Posts Tagged 'LGBT'

For the love of baby unicorns: My Code4Lib 2018 Keynote

I was honored to give a keynote at the 2018 Code4Lib conference on February 14. The livestream is already available (keynote starts at 1:26, and the conference hashtag was hopping.

First, a confession, I am not a big fan of keynotes in general — the whole idea that one person would stand in front of the group and spew some special wisdom and/or inspiration to the crowd is a little too sage on the stage for me. And I feel especially self-conscious in front of this crowd, since I have never coded for libraries. In fact, the last time I wrote anything resembling code was 15 years ago and it was SPSS code to run statistical analyses on my dissertation data. I’ve never coded for libraries, and I’m pretty sure my current career trajectory means I never will … and we can probably all be grateful for that.

So, I’m not a big fan of the whole keynote thing and I have virtually no expertise or experience in the kind of work most of you do. But, the fact that you all pick your keynote speakers via community voting tells me that some critical mass of code4libbers must want to hear something from me. Plus, I figure we have to support democracy wherever we find it these days.

But I’ve struggled a bit about what I could talk about it — my approach to keynotes is to try to figure what I might be able to bring to the specific audience that they might not get from each other or from some other speaker they might have selected.

But ever since I got to MIT, that means folks expect me to explain gravitational waves or quantum physics of artificial intelligence. And I’m willing to fake it in a room full of my fellow directors, but I won’t try that here.

Or maybe you want to hear me tell you about how MIT Libraries is going to build an “open global platform” of abundant, equitable, interactive access to information — but to be honest, I can only talk about it as a metaphor.

Its my colleagues Heather Yager, Helen Bailey, Matt Bernhardt, Osman Din, Mike Graves, Jeremy Prevost, Richard Rodgers, Andromeda Yelton and Solh Zendeh are actually going to do the building and can talk about it. Heather is MIT’s AD for Digital Library Services, and the rest of those awesome folks are our Digital Library Engineering Team — oh and by the way, we are hiring a Department Head for that team, and I’m especially keen on increasing the number of people of color and white women in library tech, so if you or someone you know might be interested, let me know.

Anyway, I do have some things to say, because what I came up with is that I do bring to librarianship a sociological lens and a feminist perspective, and I have done a few talks on bias in technology and lack of diversity and equity in libraries.  And it is tempting to give a ranty ALL CAPS keynote about all the problems of lack of diversity in tech and lack of progress on creating welcoming and inclusive cultures, but I’ve done that; and plenty of other people have as well.

Plus, I just came from the ALA midwinter conference, and my friend Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Junot Diaz, who was one of the headline speakers, did the ranty thing way better than I could.

And girl howdy, he did not hold back. For example – he implored us to recognize that “A profession that is 88% white means 5000% agony for people of color, no matter how liberal and enlightened you think you are.” He also said we need to have “a fucking reckoning” about the pain we cause, and that we need to do some hard work on decolonizing our organizations and our professions. And y’all, he ain’t wrong, and what goes for libraries, goes for library tech too. But I figure y’all already know that, or if you don’t then another liberal white lady, even an obviously queer one like me, preaching repentance one more time is not going to make much difference.

I feel like we have been talking for a very long time about lack of diversity in tech, and in library tech, and we’ve critiqued the culture and we’ve adopted codes of conduct (yay), and we do better at getting diversity in our speaker line-ups …  progress has been made, but not nearly enough; not on gender, not on race, not on creating truly inclusive cultures in library tech where members of marginalized groups are recruited, retained, mentored, promoted, and genuinely provided with equitable opportunities to contribute, thrive and lead.

And from what I understand, code4lib is actually a community that does many things right. In this community, people feel included, they feel safe/r, sexism, racism, transphobia, ableism and the like are not tolerated. In fact, I sense that many folks from marginalized groups consider the code4lib community and conference to be a kind of haven. And that’s great, except that it isn’t ok that folks need a haven from their own work organizations.

