This is what I ask: when you walk into a room, count. Count the women. Count the people of color. Count by race. Look for who isn’t there. Look for class signs: the crooked teeth of childhoods without braces, worn-out shoes, someone else who is counting. Look for the queers, the older people, the overweight. Note them, see them, see yourself looking, see yourself reacting.
This is how we begin.
– Quinn Norton, Count
I’m on the planning committee for LITA Forum 2013. And months ago I thought, I should count up my best guesses as to speaker race and sex and library type for the last few years of Forum, use it as a baseline, see where we are with diversity, and if we do better this year.
And then I counted up 2012 and it was too depressing for me to do 2011 and I couldn’t figure out how to even talk about it because this stuff is so inflammatory, so I wrote a draft I never posted and drank some whiskey. And then Twitter brought me Quinn Norton today. And so, I count.
Method: the terribly error-prone, but what I’ve got, best guess. Names. LinkedIn and Twitter and staff directory photos. As you can see from numbers not adding up to 100 I did not always have a guess.
I took the race categories from ALA data for the sake of comparison. It counts Hispanic separately from other categories, which both makes sense and makes me feel this horrible gnawing stomach feeling at having erased a whole swath of experiences, not that I could have at all reliably guessed from people’s LinkedIn photos anyway. I bet I’ve both undercounted nonwhite speakers, and undercounted them in precisely the same way most people would if they were at Forum and saw a sea of white-looking faces.
The thing is, we care. Then-LITA-president Zoe Stewart-Marshall, who’s ex officio on the Forum 2013 committee, specifically charged us with caring. Many of us have explicitly said we care about diversity. I know that I went out of my way to brainstorm speakers outside LITA’s usual white-academic bailiwick, to extend invitations outside it, to ask others to.
But the committee is also, when you get right down to it, overwhelmingly white and academic, and maybe replicating ourselves is what we know how to do, maybe that’s how homophily works, maybe caring isn’t good enough.
I remain proud to represent this organization, but I am not proud of this part. I want to represent more of you, and better. If you are willing, I ask that you tell me how. Maybe even at Forum, in person. I’ll buy you drinks. And give you feedback on your talk proposals for next year.
We care. But, for sure, caring isn’t good enough. Tomorrow I will want solutions. Today I’ve drained my whiskey counting up these numbers and I’m going to go get more.