I’ve mentioned on Twitter, but this should be formally announced on the blog as well: ALA now has a conference code of conduct.
how it happened
The policy grew out of face-to-face and Twitter conversations a few months ago, with a highly collaborative (and fruitfully argumentative) Google doc draft that wound its way through ALA process – Counsel, the executive board, et cetera – to become a final statement.
It seems I’ve been identified as The Person To Talk To About This — and I am more than willing to talk to anyone about it! — but I want to clarify for the record that I was only one of many people involved in turning this idea into reality. Other people brought more urgency to starting the process, more draft language to the Google doc, and more knowledge of ALA process to bear. I want to make sure they are recognized here.
The following people contributed to the Google doc:
Aaron Dobbs, Bess Sadler, Chris Bourg, Chris Martin, Cindi Trainor Blyberg, Coral Sheldon-Hess, Courtney Young, Jason Griffey, Jenny Levine, John Jackson, Karen Schneider, Lauren Pressley, Lea Susan Engle, Lisa Rabey, Mary Ghikas, Matthew Ciszek, Melia Erin Fritch White, Tyler Dzuba.
I’m sure there were others who contributed to the conversation, but whose names I did not keep a record of or (particularly in the case of ALA staffers) never knew, and I apologize for the omission.
Above and beyond, though, Mary Ghikas, ALA’s Senior Associate Executive Director, deserves credit, for working with ALA’s lawyer to make this a document that the organization can sign off on, for understanding the realities of its staffing and staff training enough to make this a document we can implement, and for herding all the cats necessary for final approval.
Thank you, everyone.
what I learned
Like I said, I’ve been The Person To Talk To About This.
It took me a while to get comfortable with this role, and I’m still not, 100%. Mary Ghikas did a huge amount of the heavy lifting. Others wrote most of the words, or were first to insist we had to do this thing. Me? I…stuck around to the end, mostly. And translated.
The translation comes pretty naturally; I’ve been at the intersecting edges of enough groups that I like the challenge of reframing one set of cultural constructs in a way that makes sense in another context. And there was a lot of that, and I expect will be more. Code of Conduct discussions come out of the technology world, where the discourse about gender is often very different than it is in libraries, and where there have been numerous recent high-profile incidents of conference harassment. I found along the way that this context is wholly unfamiliar to many librarians with nontechnical backgrounds, so there has been, and I expect will be, a process of explaining. Ongoing and challenging and fun.
But sticking around to the end, man. That doesn’t come naturally to me at all. I like the first 80% of anything, the shiny part full of ideas and possibility. The bit I can do in a couple days of enthusiasm-fueled focus. The bit that doesn’t require me to make to-do lists and keep track of stuff.
And my role in this process? A whole lot of it was exactly that: putting items on a list, with deadlines. Emailing people. Checking in to see if the doc had been edited and the comments resolved. Asking about status. Making sure that (as I’m doing right now) the result gets publicized.
And it…seems like so little. Nothing that takes special talent or insight. None of those amazing leaderly gifts people dream of having. Just an act of will.
And yet, someone’s got to be there at the end. Or you don’t get to have ends.
This is going to work its way through my skull for a while, being quietly, profoundly transformative.
but why? stories and values
But, why do we need this, several people have asked. Are things like this a problem at ALA conferences? We don’t have high-profile incidents, like they do in tech.
Well. Part of being The Person To Talk To About This is becoming a keeper of stories. People don’t just ask about policy; they tell you things in whispers. That time in a bar. That thing that happened and they didn’t know what to do at the time, or what to do after.
No, we haven’t had outlandishly-troglodyte incidents that convulse the internet for a week, and we have very few people willing to speak publicly about the things that have happened, but that doesn’t mean we’re without problems.
But even if we were, this would be worth doing. Because it’s better to have and not to need than to need and not to have. Because anyone — anyone — who feels threatened at ALA, at this place that is my community and my second home and my metamorphosis, should have a place to turn. No one should ever be harassed and feel alone. No one should ever wonder whether ALA will help.
A conference anti-harassment policy is a mechanism for investigating and resolving disputes, but it is also a statement of values. A signal to everyone of who we are.
ALA seeks to provide a conference environment in which diverse participants may learn, network and enjoy the company of colleagues in an environment of mutual human respect. We recognize a shared
responsibility to create and hold that environment for the benefit of all.
I want my association to publicly state that it values being a safe space for everyone. I’m glad that it has.