Survey: Documenting Code of Conduct Violations at ALA Conferences

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).

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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33 thoughts on “Survey: Documenting Code of Conduct Violations at ALA Conferences

  1. NTB


    Thank you for bringing this to the attention of librarians and other people everywhere. Sexual harassment is becoming more and more pervasive at conferences, and it’s starting to freak me out…bad. So bad, in fact, that I’m kinda scared to go to conferences anymore without my husband. I don’t feel safe.

    I am one of those naive people who wants to believe that everyone in our profession is PROFESSIONAL, trustworthy, and respectful. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. I went to ALA in DC in 2010 with my mom, and let’s just say that one incident made me rethink going to future conferences.

    1. I think that’s part of my reluctance to report or react. I think, “This man who is acting like this is a grown-up and a professional. I must be misreading the situation.”

      Also, I think that since many librarians try to be kind and courteous, just like we are to our patrons, we may be too hung up on being polite. This hang-up prevents us from speaking up. At least, it does for me.

      1. natalietbraham

        Yeah. I freeze in these situations. It’s not good, but it’s hard to react in the moment; it’s hard to know what to do when it happens to you. Thanks for bringing this up; it’s really important and not discussed enough. -Natalie

    2. Cary Gordon

      I think that it is quite a leap to think that professionals, by dint of membership, universally have the attributes that might be defined formally or otherwise by their profession, although I wish it were so.

      I think that harassment has always been a plague, and that professional communities have only recently felt empowered enough do do something about it. Getting things out in the open is the only effective path to dealing with them.

  2. Peter Hepburn

    Hi Ingrid,

    First off, it was good to see you at the RT meeting, the social, and with the photography project. I hope you had a comfortable trip home at the end of conference.

    Second, how far back do you want your survey to go? There’s a story I have told to others, especially as a heads-up to be aware of a particular person. It’s from a number of years back, however, and I don’t want to skew a survey with old information.

    Thanks for this posting, the survey, and the very good work you’re doing in ALA.


  3. DMB

    I wasn’t harassed at this conference; however, at Midwinter 2013 in Seattle, a fishmonger at Pike’s asked us if librarians gave spankings. I was too shocked to respond.

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  5. Lynette Roberson

    Ingrid, very well written, timely and relevant. It definitely happens. Keep us posted on the results.

  6. Thanks for such an important post, Ingrid. Having not come to ALA before this year, I had no idea that this problem was so pervasive. Sadly, I imagine the same applies to a lot of professional conferences.

  7. It’s great you are doing this! I think sharing your results with the appropriate folks at ALA would be helpful. We all need to feel safe. I think often folks don’t realize they are being harassed in part because we are sadly used to certain types of treatment. Starting to document and help people understand what harassment is will be beneficial and eye-opening. Thanks for fighting the important fights.

  8. Diedre Conkling

    This is the message I have sent out to the Feminist Task Force (FTF) and the Committee on the Status of Women in Librarianship:

    I reported earlier about a column in “American Libraries” talking about sexual harassment in libraries, Starting a dialogue on sexual harassment in libraries . Though the column was edited so that it is not exactly what the author wanted to say the basic subject is important.

    Now there is a survey being done by one of our colleagues about sexual harassment at ALA Conferences,

    I don’t want these people to feel like they are out there alone and I think these are issues that FTF and COSWL need to continue working on. We need to be reaching out to these people and others to let them know that we have worked o these issues and are a place to go in the library world for further work. I think we have let down our guard for a few years. That was a mistake but we know how to address the issues and be successful, though nothing is ever perfect.

  9. Thanks for bringing this issue forward. I, for one, was unaware that this was happening at conferences. I am in the beginning stages of planning the 2015 NCLA Conference and I will definitely keep this in mind.

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  11. Mark

    White male librarian here, who is totally OK with the Code of Conduct, usually likes Will Manley but thinks he’s way off-base on this, and doesn’t get why people can’t conduct themselves professionally AND with kindness and compassion at conferences.

  12. A serious guy with a sense of humor

    Now I’m paranoid that the banter I have with my colleagues (male and female alike) is sometimes harass-y. I’m usually serious and professional, but I don’t want my coworkers to think I’m stuffy and unapproachable so I try to lighten up from time to time. HOWEVER, I’d rather be perceived as uptight and boring than lose my job and be forever blacklisted because I unwittingly and unintentionally crossed someone’s line.

    1. I mean, this is a troll comment. But for others reading, sure. I’ll play. If there’s a part of your day where you’re thinking, “Huh. This MIGHT be racist. This MIGHT be transphobic. The way I’m touching this individual MIGHT be unwanted” then don’t do it.

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  14. Rosa

    I work in libraries and IT, and I used to run into quite a bit of harassment – verbal, physical, sexual. But one good thing about aging – harassment seems to stop when you hit a ‘certain age’.

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