Welcome to my second post regarding the results of my Code of Conduct survey. Previously, I shared the cold-hard numbers, which are certainly helpful, but do not reflect the entire story of Code of Conduct violations at ALA Conferences. I left ample room for respondents to talk about their experiences. Here, I will share the stories and anecdotes that respondents were kind enough to include.
Before others tell their stories, I believe it would be polite and only right to share two of mine. I have been harassed several times at conferences, but two main stories compelled me to create the Code of Conduct survey. We all respond to different situations in our own ways. Verbal harassment never bothers me for long. It just rolls off my back. I think my tough NY exterior has desensitized me to certain kinds of behavior. However, unwanted touching bothers me beyond all belief. For me, personally, it is something that I just cannot accept from other professionals (or anyone, really). One incident happened at an after-conference party. Yes in a bar. Yes with drinks. A gentleman, who I had never met before that evening, kept trying to hold my hand. Repeatedly. I don’t think hand-holding is harassment at all. However, when someone pulls their hands away from yours, again and again, most people would understand that said person is not asking for physical contact. No matter how often I pulled away, he kept reaching for my hand, often times succeeding in holding it. It was odd, it was unwanted, and I did not like it. Getting away from this librarian was awkward. Did this ruin my conference? Did this make me feel unsafe? No. But I am entitled to my own physical space and the onus is not on me, entirely, to explain to those around me (librarians, no less) that I am not public property just because I’m at a bar.
The other incidence occurred on the conference floor at the Vegas conference, which I like to point out to people who say that harassment at conferences only happens around alcohol (as if a cocktail explains and permits harassment). I was handing out model releases for the Kyle Cassidy portrait project. I was choosing my words very carefully as I approached people as I didn’t want anyone to think that I was hitting on them. I approached a male librarian with a model release in hand. After I gave my “do you want your portrait taken”-spiel, he was giving me an odd, confused look, so, I added, “I’m not hitting on you, I just think you’d be good for the project.” He grabbed my hand and said, “Oh, I’m hitting on you. I am hitting back.” He then proceeded to grab my hand and open-mouth kiss it. It was not a standard kiss on the hand. In fact, one of our library teens always kisses our hands and it’s very sweet, actually. This gentleman on the conference floor was not being sweet. It felt lech-y. It felt gross. My hand was covered in spit. I stood there, stunned, as he walked away, occasionally turning around to look back at me and smile. Another librarian had witnessed the scenario and asked if I was alright. She offered me some hand sanitizer. It was a very kind thing for her to do. I felt that she was acknowledging that the situation was inappropriate and I appreciated that she checked up on me.
So, those are my stories. I am consistently shocked at the behavior of some conference-goers. My job pays for my conference days as if they were actual work days. Therefore, conferences are work for many of us. I’d like to think that those who harass conference goers don’t harass their coworkers back home. I could be wrong. I think that certain people think it’s OK to harass at conferences because they won’t be found out or because they think that a conference allows a set of behaviors that are different from those allowed in a more conventional workplace. I can’t be sure of this theory, though.
Moving on, these are some of the stories respondents were kind enough to share with me. I will quote them word for word, only editing them for length. I tried not to alter people’s grammar, spelling, phrasing, capitalization, etc. In cases where survey-users mentioned specific names or divisions/round tables, I left out that information, though, in some cases, it was quite tempting to let identifying information remain. Some specifics were left in if they did not appear to be too identifying of those involved.
I do not believe I have specifically witnessed any of the following incidences and therefore cannot confirm or deny any story.
Brace yourself. This is a long post.
Though harassment can manifest itself in many forms, it is unsurprising that many of the stories about harassment were specifically about sexual harassment:
- Asked personal questions at vendor party-wouldn’t leave me alone (I’m married and was very clear about this) – asked out for drinks, dinner – tried to seat with me – wanted to know where I would be next day, etc.
- I was asked by another attendee on opening exhibit night where all the horny librarians were coming from since i was wearing a pair of the evil librarian horns i thought at first that she meant those. But her next comment made it clear she meant sexual. At the time i really did think it was funny bit later realized that it was out of line.
- Very loud, very enthusiastic drunk making passes at nervous women at the **redacted** happy hour. Was restrained by a friend, only to be loudly in the face of other women further down the room.
