. Events/spaces/workshops/something devoted specifically for women/poc/disabled people. What does this mean? Given that diversity is an ongoing issue, it is highly likely that many non-white non-men will be attending this conference for the very first time. Everyone knows that it can be very difficult to enter a new space/community as a first-timer. Going the extra mile to show that not only do you want a diverse group of people to show up, but that you are commmited to them having the best possible experience will go a long way to show these people that they are, in fact, truly welcomed as more than a token to make your conference look good. This can involve mixers with these attendees plus some of the ‘big name’ people you are bringing in. Or a lunch with these attendees and maybe some old hands of the conference. Or even a small meet and greet for these attendees on their own (since, it can be really alienating and intimidating to be the only woman/poc/disabled person in a room).
  3. Accommodations. I’m going to talk loudly about this until I see substantive change. In this website, there is not a single mention of whether or not there are any disability accommodations available (or that will be provided). Is the venue wheelchair accessible? I don’t know. Have they arranged for ASL interpretation for any Deaf or Hard of Hearing people? Are they prepared to enforce a scent-free environment? Will they have quiet, low stimulation spaces for people with autism, sensory problems, anxiety, etc.? Where are the warnings about flash photography, flashing lights, etc. for people with photosensitivity or epilepsy? Anything? At all? No? Okay. I guess they want diversity, but no disabled people. Gotcha.
  4. Location. This is somewhat specific to this conference, but also generally applicable. I look to see where this conference is being held. Florida? Lol, no. Not even if they were paying me. How much more ‘no’ would my feelings be if I were Black? I also will likely never go to another conference in Arizona (when I’m in these states people most often think I’m Latina and this is a big problem). Does the state still legally allow people to discriminate against trans women? This is an important matter because many do. Especially as concerns public accommodations. Will I show up and be turned away from the hotel? Will I get arrested/harassed for using the washroom? This sort of thing matters. A great deal.

Er… I think this is all I can think of, for the moment.

Getting to true and meaningful diversity is something that requires a lot of effort. And a willingness to invest time and money into. It also, in a lot of ways, requires significant organizational change, since many of these things need to be considered far before you even think about posting your call for papers.

  1. I have some suggestions based on the ideas presented in the paper for how things might be improved. Or at least some concrete steps FOSS projects can start taking to make things better.

  2. I’d definitely characterize my involvement as ‘informal’ even though I do work with open source software as part of my daily job.

The Laziness of Choice Activism in Tech

I’m sure everyone is well aware of the thing happening at Github. Starting with Julie Ann Horvath’s departure and ending with the CEO’s resignation and this little stinker written by his wife. Now, I’m not going to re-hash the events or even comment on them1. What I do want to talk about is a common response that I’m seeing, “you aren’t going to stop using Github!” or “just use a different service!” or some variation thereof.

Beyond being an eye-rolling and unproductive (and irritating) comment, this attitude ends up supporting institutionalized oppression by reducing it to individual, isolated acts. It is, as has been called, choice activism2.

This type of activism takes its cue from capitalism, wherein a free market you have several competing options to choose from for any given service/product/etc. Choice activism is the foundation of boycotts (basically, boycotts are an organized form of choice activism). So, this post isn’t about saying that choice activism never works or is never a good option but boycotts do demonstrate that choice activism doesn’t work on an individual scale.

For choice activism to be successful several elements need to be in place:

  1. Reaching the critical mass of participants. Essentially enough people to significantly impact the business or industry.
  2. The existence of viable alternatives to the product/service.

In the case of Github, while we might be able to fulfill the first requirement, the second isn’t possible at the moment. There are no viable alternatives to Github3. But the ability to fulfill requirement one is also in question, given that so much of FOSS is white men.

So the “well, you aren’t going to stop using Github” and variations are disingenuous at best. At worst, they are lazy attempts to avoid taking any substantive actions or efforts to change the status quo. They are also incredibly dismissive to the notion that people and organizations ought to be held accountable for oppressive behaviour.

  1. I will say this, though, I always side with the marginalized victim. The fact that ‘Github’ or the 3rd party has determined that there was no harassment only says to me that a certain level of sexism and harassment has been so normalized in/at Github and the tech industry that a person can write: “In my enthusiasm over my project, and my idealistic belief in the status-free community of GitHub, I failed to recognize that power structures cannot ever be obscured entirely. It’s a powerful lesson, and a mistake I will not repeat” and essentially say, “oops! My mistake, lol.” Which basically illustrates my point about [the tyranny of open][4]. Just because someone chooses to believe in a lie with all their heart, it doesn’t make it the truth. Or them less accountable for their actions.

