When you walk into a room, count: diversity and LITA Forum.

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.

11 thoughts on “When you walk into a room, count: diversity and LITA Forum.

  1. Also I apologize for playing into the gender binary. Please treat that as approximate. And *also* as something I wouldn’t be able to do better at without a survey.


    1. I know, from having been a woman in tech. And I also don’t know. It’s hard to talk about these things. I take for granted someone will push back, but it’s hard to gauge who, and why, and whether it’ll be a good thing.


  2. I can’t help but note that you gained some real ground with library-type this year versus last. Which makes some sense to me since the message I heard loud and clear from you leading up to LITA Forum proposal due date was that you wanted more public librarians at LITA Forum. I 100% accept this involves my bias in hearing your message. As a white woman and public librarian it makes sense to me that the public librarian part wormed further into my brain than the rest. Still, I wonder if there are other people for whom that was the experience. Because the bar graphs certainly do show that you got traction on that part of the diversity, much more so than the others.


  3. I’d suggest one more bar for the first two charts: US population.

    As a privileged white male (who is now, gulp, older), I worry about the fact that our profession does not reflect the communities in which we serve. In my look at demographics of library staffs in various public libraries (my personal realm of experience), the support staff (those without the advanced degree) more often represent the racial make-up of the community. The upper level staff most often does not. How to fix it? I don’t know. It is tough when the profession itself (that is the pool of applicants from which a library can draw) does not represent the nation’s racial breakdown.

    However, not talking about it, or talking about it only in whispers or behind closed doors, does not help us to solve the problem. Kudos for raising the issue.


    1. Thanks, Michael. I’ve added an extra bar to the race chart. (It doesn’t add up to 100% because the American Community Survey data include “other” and mixed-race. Like ALA (I presume ALA is using Census categories), it counts Hispanic separately – the ACS data go on to count Hispanic+white, Hispanic+African American, etc.)

      Sex is going to be pretty close to 50/50, particularly among people of working age.


    2. (noting that by “pretty close to 50/50” I assume that M + F will not quite add up to 100% because not everyone is captured by those two categories. But I don’t have data outside them, unfortunately.)


    1. Very cool! And very familiar. Have you been working on anything to reach out to new audiences?

      (I notice our conferences pretty much directly conflict, which I guess means we’re competing over the same pool of attendees, which is a bummer :/ oh well.)


      1. I understand that the DLF Advisory Committee (http://www.diglib.org/members/advisory/) has been talking about these issues. I think I heard they’re partnering on something with ARL diversity initiatives, but don’t have any info at hand. They offer fellowships to the Forum, including one from underrepresented groups (http://www.diglib.org/forums/2013forum/fellowships/). The Taiga Forum being offered as a postconference event to DLF is focusing on diversity (http://taiga-forum.org/lets-talk-about-diversity-taiga-november-7-austin-tx/).

        With DLF having institutional, rather than individual members, it’s harder to have a community wide discussion on issues like this. I’m interested to see what else the Advisory Committee and the Forum Planning Committee come up with, in addition to the concrete steps they’ve already taken.

        My own contribution to date has stopped at making some graphs and sharing them. Like you, I feel the need to start seeking real solutions. I’m planning on attending the Taiga forum, where it looks like the discussion will go far beyond the surface discussions of diversity so many venues are limited to. I’m looking forward to using that as a springboard for my own thinking, and agenda, in this area. I feel like I need a bit of help gaining some momentum in my head, and Taiga seems just the thing for that.


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