- Being hit on by a male (obviously married) vendor who was drunk but kept trying to get me to kiss him
- At MW14 there was a group of librarians looking at the various badge ribbons set up near the registration area and an older male said something to this effect of: “Where is the one for slutty bitches? I wanna look for that one.” I’m paraphrasing, but it was very similar to the above quote.
- An inappropriate comment from two colleagues about the size of my breasts. I had just given birth and was already feeling self-conscious and these comments just made me feel worse.
- Comment about a male’s sexual organs, veiled as being a joke / compliment.
- I worked for a vendor and the last day of the conference I was in a great bubbly mood because I was later flying out to visit family. This male librarian leered at me at the vendor booth (I tried to ignore) and then a bit later, while I was at a pay phone on a call, he interrupted so that he could hand me his card so that I could “call him”. It made me feel dirty and like I shouldn’t have been in such a good mood because it was giving off the wrong impression.
- One person suggested that we start going to the same conferences so we could start an affair. A second person told me, in a very awkward way, that I was very attractive and just sort of hung around to see what I’d say.
- Loud sexual jokes and innuendos from white male industry representatives sharing a vehicle with myself and two other young female librarians during transportation from McCormick Place to our dinner location.
- Offer to receive a massage in my hotel room after a long day of conferencing and partying. Same offender earlier gave an unsolicited shoulder massage and made comments that it was too bad I was in a committed relationship.
- I attended ALA as an exhibitor and had a gentlemen come to our booth the first night, clearly inebriated. Made small talk, feigned interest in our products, and took my business card off the table. The next morning I had an email from him asking to take me out for a drink and included a very creepy photo of himself. I was afraid of running into him the rest of the weekend, because this happened during the opening ceremony. If I am expected to act professional at ALA as a vendor, attendees should be required to act professionally, as well. I never felt threatened, nor that I was sexually harassed, but it still made me very uncomfortable. (Note: The author of this particular passage does not call this incident sexual harassment. However, I do and am therefore including it here).
- A male librarian, active in my division, tried to pick me up in a hotel bar (I’m female). It was icky, but he eventually went away. When talking to colleagues about this at subsequent conferences, it turns out most of us had been approached by him.
- I think some members of my round table the **redacted** need to understand that even the social is an official ALA event, that it is a professional setting for people who are colleagues, and that not all attendees want to be hit on. It is not a compliment to be touched or spoken to suggestively in what for me is a work setting.
- I have been made to feel uncomfortable on a few occasions over the course of conferences with inappropriate touching or unwanted comments.
- I watched this woman walking from hotel to the next (cause they were like a gazillion miles apart) and was told how great her legs looked by some guy she kept walking and we shared that awkward look of “what the hell”. Thing is this person could be very well be a ALA attendee because it was on one of those floors for conference only not like the casino area.
Hostile and aggressive behavior was witnessed by some respondents:
- At a round table program planning meeting several years ago, 2 members ganged up on me, loudly and abusively dismissing any comment I made about our program. People still talk about that horrible meeting and their bad behavior several years after the fact. Fortunately for the round table, both of those women no longer attend meetings; as this was one of many instances (but by far the worst) of bad behavior from those 2, they are definitely not missed.
- Aggressive, condescending fellow committee member.
- I’ve witnessed aggression between members in committee members when disagreeing about issues and topics.
- Overly aggressive points being made in meetings. Felt like what I said wouldn’t be heard. Felt too intimidated to speak freely.
- This past Annual, I had a roommate that I made arrangements with online that I didn’t know in person who exhibited very odd behavior and felt very unstable. (Note: this respondent talked about this incident at length in another section and I am categorizing the roommate’s behavior as aggressive).
- I have been attacked for expressing dissenting opinions that didn’t go along with the crowd. For example I disagreed with some people in Vegas who thought all the showgirls were victims and was told I wasn’t a strong enough feminist. Harassment can go multiple ways. Sometimes it includes a specific understanding of “appropriate” that is shallow and simplistic.
Other harassment came in the form of misgendering, microaggressions, and ageism:
- Perception that you are a low-ranking librarian.