  2. I tried to google for a quick reference but all I got was a bunch of abortion related links. I’ll have to dig to find out where I got this term from because I know I didn’t make it up.

  3. It has reached the golden place of ‘everyone’ is using it, especially in professional contexts, that it is perilous for new professionals (or even experienced ones, depedent on context) to not participate. If your company uses it, you have no choice but to use it.

Iconoclasm and the Sanitation of Social Media

I got into a quick twitter convo with @nnschiller about one of the few good articles on the sanitization of social media1:

When I conducted my fieldwork, “self-branding,” the notion of thinking of oneself as a brand marketed online, was a strategy marketed primarily to white-collar professionals. Since then, it has become a staple of career counseling. I’ve met people ranging from high-school students to makeup artists who speak earnestly of their “personal brand” and diligently follow advice given in self-help books and seminars.

I’ve tweeted before how much I absolutely loathe the notion and idea of self-branding and how, by and large, I refuse to participate in this sort of thing. And, as the writer points out, this sort of ‘personal branding’ doesn’t work in many fields and (as the writer alludes to but doesn’t discuss) the ability to build a ‘good’ personal brand is highly dependent on more than a few factors people often can’t change (race, gender, class, etc.).

The general inducement for people to not use social media to socialize (in whatever way they actually socialize vs. ‘networking) is super irritating, especially in light of this:

Always self-censoring with the idea that an employer is looking makes it impossible for any sort of genuine self-expression, and also sets the idea that corporations should have veto power over how we use the most powerful medium of self-publishing ever invented. Ironically, this admonishment is often couched in a wishy-washy veneer of “authenticity.” Self-branding experts will advise to always “be yourself” on social media, not simply for personal expression, but to attract audiences. Authenticity, then, is not about “being yourself,” but about fitting into a very narrow box built by a profit-driven enterprise.

Which is pretty typical of the contradictory and, ultimately, oppressive nature of 99% of advice on how to be professional. Even if both statements do appear to be true at the same time. Few people enjoy following social media accounts that exist for purely professional reasons (and you know exactly the kind of account that I mean). On the other hand, people will get annoyed/upset about ‘trivial’ social media accounts (and, again, you know what I mean).

And like most oppressive advice, there is no winning in such a system. But (unsurprisingly) the people who operate most successfully within this sphere just happen to be those already privileged within the system. Shocker.

It suddenly occurs to me that most of the stories I’ve read about people getting punished for social media faux pas have been otherwise privileged people (often white, often cis, obviously already employed in a white collar/other high status position). One wonders if the reason for this is because succeeding as a marginalized person within today’s economy and social environment usually means that you have been walking this tight rope for many years and are very practiced at appearing respectable (which takes more work, the more overlapping axes of oppression you experience). You’ve already learned to ensure that your race/class/gender/sexuality/whatever2 either do not come into the workplace or, if they do, only do so in a sanitized, inoffensive manner, all while navigating stereotyping (inclusive of stereotype threat), bias, and discrimination.

Er… Okay. That was totally a tangent. I really wanted this post to be about this tweet:

@satifice Right. It’s NOT being a fearless iconoclast. I’m working through how to respond to this train of thought.

And this notion of being an iconoclast… While I do know that this sort of thing is part of some people’s personas and how they engage in life (professional and private), it made me realize (since I also asserted that I refuse to play the ‘always be professional on social media’ personal branding game), that my motivations are definitely not this.

My current status as a professional is tenuous and I’m definitely amongst the vulnerable workers3 at MPOW. However, I don’t do as I do on this blog or in social media because I have some notion that I’ll be able to challenge or change the system from within. I do it simply because I’ve grown tired of trying to exist as less than human in life (professional or otherwise).

I do as I do because I’m a human being. I have feelings. My life is occassionally (often) trivial to most people who aren’t me. I have problems. I also have many joys. I am transpinay. I’m a tech enthusiast about to start learning how to code.

At the end of the day, I’d much rather face professional ramifications for being too human than failing because I couldn’t find a path in the ever shifting normative definition of ‘professionalism’ already designed to exclude me.

  1. Now, to be clear, this article is more about the changing culture and the implications, as opposed to one of the many articles shaming people for using social media for its intended purposes (eg, socializing).