So I thought instead of a ranty keynote with lots of examples of the problems, I would share some solutions — some from recent research I’ve been reading, some are based on stories I’ve heard, and some of what I’ll say is just me trying to use the privilege I have as a library director to say some things that others maybe don’t feel as safe saying, or don’t have access to the kind of platforms I do for saying it.

I’m going to start with the assumption that we all agree that lack of diversity is a problem, and that we want cultures that are welcoming and inclusive.

And I should also throw in the caveat that there will be things I say that are primarily meant for the white guys in the room. For some of you, this may feel a bit like preaching to the choir, but I hope instead that it feels like equipping the choir.

Also, I’m focusing primarily on inclusive cultures, because as much as we want to throw our hands up and claim diversity is a pipeline problem, the retention data tells us that we have problems with toxic work cultures and unfair practices driving women and/or people of color and/or LGBTQ folks out of tech as well. I highly recommend a report I just read called the Tech Leavers Study, put out by the Kapor Center for Social Impact. The report contains some really sobering stats on the degree to which unfair treatment, discrimination, stereotyping and bullying in the workplace are the reasons why people from marginalized groups leave tech work:

  • among people who leave tech jobs, unfairness or mistreatment is the leading reason; people are 2x more likely to leave because of unfairness or mistreatment than because they have been recruited by a better opportunity
  • women of all backgrounds experience & observed significantly more unfair treatment than men
  • LGBTQ employees were most likely to report bullying, and to experience public humiliation and embarrassment
  • In short, unfairness, discrimination, and crappy treatment drives turnover; and it suck more for underrepresented people of color and LGBTQ folks
  • AND 57% of folks who left tech would have stayed if their prior employer had addressed workplace environment and had created a more fair and inclusive culture.

So lets dig in and talk about things we can actually do to improve those cultures, and move the needle on diversity and inclusion.

There are individual things we can do, workgroup things we can do, and leadership things.

At the individual level, it is actually not enough to simply not be a blatantly racist, sexist, homophobic jerk. That’s a start, but it is not enough.

The more subtle forms of stereotyping, discrimination, and harassment take their toll, and are shown to lead to lower retention in tech jobs for marginalized folks.

One thing men can do, and white people can do in mixed race interactions, is stop mansplaining, and stop whitesplaining. Just stop.

Stop doing it in person, and stop doing it online. What I mean is simply this — if you have some power and privilege in a situation (and if you are white and/or a dude, chances are you do have some privilege; if you are a white dude, you definitely have power and privilege), then for the love of baby unicorns please refrain from giving your unsolicited advice and opinions to others. Practice some restraint. Just try to sit on your hands for a minute and entertain the idea that maybe you don’t have to jump in.

Don’t be the guy who reads the blurb for Safiya Nobles’ new book Algorithms of Oppression and decides on the basis of a couple of hasty google searches that her research is faulty, that he has proven it, and that he needs to inform twitter.

And don’t be the guy who responded to the article Bess Sadler and I wrote about Feminism and the Future of Library Discovery a few years ago by tweeting that only people who don’t know anything about building search tools would write an article like that. Those of you who know Bess know that she knows a thing or two about building search tools, and has spent a minute or two actually doing exactly that.

I’m sure it often feels like other people really need to hear what you have to say about a topic, but if you are a white guy I’m going to ask that you consider all the evidence we have about how women and/or people of color are talked over, ignored, and shut out of conversations; and think about the fact that the airtime you take up may be the airtime that could have gone to a woman and/or a person of color; and maybe you could just decide you don’t have to weigh in on everything. and you definitely don’t have to explain things to women and/or other marginalized peoples.

But what you can do, and research shows that this works to break down stereotypes, is to publicly vouch for the people you work with who are members of a marginalized group. This is something anyone in leadership or other positions of power can and should do, and it is something men can do for women colleagues and something white folks can do for colleagues of color. Vouching for someone means you talk up their accomplishments and skills, especially in a group setting that is predominantly male and/or white. Use your power and privilege to vouch for others. It is the opposite of mansplaining.

