My wallet a smidge lighter, my skin a tiny bit more sunburned, and my heart a whole bunch more inspired by my fellow librarians, I am back from the ALA conference in Vegas. I had a pretty great time: I went to the Stonewall Book Awards brunch (and sat next to Ken Setterington!), I got to introduce Sara Farizan in a panel, AND I got lots of work done with Kyle on his upcoming project.
Oh, and uh, yeah. I got sexually harassed. Twice. Once by a fellow librarian at the conference hall. I was touched without consent. I was told a couple of things that were pretty unsettling and kissed all over my hands in a super-sloppy-spitty manner. It was gross. The other time was by a non-librarian who was an attendee. It was also gross. It was just a comment, but it was bad enough that I would have reported it in my place of work.
This is not my first conference and this is not my first time being harassed.
I don’t think people know how wide-spread harassment is at conferences. When I relayed the story of the librarian touching me at the conference hall, most male librarians were shocked. Female librarians expressed sympathy and then usually shared similar (or worse!) stories with me. However, I am not naive enough to believe that those who identify as female are the only ones who are harassed, intimidated, threatened, or even physically attacked at conferences. Homophobia, racism, transphobia, and able-ism can also occur.
Being harassed can be a shock to the system. I consider myself a total loudmouth who is assertive and outspoken. However, when harassed or touched or mistreated, I can freeze. I can forget what to do. I might start nervously laughing (which might make me look like I’m enjoying my harasser’s attention!). I may look around to see if there are any witnesses. I might choose to just flee the area. I haven’t, however, reported my harassment. Not even once. It’s never that easy for me. I would have appreciated signs up in the conference hall telling me who to contact if something unsafe occurred. It may have jostled me out of my shock and into action.
I am a big fan of the Hollaback! project and wondered why librarians weren’t collectively documenting their experiences with harassment at conferences. While I appreciate the presence of the Code of Conduct (even though some people just don’t get why it exists), I am not convinced that it’s enough. We, as attendees, need an added layer of awareness.
In the spirit of Hollaback!, I have created this survey. If you have experienced or witnessed any Code of Conduct violations, I am asking you to take part. It’s only 10 questions (because I couldn’t afford the upgrade, sadly), but hopefully it will give us a better understanding of what can occur at ALA conferences. Answers will be kept anonymous. If you choose to include any personal information (which you don’t have to and probably shouldn’t), I promise not to share it with anybody: not on my blog, not with my coworkers, not with my partner, not with my cat. Nobody. Any anecdotes that I receive will have any and all identifying information removed. This includes names and specific event characteristics (I may mention what city it occurred in if it seems relevant, but I won’t include names of events or divisions).
I will however share non-specific stories and anecdotes. I will share statistics and the like in an upcoming blog post should people actually take the time to fill it out. If you’re concerned about sharing something publicly, do whatever feels safe. Many results will be included in a public post on this blog. For your protection, it’s best to keep things vague. No names, nothing too specific.
I know this survey won’t be super scientific and there’s probably some components I should have included. I tried to leave lots of wiggle room in the survey so that every kind of story can be told. Still, if there’s something you’d like to express but can’t find a good place on the survey to do so, feel free to hit me up elsewhere.
I’m not out to shame ALA staff or council members with this survey. I am not out to combat the Code of Conduct because I think it’s extremely necessary and I’m glad it’s in place. What I am out to do is raise some awareness among conference attendees. I want to get a better grip on what conference harassment and intimidation looks like.
Please fill out this survey and share it with other ALA conferences attendees, past and present. I’m not sure what the survey results are going to look like. Maybe no one will fill it out. Maybe we’ll find that conditions aren’t as bad as I thought. I haven’t the slightest idea, but I’ll let you know when I find out.
~Love and Libraries, Ingrid
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