  2. Basically some of the most essential parts of who you are.

  3. Although, have I mentioned that my contract got renewed and I’ve got another year of employment? Not sure about next year ‘cause they slashed the PT budget this year and I survived the cut because of reasons.

The Curious Case of Mozilla

So I’ve only been paying some minor attention to the big deal going down with Mozilla and their new homophobic CEO. I don’t really care much about any of what is happening. I don’t like Firefox or Thunderbird. I also don’t particularly care if Eich continues to be CEO. It wouldn’t make a difference if he is or isn’t. Given that he has been part of Mozilla since the beginning and also created JavaScript, he will remain influential in tech no matter what ends up happening.

What I am interested in, are some of the comments he makes in the article and what it implies about open source communities. Because this isn’t a problem unique to Mozilla.

Remember how I wrote in FOSS and the sublimation of commodity fetishism:

The value, however, comes from creating a commodity out of the human relations (ie, labour and community) that creates the end product. This community, we are expected to believe, is fair compensation for the labour required to make the product.

Keep this in mind while reading the following comments by Eich:

Eich stressed that Baker’s statement applied only to Mozilla as a corporation and foundation, rather than to its broader mission.

“There’s a difference here between the company, the foundation, as an employer and an entity, versus the project and community at large, which is not under any constraints to agree on LGBT equality or any other thing that is not central to the mission or the Mozilla manifesto.”

Eich said the reason Mozilla as a community did not take a wider stance on issues such as LGBT marriage was the same as his reason for not explaining his donation: to avoid fragmenting its community. Without a large group of people who disagreed on lots of issues, Firefox would never have happened, he said.source

Yes, he still asserts that Firefox, Mozilla’s primary product is still essential: “So imagine a world without Firefox: not good.” But it is clear that the community is more important, given the causal relation he draws: not fragmenting the community, is what allowed Firefox to exist.

So what does this emphasis on leaving out non-essential things like human rights because it might fragment the community mean? It means that the product, the Mozilla community, is more important than anything else. I cannot imagine a better example of what it means to sublimate commodity fetishism into FOSS communities.

His expressed goal is to ‘unionise the users,’ which is such a strange way to put it. Are the employees of Mozilla unionised? Do the contributors and developers belong to a union? No? Why not?

What does any of this mean if the ‘community’ is all important, more important than human rights? How far is this understanding of ‘community’ from an everyday, colloquial conception of the word, since it apparently involves no actual human beings? Will his attempts to ‘unionise’ users have any real impact, given that he does not consider human rights (and, thus, human beings) “central to the mission or the Mozilla manifesto”?

Is anyone going to say that he should be removed for his casually racist remark about Indonesia?

Eich also stressed that Firefox worked globally, including in countries like Indonesia with “different opinions”, and LGBT marriage was “not considered universal human rights yet, and maybe they will be, but that’s in the future, right now we’re in a world where we have to be global to have effect”.source

Now, not to say that anyone ought to be wagging their fingers at Indonesia and its current policies towards gay marriage, but he is shifting the blame for the irrelevance of human rights to Mozilla’s mission to ‘less progressive’ and those awful terribad countries like Indonesia.

It is interesting that his solution to the problem of competing values is, rather than encouraging diversity and creating mechanisms to have this diversity in a safe manner, to insist on hegemonic control over the community and homogeniety. Since everyone has ‘different opinions’, if you want to participate with Mozilla, you have to pretend to be like everyone else.

But who is ‘everyone else’ in this conception? Guys like Eich. Given the impact and influence of white men within tech and that the default language of the software business is English, this is nothing less than insisting that only his (and men like him) political agenda has relevance to the Mozilla mission. And that if you want to participate in the much valued ‘community’ you must do your best to emulate him or you’ll be fragmenting the community.

Last, it is also interesting that he keeps talking about ‘opinions.’ This is again a shift in framing this debate and a rhetorical move very common amongst white tech men like him. See, he is allowed to have whatever opinions he wants. He is allowed to express those opinions. Free speech! And none of this has any bearing on his work, because privacy. And because freedom.

Donating money to suppressing the rights of a marginalized group is more than mere ‘opinion.’ And certainly, he does have every right to donate his personal money to whatever cause he chooses, but this is a very different discussion than the one he is trying to reframe it as. Because if he successfully manages to reframe this recent kerfluffle into a discussion about ‘opinions’, particularly ‘unpopular’ or ‘controversial’ ones, then he’ll gain the support and sympathy from the people who matter most in the tech community: white men.