Vouching for someone might look like this “Hey Tom, have you met my colleague Safiya? She is an expert on algorithmic bias in search engines, and has just published a book based on years of research” or “This is Bess, she has tons of experience in developing open source search tools, and was instrumental in the initial development of Blacklight.”

Another thing individuals can do to improve the culture and make tech more inclusive and welcoming is to be an active bystander and ally. If you see something, say something. If other men are talking over women, jump in and say “Hold on dude, I really want to hear what Cathy was saying.” If a white person repeats something a person of color said and is getting credit for it, say “That sounds a lot like the idea Bergis suggested. I would really like to hear more about it from Bergis.”

There are some things we can do in our workgroups too.

Just like all politics is local, all culture is local.

Or at least, lots of the visible manifestations of culture are local. There is research that shows that workplaces that are plastered with stereotypically “tech or nerd guy” cultural images – think Star Trek – have negative impact on women’s likelihood of pursuing tech work and of staying in tech work in general or in that particular work environment. Replace the Star Trek posters with travel posters, don’t name your projects or your printers or your domains after only male figures from Greek mythology, and just generally avoid geek references and inside nerd jokes.  Those kinds of things reinforces the stereotypes about who does tech; and that stereotype is the male nerd stereotype.

I also want to urge you all to pay attention to the kinds of informal socializing you do at work and in those liminal spaces that are work/social – if all the guys go to lunch together and not the women; then maybe stop doing that. And if the guys go to lunch and talk about women, then really, really, really stop doing that.

If there’s a core group of guys who go out for beers after work just because you’re all friends, that’s kind of OK; but if you also talk about work and make decisions then it is definitely not OK.

Be more aware. Be accountable to each other for being inclusive. And if you keep inviting people and they keep saying no, don’t keep inviting them and expecting them to suddenly say yes, and don’t shrug it off and say you tried; try something else instead. Try asking whether there is something else more folks would want to do. Consider that there might be a better time for informal team building that would work for everyone. And if the idea of giving up your beer time with your buddies seems like a bridge too far … then at least admit that might mean that you value your all-dude happy hour more than you value an inclusive work culture.

So now that I’ve told you to give up your Star Wars posters and your bro-time; the rest of this – the organizational level suggestions — are going to seem easy.

At the organizational level, a recent report from the Kapor Center for Social Impact called the Tech Leavers Study found that individual diversity and inclusion initiatives are not nearly as effective at increasing the retention of women and/or people of color and/or LGBTQ folks in tech as a comprehensive, integrated approach.

A comprehensive approach includes:

  • Top level commitment to D&I, including stated values and goals, and an approach that treats diversity as a strength – leadership needs to truly understand that diversity isn’t just nice to have, diverse teams are better, more effective teams.
  • Training in a range of topics, including unconscious bias training, bystander intervention, understanding micro-aggressions, preventing sexual harassment, how to be a trans ally, etc.
  • A commitment to gathering data, and looking at the data. All kinds of data — Hiring data, retention data, internal promotion data, and survey data designed to uncover feelings of inclusive or exclusion across demographic groups.
  • Developing and maintaining confidential channels of communication so that issues of bias and discrimination can be expressed and handled.
  • Commiting to auditing management practices – hiring, promotion, compensation, and internal work assignments.

 

One of the really, really important findings about diversity initiatives is that training alone is not very effective. In fact, in some circumstances, unconscious bias training alone can backfire – because white folks get resentful, and marginalized folks are put in the spotlight and scrutinized.

OK, so I’ve made lot of suggestions, and I didn’t put any of it on slides; so let me summarize, plus I promise to send the text, with links to some of the studies I cited by end of the week.