- Harassing other attendee for gender expression and sexual orientation
- I’ve been told that I don’t “look old enough to be a librarian” at a conference before. As with most ageism I’ve encountered in this profession, I suspect the comment was rooted in sexism too. Who goes around telling dudes they don’t look “old enough” to be a professional whatever? I can’t say for certain, I’d venture to guess that not many people do that.
- Discrimination because of age, not being too old, but because I’m young and look even younger.
- A microaggression… someone in a line of white women asking the Latina librarian for assistance in the restroom a black librarian being asked ” Do you work here?” after exiting a stall in the ladies room
- Being one of the few POC at a session, meeting, social, etc. Microaggressions, microaggressions everywhere.
- When I first came out as transgender, many people misgendered me at more than one ALA conference and some of them got really defensive and disrespectful about it. I was in an ALA position where the appointment was made according to gender, and I was accused of not being a “real” person of that gender because of my body.
Many people whom we meet at conferences are not librarians or traditional conference attendees. Several survey-users mentioned incidences with exhibit floor vendors, authors, hotel workers, and others. Here are some of those stories:
- I gave a presentation once where a friend told me that a well-known YA author sitting in the row behind her made inappropriate, off-color comments about the panelists.
- At ACRL in 2013, a vendor selling charging stations (who didn’t seem too familiar with libraries or librarian culture) came up to me in the exhibit hall and insisted I hear about his product. He complimented my clothing and body and said it was nice to see a young, attractive woman at the conference. I tried to get away immediately and told him I was not the person who made purchasing decisions at my workplace.
- Not by an attendee, but a guy in NOLA flashed me/tried to pee on me.
- A vendor trotted out some tired, boring “hot librarian” stereotype at one point during his spiel about a database. I don’t remember exactly what he said, but it was so glaringly dumb and frat boy-ish that it made me want to recommend to our director that we don’t subscribe to the database in question solely for the fact that the guy hawking it was so unprofessional.
- I was asked repeated questions about my physical appearance by somebody from the **redacted** Institute (an exhibitor). He asked me to come up to his hotel suite. I refused, but he continued to press the issue. Finally, he got the hint and went away.
- I’ve experienced harassment from hotel staff and guests. If it is a conference hotel, are the staff supposed to be governed by the code? Wasn’t sure so did nothing about it (and am beating myself up since).
- A vendor in the exhibition hall in past years is incredibly pushy and is known to make attendees uncomfortable. I was not surprised to later find out that they have ties to the Church of Scientology, a religious cult.
- I have felt unsafe with a taxi driver from the airport to my hotel in New Orleans. After I got out of the taxi, the woman I was sharing the ride with informed me the driver made lewd comments about me, and asked lots of questions about me, after I had exited the taxi. I felt unsafe and wished I had been given more information about how to get transportation in New Orleans – I did google the information afterward, and found that taxi’s in New Orleans are questionable, because they are independently run – but that there are a few companies that operate fleets – and discussion boards from New Orleans residents suggested using only the fleet taxi’s, or keeping the card of a taxi driver you like to call them back. I wish ALA offered more information about transportation to and from the airports – OR even a sponsored shuttle/bus.
- I attended conference as an exhibit attendee with my 18 and 16 year old daughter and son. While in the exhibit hall, my two children were being silly and an attendee standing behind them shrieked stop it, stop wrestling and a few other comments. She looked totally freaked out. I am African American and she was an older 60+ lady. I of course defended my children , but it ruined my whole conference. I didn’t attend any more days. I was so hurt and am still disappointed.
- I was followed in different ALA conference cities, not by conference attendees but by men who made repeated sexual advances.
- I was walking in the exhibit hall and was addressed by an exhibitor. In an attempt to sell me his product, he made comments about my appearance and how I looked more sophisticated for my age. He asked me “if I was married or happy?” He inquired about my relationship status and made comments about me that made me feel very uncomfortable. As a person, who tends to freeze up in these types of situations, I didn’t know how to get free of him and ended up feeling stuck there as he continually tried to manipulate me into buying his product. After about fifteen minutes of me standing there uncomfortably as he made these comments and bartered with me, I was finally able to get away. It was a very awkward and uncomfortable situation and I avoided that area of the exhibit hall for the rest of the conference in case I ran into him.