This recent media storm and the calls for boycott and/or resignation will be seen as an attempt to suppress his right to free speech. Or some other right or freedom. And the focus will be drawn away from the many gays and lesbians in California whose actual rights were suppressed as a consequence of his direct actions.

Because in this conversation, they are the ones who matter, not him.

On the Think Tank Trans Fail

I saw a few people mention this on Twitter earlier but figured it was better to stay out. And not for the reason that many people might think. The one dude who was clearly just being a bigotted asshat isn’t my concern. My concern is the people who were trying to help, but just really weren’t.

While, yes, people can easily go and find the thread and figure out who said what, I did anonymize the posts.

Here is one example:

I do know that the person who wrote this wrote it out of ignorance, this is pretty clear from the language. What is also clear from the language is how dehumanized trans women are in this perspective: “I am quite often left confused it was a female or a male and the weirdest thing is they are often very good looking” (emphasis added). ‘It’ is never a good pronoun to use for any human being, but especially cutting when talking about trans women, given how most people tend to think we are inhuman monsters to begin with.


Calling out transmisogyny while mobilizing ableism (see ‘stupid’) doesn’t help anything. At all.

Or how about:

Lol, no. The approach of ‘not sticking your neck out’ in a case clearly about oppression doesn’t fly here. This? Is the absolute opposite of okay. Leaving aside the legal implications of harassment in the workplace, being too lazy and complacent to call out oppression when you see/experience it especially if you aren’t directly impacted by it is participating. Passively, yes, but participating nonetheless. If anyone is wondering about what possible role allies have, this is a perfect case study.

And possibly my least favourite comment (yes, even more than the asshat):

The thing that always troubles me about this sort of reasoning is that not all workplaces and jurisdictions have anti-discrimination protection for trans people. Especially if we are talking about the US. The majority of the country it is still perfectly legal to discriminate (fire, harass, etc.) a trans person for being trans.

Even more importantly, it is a position of privilege that states that we should just consider something like this without ‘emotion.’ Real people are harmed by instances like this and other forms of oppression. Real people. Everyday. In the US over 50% of anti-LGBT violence is directed against trans women of colour (mainly Black and/or Latina trans women). Yes. The majority of violence that impacts lesbians, gay men, bisexual people, and/or trans people is experienced by the tiny minority of Black and/or Latina trans women.1

I’m not going to apologize for my inability to be unemotional. And this is more than simply a matter of ‘policy.’ Oppression is about more than policy and dismantling it more than about adhering to (largely) toothless organizational policies.

Last point, I’m distressed by the number of people professing ignorance in that conversation. As I’ve mentioned before, this was a thread largely involving information professionals of some kind. As far as I’m concerned, this level of ignorance is simply inexcusable for anyone claiming to be an information professional in any capacity. Educating yourself does indeed take time and effort. But given that we are literally trained to know how to find resources and often have better access than your average person, it is beyond me how a librarian can say “I don’t even know what trans women are”.

Really? That is what you are going with?

  1. Going from these 2012 stats, “73.1% of all anti-LGBT homocide victims in 2012 were people of color”, “54% were Black/African American, 15% Latin@”, “53% of anti-LGBTQ homicide victims were transgender women”. Although, don’t be fooled by these strange looking stats. In 2012 all trans homocide victims in the US were trans women of colour — again primarily Black and/or Latina.

A Better Way to Network #ltgsummit #libtechgender

After the (surprising, but gratifying) reception of my post on the drinking culture of conference networking I decided that I’d try to go forth and see if I could do the networking thing without necessarily doing the drinking thing.

I’m happy to report that this was a super success at the LTG Summit. I don’t doubt that some people were doing the networking thing at bars and the like (I know that this was definitely the case on Thursday) but there were also alternatives to be had. This largely focused on eating meals with other people (notably Jennifer and Chris — woot!). I’m pretty much okay with this since more than drinking, food has always been a defining characteristic of a lot of my socializing and celebrating. I’d much rather celebrate an event with awesome food and awesome company than pretty much any other activity.