So to sum up, if you really want more inclusive library tech:

  • Instead of mansplaining, vouch for women and people of color, and use your privilege to intervene when you witness micro aggressions and silencing
  • Pay attention to small group culture – ditch the Trekkie posters and such, and be intentionally inclusive in social activities
  • Take a comprehensive approach to diversity & inclusion that goes beyond 1 shot training and includes clear leadership, data, accountability, and communication channels
  • And I’ll suggest, monitor progress on diversity and inclusion the way you would monitor progress on any technical system or technology project. Check progress regularly, pay attention to data, and be transparent.

I’m actually really excited about the potential for new library technologies and technical approaches that will empower users, open up access to more collections, and allow for transformative uses of library content. But if we don’t make a commitment to progress on our diversity and inclusion challenges, then I really believe that the tools and technologies we create will not be as good or as useful to the range of users and uses we should be serving.

I dislike traditional Q&A’s almost as much as I dislike traditional keynotes. So if anything I said inspires a thoughtful comment, go ahead – I don’t need to stand up here and be the person with all the answers. And if you want to ask a question entirely unrelated to what I talked about, go for it.

The only thing I ask is that we make sure that women, people of color, all the queers, and other marginalized folks who want to speak get the first shot at the mic.

 

On Orlando and my first tattoo

I sent this email to all the MIT Libraries’ staff today.

Friends,

This weekend, I made my first trip to Provincetown. I lived in the Bay Area of California for nearly 20 years, and I’ve been to the famous Castro district of SF many, many times. I have been to countless Gay Pride parades, and I’ve even been to my share of gay bars and nightclubs. But in between being in those spaces, I tend to forget how it feels to be in a place where there are other women who look like me, where Diane and I can hold hands in public without a second thought, and where the full diversity of the LGBTQ community is celebrated. Walking around P-town on Saturday felt unexpectedly nurturing and empowering.We ate well, we walked on the beach, we shopped. I bought a “Love conquers Hate” t-shirt for a friend’s toddler.

Then on Sunday morning I woke to the news that 49 people were murdered and dozens more injured at a gay nightclub in Orlando FL. Most of the victims were Latinx members of the LGBTQ community for whom gay nightclubs like Pulse served as safe havens in a world still plagued by homophobia and racism. Suddenly, being in one of the most gay-friendly cities in the country felt simultaneously comforting and absolutely terrifying. Since hearing the news, I have cycled through feelings of sadness, horror, fear, and rage.

I have also been touched by stories of incredible courage, compassion, and love. I am willing myself to believe the t-shirt slogan – I want to trust that Love conquers Hate. Sunday afternoon, I decided to go ahead and get the peace symbol tattoo I’ve been thinking about for years; but decided to get it in the rainbow colors of the Pride flag. It is on my forearm, where I can see it; because I know that I need to remind myself to sow peace in the face of conflict, to practice love in spite of hate.

I wish there were words I could share that would make this latest tragedy easier to deal with; but I don’t think there are any. I do know that being kind and gentle and loving to ourselves and to each other feels all the more important right now. So the best I can do is encourage us all to practice extra acts of kindness – random and intentional – in the coming days and weeks.

As always, I am honored to be part of this organization and to count you all as my colleagues.

Peace to you all,

Chris

 

Never neutral: Libraries, technology, and inclusion

Below is the text from the OLITA Spotlight talk I gave at the OLA Super Conference (#olasc15).

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I want to acknowledge from the outset that this talk has been heavily influenced by a number of people who have shared their work and their thoughts with me over the years. I’ve been privileged to learn from them, in some cases formally through their publications and in some cases through conversations on twitter or even in person. These aren’t the only folks whose work and thinking influences me, but they are the key people I think of when I think of critical work on the intersections of libraries, technology, higher education and social justice.  These are their names – a mix of students, librarians, scholars, and technologists. Again, this is not a comprehensive list of the people whose work inspires me, but they are my top 7 right now on these topics.