- This year there was a vendor selling some kind of shoe insoles. He stood outside his booth and asked women passing by “ladies, what size shoe do you wear?” I witnessed this happen a dozen times. Men would pass by, he asked them to step into the booth, “take a load off.” Women passed by, he asked them their shoe size. It wasn’t immediately obvious what he was selling, and the fact that THAT was his sales tactic with women was just gross. And it clearly made people uncomfortable. My experience has been with male exhibitors and conference center workers who have made sexually inappropriate comments about my gender and appearance. The worst exhibitor is the man with that damn **identifying characteristic** – I have confronted him several times when he’s said things to me and to other women and his replies are repulsive. He embarrasses women and makes us feel uncomfortable and unsafe. Every interaction with him is awful. (Note: I realize the point about the vendor selling insoles is an identifying factor, but I believe the anecdote didn’t make any sense without it).
- Vet vendors better? It’s difficult because vendors provide financial support. Have strict guidelines about conference behavior and kick people out who violate them.
Several conference goers experienced uncomfortable/unsafe situations when travelling between conference locations:
- Walking back to a non-conference hotel a couple times after dark in an unknown city…
- I felt a bit unsafe Sunday night when leaving the convention center after attending several “meet-up/happy hour/mixers” events at the LVH. I knew I would be able to catch a cab at the shuttle drop off because I had seen them lining up another night. The convention center was empty and there were no shuttles running. It wouldn’t discourage me from attending a conference but it would definitely make me rethink attending some evening events if I was travelling alone. I feel like if these types of events are being held at the official conference site hotel the shuttles should run later, for safety reasons. I had no problem taking a cab but a male conference attendee I didn’t know offered to drive me in his car (another person I did not know that was looking for the shuttles accepted his offer despite my offers to let her split my cab). I truly believe he meant no harm and was attempting to be a good Samaritan, but I’m fully on alert to stranger danger, especially in a strange city, regardless of how genuinely kind someone appears. I don’t want to become the subject of a Lifetime movie.
- I took a taxi to attend an alumni gathering that was not accessible my monorail. When the gathering ended I called a taxi & was told it would take a long time because it was a busy period (about 8 pm). I took off walking toward the rail about a mile away. I was walking by myself and a guy in a convertible called out to me and I was actually afraid he was going to come back for me. I went into the first restaurant I passed and had dinner alone at the bar. When I came back out taxis were available again. It felt very scary to be alone on a street I didn’t know in a city I didn’t know and realize that just being female and alone made me a target.
- I’ve only attended one ALA (Chicago), and I’ve only taken one group trip away from the conference center to an off-site location. Part of the reason I didn’t go to any other off-site locations is that I didn’t want to get into a vehicle with a group of strangers. But even going with two other women I knew, I still managed to find myself in a situation where the group of women in the vehicle were being loudly and crudely sexually harassed by men who hadn’t known them before we got into the vehicle.
- A group was invited by a vendor to a movie showing in San Francisco so we took a taxi to their studio but the entrance was in a dark alley so we left. We didn’t feel safe attending the event.
- Cities are randomly unsafe, but I’ve never felt unsafe within the conference. Paranoia ratchets up between venues.
- I will no longer take a taxi by myself and always choose a shuttle even if I have to wait around forever for it…
- I feel more unsafe from the external city neighborhoods in some of the conference locations, than I do from the conference people themselves.
- It hasn’t discouraged me from attending, but it’s definitely discouraged me from venturing out to take advantage of more opportunities that I might’ve had if I wasn’t actually scared for my safety when trying to travel alone. (My two companions weren’t in the same area of librarianship, so we couldn’t always look out for each other — and we shouldn’t have to; we should all have been safe!)
- I wonder if there could be some kind of buddy system for attendees, particularly after-hours. Maybe through the app? I was with a group but had gotten separated from them. I found them again but later my friend and I had to split up to get back to our hotels. I was genuinely nervous about it. She texted me when she was in her room, but if there was a way to find other librarians in the area to walk together, that could be good.
Some instances seemed inappropriate, but the respondent and/or I had difficulty categorizing the situation:
- Pushy conversation focusing on a colleague – “you’re one of the quiet librarians” that would not be derailed by my efforts to deflect the attention. (and, no, I was not aggressive enough)
- Heard about an incident from the victim. They did not feel it was truly “harassment”, and didn’t report it, so I didn’t feel it was my place to report.