I don’t want to attribute the fact that this was made possible because the attendees of the summit were largely women…

But I can’t help but note that every other libtech conference I’ve been too, where there are more men, and every other conference (mainly philosophy or Asian studies ones) with fair mix of men, there has been a greater focus on the drinking vs. the food. Yes, people will obviously go out and eat, but the places are selected with drinking more prominently in mind than finding good food (ideally both, but drinking took precendent).

What was different about this experience was that I didn’t feel like I had to go to a bar if I wanted to socialize with fellow attendees. I had other options. There was also no pressure at all to drink, which I very much appreciated.

Additionally, focusing on food helped create a finite end to the evening in the way that drinking does not. I know part of this is due to the fact that (the first night at least) it was dinner with three introverts and all of us were ready to have some alone time to unwind after dinner. This? Was freaking awesome. Especially for someone who tends to sleep and wake early. It was especially important for the summit because having that time to myself definitely improved the quality of my participation, since it was a great deal of discussion and talking and being around other people.

Now that I know I can do it this way… I’m not sure that I’ll be doing it any other way from now on. It might not suit everyone but it really worked for me. And I left the summit feeling like I did a good amount of ‘networking’1.

  1. Based on my current feelings and intentions of how to embody professionalism, I’m also leaving behind ‘networking’ as something that I do. I still don’t really understand what it is and I find trying to do it really stressful. I also find the notion really… utilitarian in a way that makes it harder for me to connect with people. I much rather look at this sort of thing as making friends. I enjoyed my time with (particularly Jennifer and Chris) because they are great people and not so much because I think that they’ll be professionally ‘useful’ for me in the future. Note: these statements are about me and not a comment on the notion of networking in general, but about my relationship with the term. It greatly impedes my personal ability to engage people in professional contexts. It’s utility and meaning outside of my individual context is something I understand but can’t relate to, so I’m framing it in a way that actually makes sense to me.

On Staying Focused #ltgsummit

On the last day, I was somewhat taken aback by the proposal that we generalize the focus of #libtechgender. I’m still not entirely sure what is being left out of LTG that requires a more general focus. In any case, I’m inclined to think that this is a BAD IDEA.


Well, because we have a lot to do in this particular area before generalizing can do any good (if it ever would). In general, the gender imbalance in tech is an ongoing and serious concern. So too with library tech. While, yes, we could generalize and focus on gender and tech, this would be a rather… large and potentially irrelevant direction to move towards. There are already groups and people working on these problems and restricting ourselves to focus on one particular subset of technology will allow us to craft strategies to effectively address gender-based oppression with libraries.

Of course, I don’t actually think that they were talking about generalizing in this direction. Perhaps they meant that we need to be more generalized/open towards men. The topic of allies definitely came up at one of the sessions I attended. And I noted that allies have no role to play.

Before anyone gets at me for saying this, I want to note that this question is all about framing for me. I talk about gender liberation not gender equality. One of the very few things that second wave feminism got right was by framing the issue as a matter of freedom (and oppression) rather than equality and rights. Saying that allies (in this case, men) are necessary for me to be free is, well, inaccurate. While they may be restricting my freedom, if/when they stop, freedom is not what they’ve given me. In the meantime, I am not about to sit around and wait for freedom to be given to me.

I prefer this over the language of equality and rights because both of those fundamentally depend on being recognized and given something via the state (or other oppressive institutions/people). The current discourse around many movements is all about rights. Getting Bill C-279 passed1. Gay marriage. Hate laws. Laws specific to gendered violence. While these strategies are necessary in the short term, in the long term they simply legitimize the right of the state to decide who is human enough to have rights in the first place2.

Then again… maybe this is not what was meant.

It could be that it was an assertion that libtechgender needs to also be about race, ableism, and other axes of oppression. While this is a possibility, this isn’t the sense that I was getting. Nor is it a particularly relevant criticism.

Gender is not (and can never be) a ‘single issue’ discussion. There is also a serious race issue in tech as well, with Latin@s and/or Black people being significantly under-represented. This only extra true if we are discussing Latina and/or Black women. The same can be said of the other areas of oppression.

Seen from this angle, using libtechgender as a primary focal point necessarily is already fairly broad. And based on what I experienced at the summit, there is already a long, hard road ahead to ensure that the people who already ought to be included in ‘libtechgender’ are, in fact, actually present and part of the discussion. Extending and generalizing the focus before we’ve created a space that is truly inclusive of women of colour, disabled women, lesbians, trans women, etc. (and mix and match), will only mean that some are always left out and left behind.