Let me also acknowledge that I’m well aware that the fact that I am a white woman working at an elite private US university gives me access to a platform like this one to talk about issues of bias and exclusion in libraries and technology. But there are plenty of folks who have been and continue to talk about and write about these issues, with far more insight and eloquence than I can, but who don’t get invitations like this for a variety of reasons. And the sad truth is that what I say, as an associate director at Stanford Libraries or as Director of MIT Libraries, often gets more attention than it deserves because of my title; while folks with less impressive titles and less privilege have been talking & thinking about some of these issues for longer than me and have insights that we all need to hear.

So next time you are looking for a speaker, please consider one of the names listed above.

If you read the blurb describing this talk, you know that a fundamental tenet that undergirds this talk, and frankly undergirds much of the work I have done in and for libraries, is the simple assertion that libraries are not now nor have they ever been merely neutral repositories of information. In fact, I’m personally not sure “neutral” is really possible in any of our social institutions … I think of neutral as really nothing more than a gear in your car.

Title slide for Never Neutral talk

Title slide for Never Neutral talk

But what I mean when I say libraries are not neutral is not just that that libraries absorb and reflect the inequalities, biases, ethnocentrism, and power imbalances that exist throughout our host societies and (for those of us who work in academic libraries) within higher education.

I mean that libraries are not neutral in a more direct and active way.

For an exceptionally compelling take on libraries as not just not neutral, but as instruments themselves of institutional oppression, please read “Locating the Library in Institutional Oppression” by my friend and colleague nina de jesus.

nina argues that “Libraries as institutions were created not only for a specific ideological purpose, but for an ideology that is fundamentally oppressive in nature.” It is a bold argument, convincingly made; and I urge you to read it. As a bonus, the article itself is Open Access and nina elected to use only Open Access sources in writing it.

So I start with the premise that it isn’t just that libraries aren’t perfectly equitable or neutral because we live in a society that still suffers from racism, sexism. ableism, transphobia and other forms of bias and inequity; but libraries also fail to achieve any mythical state of neutrality because we contribute to bias and inequality in scholarship, and publishing, and information access.

Let me step back for a minute and own up to a few of my own biases – my library career thus far has been solely and squarely within large academic libraries; so my perspective, my examples, and my concerns come out of that experience and are likely most relevant to that sector of libraries. But, I hope we can have a conversation at the end of my talk about what the differences and similarities might be between the way these issues play out in large academic libraries and the way they play out in all kinds and sizes of libraries. I’m also definitely speaking from an American perspective, and I look forward to hearing where and how cultural differences intersect with the ideas I’ll talk about.

OK – so libraries are not neutral because we exist within societies and systems that are not neutral. But above and beyond that, libraries also contribute to certain kinds of inequalities because of the way in which we exercise influence over the diversity (or lack thereof) of information we make available to our communities and the methods by which we provide access to that information.

I have a whole other talk that I’ve given on how the collection development decisions we make impact not just how inclusive or not our own collections are, but also what kinds of books and authors and topics get published. The short version of that talk is that when we base our purchasing decisions on circulation and popularity, we eliminate a big part of the market for niche topics and underrepresented authors. That is bad for libraries, bad for publishing, and bad for society. But that’s another talk. This talk is about library technologies.

But before we get into technology per se., I think a word about our classification systems is necessary, because the choices we make about how our technologies handle metadata and catalog records have consequences for how existing biases and exclusions get perpetuated from our traditional library systems into our new digital libraries.

Many of you are likely well aware of the biases present in library classification systems.
Hope Olson – one of the heroes of feminist and critical thinking in library science – has done considerable work on applying critical feminist approaches to knowledge organization to demonstrate the ways in which libraries exert control over how books and other scholarly items are organized and therefore how, when, and by whom they are discoverable.

Our classification schemes — whether Dewey Decimal  or Library of Congress — are hierarchical, which leads to the marginalization of certain kinds of knowledge and certain topics by creating separate sub-classifications for topics such as “women and computers” or “black literature”.

Let me give a couple of examples of the effects of this.