- I hate to have a “blame-the-victim” mentality about myself… I wouldn’t say I was “asking” to be harassed, but my harassment came from librarians I was drinking with after-hours. I didn’t experience any worse harassment than if I were in a non-conference situation (like, at a bar). Regardless of context, some people aren’t great at reading a situation when giving sexual advances.
- I experienced a very mild unwanted attention incident — a guy who was much taller than me and therefore a bit intimidating, tried to dance with me while I was happily dancing by myself/ in a group at the pre-party event. I moved away from that space and danced with other people. A while later he did the same thing, and I moved away again, and he didn’t approach again. So I’m wary of really calling this a harassment situation, as he did seem to get the message after my second removal of myself, without any words having to be exchanged. He also wasn’t touching me, just appeared to be trying to approach me through dance and I was not interested in being approached by anyone. My main concern during the experience was that I didn’t recognize him at all and thought he might not be with the librarian group I was with. As I was in a large group that included multiple people I knew, I felt safe, though I did make sure to leave the event with another person before walking back to my hotel alone – just to not be seen leaving the location alone.
Several respondents witnessed inappropriate behavior online:
- While not being yelled at or threatened, I have witnessed speakers being some combination of mocked, ridiculed, or undermined over social media (i.e. Twitter).
- Only felt a little unsafe, and the virtual(ish) stalking was after the conference, but the stalker found me at the conference. Sent me mail (love letter and some other things) to my work place and wanted to go on a date. I blocked the person and stopped responding and he left me alone.
- Online bullying is sometimes a problem. I have been afraid to express opinions about ALA things online for fear of being called things or made an example of.
- While I didn’t experience this at ALA, the Facebook Group ALA ThinkTank spent an inordinate and large discussion thread on getting sex at the ALA conference. Many of my colleagues felt that was beyond inappropriate and left the group. However, I wanted to bring this up because the problem extends beyond the conference itself. I think ALA is treated like a Spring Break vacation. The allure and culture surrounding the lead up to the conference has elements of rape culture among certain individuals. (Note: unlike other stories I gathered from respondents, I actually did witness this one. I did not experience the ALA Think Tank hook-up debacle/scandal in this manner, but I respect this respondent’s point of view and their experience with the incident).
Many mentioned issues with holding the conference in Las Vegas:
- ALA has no business hosting a conference in Vegas
- Please do not choose Las Vegas. The nasty sexual poster ads, and aggressive men handing out fliers for prostitutes on the street are a shameful gauntlet to have to make our way through in order to learn and connect.
- Don’t go back to Vegas
- Vegas was overall an uncomfortable experience. Outside the conference other librarians and I overheard sexual comments about librarians. And we all got quite tired of not being able to walk outside our hotel rooms without seeing something that demeans women and only exploits their images for sexual purposes.
- It made me uncomfortable to see groups of drunken 20+ year olds on the Las Vegas strip, but I don’t hold ALA responsible for my discomfort.
- The nasty men handing out ads for prostitutes on the street. Never have felt so uncomfortable. Does not set the tone for a good day of learning. Please do not return to Las Vegas.
- I do prefer to attend conferences in cities I feel safer navigating – Las Vegas’ long walking distances, and lack of the ability to get a taxi on the strip if you weren’t at the hotel taxi line was discouraging.
- I don’t have a choice about where I go because I’m sent by my company, but if I had a choice I would never return to Vegas again.
- Not holding it in Las Vegas again might help — the place was just crawling with people who didn’t seem to understand boundaries but were not involved in the conference.
- And Really. Having a conference in Vegas?
To elaborate on some of the issues raised above, I’d like to link to the following:
- 20,000 Librarians Walk Into Vegas: Kirsten Cappy talks about the most recent ALA conference in Las Vegas
- The Creepy Librarian Stalker Hypothesis: I’ve linked to this at least twice in this blog’s history. Regarding librarian-on-librarian harassment, it’s worth the re-read.
- Microaggressions in Librarianship: A fairly new Tumblr chock-full of reader-submitted experiences with microaggressions within our profession.
In the following blog posts related to this topic, I’ll be sharing the less-than-kind survey responses I received, as well as what I believe are the next logical steps for ALA, the Code of Conduct, and librarian conferences in general.
Thanks for reading.
~Love and Libraries, Ingrid