  1. Don’t get me wrong, this is actually something I’d like to see passed.

  2. And given that I live in a settler state, this will always be a loosing strategy.

#ltgsummit: Thoughts on the Keynote

So this is probably the first of a few posts that will be me largely processing what I heard and experienced at the LTG Summit. Our keynote speaker was Christine Williams and we had one of her speeches as an assigned reading — behind a paywall1. She somewhat discussed part of what was in that other speech, updating the notion of the glass escalator but with somewhat more emphasis on how this plays out in the current work culture and neoliberal economy.

I have two critcisms of how she presented these ideas. First, is how wholly white-centric her discussion was — particularly as it applied to her discussion of child rearing as social good. Second, the large gapping hole in her data. And these criticisms are connected via the way they singularly ignore and erase the reality and experiences of women of colour.

One of the things that featured prominently in her discussion was about the social good of having children. She noted that one of the continuing challenges of labour is creating a system that will support reproduction. At one point she noted the demographic challenges facing many white industrialized nations (as in, for Canada and the US, our birth rates are below replacement without immigration) is declining birth rates. This is partially, in her story, attributed to the difficulties surrounding work and secure employment. It sort of seems that she was saying that “white women thought they could have it all, but now that they are realizing that they can’t, they are choosing to work instead of have children.”

And, yes, I’m definitely making this about race. Because while we have white industrialized nations worried about the fact that settlers (I’m restricting my discussion to Canada and the US) aren’t reproducing enough to maintain hegemonic control over land that isn’t really ours to begin with, we also have a constant worrying — in the same nations — about the fact that there is an ‘over population’ problem in the third world.

The basic message of these two demographic concerns is: women of colour are having too many babies while white women aren’t having enough. And this is the actual problem. The US doesn’t actually have a declining birth rate. Not only because of ‘immigrants’ but because the numerically significant groups of Latin@s and/or Black people are having plenty of children2. In Canada, the Indigenous populations are actually growing fairly fast with a significantly higher birth rate than white settlers.

Unfortunately, this is the inevitable conclusion of her comments about raising children as social good. Almost no one considers is a ‘social good’ when women of colour have children. Especially not when they are having more children relative to white women.

This too, ties into her comments of work. I had a great deal of trouble taking her description of workplace problems when it was fairly clear that she was entirely erasing women of colour from the discussion. On the first pass, this is fairly evident from the gap in her data. She talks about ‘women’ in women-dominated fields and how some men (men of colour, trans men, and gay men) do not get to ride the glass escalator. But nowhere does she mention the experiences of women of colour. And the basic assumption that our experiences would be equivalent to that of white women is, well, false. Especially if we are talking about librarianship.

She discusses the disparity in promotions, salary, etc, between men who enter these fields vs. ‘women’ but not necessarily the disparity between the promotions and salary of additionally marginalized women in these fields. How much less are women of colour librarians making than white women? How much less disabled women vs. abled women? And whatever further instersections you can think of. This actually ties back to one of the points I discussed on my first blog post on the LTG Summit website, about the myth of shared experience.

This became particularly obvious when she talked about the history of women in the workplace, wherein it became obvious that she was really only concerned and discussing the history of white, middle class women in the workplace. Black women in the US have always been in the workplace. The fact that their early history of ‘work’ was via being enslaved and forced to do so without consent or compensation doesn’t actually change the fact that from the moment they were forced onto ‘American’ soil, they have been working. Yet, according to Williams’ ‘women’ fought to enter the workplace in the early/mid-20th century.

This combined with the way she discussed child care and the burden it places on ‘women’ made me cringe inwardly. For what of the Black women (and today, the Latin@ and Asian women) whose jobs were raising the children of white women — both before and after white, middle class women fought to join the workforce — who then had to go home and raise their own children? What of them? They have been struggling with the work/life balance problem long before current discussions about it began (essentially when white women started realizing that having to work full time and raise children is a really hard thing to do).

Unfortunately, none of these criticisms are particularly new. They definitely aren’t original to me. These are exactly the sorts of things that Black feminists having been criticizing white feminism for, for quite some time now. Moreover, since Williams self-IDd as a second wave feminism, these are criticisms that have been long levied by Black feminists against second wave feminism in particular. bell hooks wrote Ain’t I a Woman? over thirty years ago. It also explains why she was willing to blithely make a transmisogynist joke (to which most of the audience laughed), since the second wave is also not known for their love of trans women.