3 books about gays in military

Call numbers matter

The power of library classification systems is such that a scholar browsing the shelves for books on military history is unlikely to encounter Randy Shilts’ seminal work Conduct Unbecoming: Gays & Lesbians in the US Military, because that book has been given a call number corresponding to “Minorities, women, etc. in armed forces”.  In my own library at Stanford University, that means the definitive work on the history of gays and lesbians serving in the armed forces is literally shelved between Secrets of a Gay Marine Porn Star and Military Trade — a collection of stories by people with a passion for military men.  Now I’m not saying we shouldn’t have books about gay military porn stars or about those who love men in uniform. I am saying that there is nothing neutral about the fact that the history of gay & lesbian service members is categorized alongside these titles, while the history of “ordinary soldiers” (that’s from an actual book title) is shelved under “United States, History – Military.”

Another example is one I learned of from my friend and colleague Myrna Morales, and you can read about it in an article I co-authored with her and Em Claire Knowles. In that article, Myrna writes about her experience doing research for her undergraduate thesis on the Puerto Rican political activism that took place in NYC in the 1960s, with a special interest in the Young Lords Party.

Here is how Myrna described her experience:

I first searched for the YLP with the subject heading “organizations,” subheading “political organization,” in the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature. Here I found no mention of the YLP. I was surprised, as I had known the YLP to be a prominent political organization—one that addressed political disenfranchisement, government neglect, and poverty. A (twisted) gut feeling told me to look under the subject heading of “gangs.” There it was—Young Lords Party. This experience changed my view of the library system, from one impervious to subjectivity and oppression to one that hid within the rhetoric of neutrality while continuing to uphold systemic injustices.

I suspect that this kind of experience is all too common for people of color and other marginalized people who attempt to use the resources we provide. I’ll go so far as to wonder if these sorts of experiences aren’t at least partially responsible for the incredibly low proportion of people of color who pursue careers in librarianship.

So our traditional practices and technologies are not neutral, and without active intervention we end up with collections that lack diversity and we end up classifying and arranging our content in ways that further marginalizes works by and about people of color, queer people, indigenous peoples, and others who don’t fit neatly into a classification system that sets the default as the as western, white, straight, and male.

Of course, the promise of technology is that we no longer need rely on arcane cataloging rules and browsing real library stacks to discover and access relevant information. With the advent of online catalogs and search engines, books and other information items can occupy multiple “places” in a library or collection.

But despite the democratizing promise of technology, our digital libraries are no more capable of neutrality than our traditional libraries; and the digital tools we build and provide are likely to reflect and perpetuate stereotypes, biases, and inequalities unless we engage in conscious acts of resistance.

Now when most people talk about bias in tech generally or in library technology, we talk about either the dismal demographics that show that white women and people of color are way underrepresented in technology, or we talk about the generally misogynistic and racist and homophobic culture of technology; or we talk about both demographics and culture and how they are mutually reinforcing. What we talk about less often is this notion that the technology itself is biased – often gendered and/or racist, frequently ableist, and almost always developed with built in assumptions about binary gender categories.

For some folks, the idea that technologies themselves can be gendered, or can reflect racially based and/or other forms of bias is pretty abstract. So let me give a few examples.

Most librarians will agree that commercial search engines are not “neutral” in the sense that commercial interests and promoted content can and do impact relevancy. Or, as my colleague Bess Sadler says, the idea of neutral relevance is an oxymoron.

Safiya Noble’s work demonstrates how the non-neutrality of commercial search engines reinforce and perpetuate stereotypes, despite the fact that many assume the “algorithm” is neutral.

What Noble’s analysis of Google shows us is that Google’s algorithm reinforces the sexualization of women, especially black and Latina women. Because of Google’s “neutral” reliance on popularity, page rank, and promoted content, the results for searches for information on black girls or Latina girls are dominated by links to pornography and other sexualized content. Noble suggests that users “Try Google searches on every variation you can think of for women’s and girls’ identities and you will see many of the ways in which commercial interests have subverted a diverse (or realistic) range of representations.”