I really thought that this keynote started us off on the wrong foot and set a poor precedent for discussing the issues of the day. It didn’t do enough to challenge an audience of primarily white women, instead helping to solidify and confirm subtle biases and framing the discussion in a non-intersectional way.

  1. I’m sort of assuming that the keynote isn’t covered by the Chantham house rules because, well, the website clearly identifies who gave the speech.

  2. Note, I will not discuss the ‘immigrant’ status of Black people and/or Latin@s. Just. Nope. I refuse to engage in a demographic framing that posits white settlers as the ‘native’ population and everyone else as ‘immigrants.’

The Marketing Unproblem of Libraries

After seeing yet another tweet/article1 about the so-called marketing problem of libraries, I finally managed to get past my normal distaste for framing anything in a business framework.

When discussing this ‘marketing’ problem perhaps it is important to point out that libraries (by and large) are not for-profit businesses. Regardless that many people advocate for turning a library into a business and operating it as such (for efficiency!), most libraries still are not, in point of fact, businesses. And they likely will never be. More importantly, they probably should never become businesses.

Rather, they are a public service in much the same way that the police2, sanitation, road maintenance, etc. and so on are. Now some of these things have, in various places, been privatised with arguable success. Some of these lend themselves better to privatisation and some do not (I sincerely doubt any city on the planet would ever privatise their police force, despite — at least in Canada — it being one of the most inefficient, money guzzling ‘services’).

The point about public services is that they are services essential to the public good and, thus, cannot be left for the free market because while they may be necessary, they may not be (and frequenly are not) profitable: thus, providing very little market incentive to provide these services3.

Now, there is one respect where libraries diverge from something like sanitation: namely, that public libraries were never intended for the general public. Instead, like certain other services (welfare, old age security, disability benefits) they were intended to serve the disadvantaged. And like those other services they were created within an ideology (see enlightenment) and based on a notion of noblesse oblige.

And here we get to the real crux of the problem. It isn’t an issue of marketing4. Not an issue of public relations. The issue is that in a late capitalist, neo-liberal environment public services like libraries are a BAD THING. I mean, when we have the IMF and World Bank forcing countries to privatise their water, you suddenly realize that no amount of marketing or public relations will save libraries as a public service. Rather, what is dying is noblesse oblige (and some would argue that it died years ago).

Now, I don’t necessarily think separating the existence and purpose of libraries from notions of noblesse oblige is a bad thing. I actually think it is a good thing, since a public library organized around the public they actually serve vs. a public library organized around what privileged people think they ought to be can only be an improvement. But getting to this point requires a fundamental shift on how we conceive of libraries and the roles within the community.

On the first pass, one thing that needs to change is the attitude that we are benevolent saviours bestowing our boons and favours on the unwashed masses. And, yes, this attitude is a real thing5. Some of the discourse in libraries veers from advocacy straight into proselytizing in creepy missionary-like ways.

On the second pass, is simply realizing where we actually are. Does anyone ever say that employment insurance or welfare have marketing problems? No, not really. And these social services are more directly and viciously attacked than libraries ever are. But understanding that libraries have more in common with welfare than sanitation is critical for understanding how to approach advocacy. The people who think that social services in general are unnecessary will never be convinced that libraries are a good thing. But we are also somewhat lucky, in the sense that we tend to suffer more from benign neglect than outright opposition.

Which leads to better focusing our efforts. Rather than continually thinking that we should be trying to convince people who likely will never think libraries are necessary and important, we ought to be focusing our efforts on those that do. Or can at least be convinced. It means getting to a place where our community of users (who already think we are useful) are well situated to fight with us. That they understand the issues at hand and, more importantly, understand how they can help. It also means libraries getting involved within their communities beyond just library-related stuff. Advocating and fighting for the communities in the way that we want them to fight for us.

(And, yes, I recognize I could be wrong re: proposed solutions, especially since I don’t actually work in a public library, but the basic point that libraries do not have a marketing problem is still true.)

  1. Or whatever, I can’t remember what it was anymore.

  2. Sorry, I’m having a lot of trouble choking out the notion of the police as public service, even if this is what they technically are.

  3. Even as most businesses also understand the necessity of these services since they likewise rely on them.

  4. I find it curious that the marketing folks rarely identify to whom we are supposed to market? Or if framed as a public relations problems, to which public? Libraries were never intended to serve the middle-to-upper classes and yet the nicest branch libraries are always in the suburbs.

  5. I personally think that this is one area that produces many bitter and disgruntled librarians, because few things sour a person that feeling like people are being ungrateful.

On Networking at Conferences and a Culture of Drinking

When I was in my late teens and early 20s, I didn’t drink.1 I didn’t really see the point and it was expensive. Part of it was cultural/environmental since neither my mom or dad drank all that much. My dad maybe would have a beer or two every so often at a family gathering but not often since he always had to drive us home. He didn’t keep alcohol around the house. And for things like celebrations and holidays, some of my titos and titas would drink but it was never an integral part of the celebration, this was really only something I saw on TV or in movies (and I wasn’t allowed to watch a lot of TV when I was young).

So when I turned eighteen, I got a tattoo instead of getting drunk (although I did go to a bar and have a few drinks). I had a slow start for a few other reasons (I don’t like wine and I’m allergic to beer, which is what most people I knew where drinking). Either way, it just wasn’t something I did often. I did go to bars and clubs, but just didn’t drink.

I bring all of this up because as any person who has done this type of socializing but isn’t drinking (whatever the motivation) knows, this is something that apparently perturbs a great deal of people. Not drinking at a party is tantamount to going around and kicking puppies. Not only are you no fun, but you apparently suck the fun out of everyone else. Or so the incredible amount of peer pressure people put on you makes it seem.

Fast forward a few more years and, yes, I’m now drinking socially but still not very frequently. But I start going to conferences and attempting to do that kind of professional style networking. My first few conferences, I really missed out on opportunities to meet and talk with people because I didn’t realize that networking primarily occurs in bars or restaurants. With drinking.2

The thing is, though, is that very few of the social events I’ve seen (actully, make that none) advertised or organized at conferences have been dry events. Or even simply events whose primary focus doesn’t appear to be drinking in some way or shape.

And I want to make it very clear: this is a problem. Especially for tech-focused events.

It is a well known fact that tech is largely comprised of white men. Do you know what group of people I find most terrifying? Groups of drunk white men. Before anyone starts wagging their finger at me for this, avoiding groups of drunk white men has become a survival mechanism for me. Because after high school ended (and thus leaving behind grade school bullies) a substantive portion of my experiences of homophobia, transmisogyny, threats of assault, threats of sexual assault, sexual harassment, racism, etc., has been from groups of drunk white men.

But this is only one reason to consider including sober/dry events as part of your conference/social/networking planning. Because even if the above wasn’t true, I can’t express how tiresome it becomes for people to constantly be asking if you are drinking or if you want a drink or why you aren’t drinking and so on.

And there are many reasons that people don’t drink: some are recovering alcoholics, some do it for religious/moral reasons, some do it for health reasons, some do it because they just don’t like it, and so on.

The exact reason doesn’t particularly matter, what matters is that this creates a significant barrier for inclusion of a diverse group of people in these activities. I cannot be the only person who notices that during the conference sessions you see a bunch people that disappear as soon as the sun sets. Of course, there are also many reasons for this, but does anyone know what percentage of people are simply not participating in social/networking events because the presence of alcohol makes the space inaccessible to them (or even just the places where alcohol is usually served likewise serves as a barrier)?

And making this useful doesn’t just mean planning some dry events where only the people abstaining attend because that really doesn’t accomplish much if (for example) all the ‘big name’ people are off somewhere else because dry events are boring. Or even if someone you had a brief talk with earlier that day and who you’d like a chance to make a more solid connection with, won’t think about attending a dry event. Most conferences occur over several days and it ought not to be too much to ask to have one night/event be dry with the understanding that people who regularly drink might actually hang out with the sober crowd.3

  1. Note for American readers, in my home province of Alberta, I was able to legally drink from 18+.

  2. Yes, I realize that some networking and socializing happens during session breaks and morning/noon meals depending on a few factors, but this only provides you — at best — an hour to actually meet and talk with people vs. the couple hours (or more) you get if you attend one of the evening social activities.

  3. And, heck, this might not even be necessary if people weren’t so adamant about pressuring non-drinkers to drink. Which, if you take away nothing else from this post, if you are one of the people who thinks that everyone ought to be drinking if you are, please stop. If someone refuses a drink or isn’t drinking, don’t ask why. Don’t try to cajole them into having one. Just respect their decision and leave it alone (which means don’t ask again in an hour).