Search technologies are not neutral – just as basing collection development decisions on popularity ensures that our collections reflect existing biases and inequalities, so too does basing relevancy ranking within our search products on popularity ensure the same biases persist in an online environment.

But it isn’t just search engines. In an article called “Teaching the Camera to see my skin”, photographer Syreeta McFadden describes how color film and other photographic technologies were developed around trying to measure the image against white skin. Because the default settings for everything from film stock to lighting to shutter speed were and are designed to best capture white faces; it is difficult to take photos of non-white faces that will be accurately rendered without performing post-image adjustments that sacrifice the sharpness and glossy polish that is readily apparent in photos of white faces.

Teaching the camera to see my skin

Teaching the camera to see my skin

Finally, in an example of a technology that betrays its lack of neutrality by what it ignores, Apple’s recently released health app allows users to track a seemingly endless array of health and fitness related information on their iPhone. But strangely, Apple’s health app did not include a feature for tracking menstrual cycles – an important piece of health data for a huge percentage of the population. As one critic noted, Apple insists that all iPhone uses have an app to track Stock prices – you can’t delete that one from your phone — but fails to provide an option for tracking menstrual cycles in its “comprehensive” health tracking application.

I hope these examples demonstrate that technology does not exist as neutral artifacts and tools that might sometimes get used in oppressive and exclusionary ways. Rather, technology itself has baked-in biases that perpetuate existing inequalities and exclusions, and that reinforce stereotypes.

So how do we intervene, how do we engage in acts of resistance to create more inclusive, less biased technologies?

Note that I don’t think we can make completely neutral technologies … but I do think we can do better.

One way we might do better is simply by being aware and by asking the questions that the great black feminist thinkers taught us to ask:

Who is missing?

Whose experience is being centered?

Many, many folks argued – rather convincingly to my mind – that the dearth of women working at Apple may have contributed to the company’s ability to overlook the need for menstrual cycle tracking in its health app.

So we might also work on recruiting and retaining more white women and people of color into library technology teams and jobs. There is much good work being done on trying to increase the diversity of the pipeline of people coming into technology – Black Girls Code and the Ada Initiative are examples of excellent work of this type.

I also think the adoption of strong codes of conduct at conferences like this one and other library and technology events make professional development opportunities more welcoming and potentially safer for all – and I think those are important steps in the right direction.

But in the end, one of the biggest issues we need to address if we truly want a more diverse set of people developing the technologies we use is the existence of a prevailing stereotype about who the typical tech worker is.

I want to turn now to some research on how stereotypes about who does technology, and who is good at it, affect how interested different kinds of people are in pursuing technology related fields of study, how well people expect they will perform at tech tasks, and how well people already working in tech feel they fit in, and how likely they are to stay in tech fields.

First a definition – Stereotypes are widely shared cultural beliefs about categories of people and social roles. The insidious thing about stereotypes is that even if we personally don’t subscribe to a particular stereotype, just knowing that a stereotype exists can affect our behavior.

Second, a caution – much of this research focuses on gender, to the exclusion of intersecting social identities such as race, sexuality, or gender identity. The research that talks about “women’s” behavior and attitudes towards technology is usually based on straight white women .. so keep that in mind, and recognize that much more research is needed to capture the full range of experiences that marginalized people have with and in technology.

That said, there is a huge body of research documenting the effect of negative stereotypes about women’s math and science abilities. These kinds of stereotypes lead to discriminatory decision making that obstructs women’s entry into and advancement in science and technology jobs. Moreover, negative stereotypes about women and math affects women’s own self-assessment of their skill level, interest, and suitability for science and technology jobs.

Barbie "Math is hard"

Barbie “Math is hard”

In a not yet published research study of men and women working in Silicon Valley technology firms, Stanford sociologists Alison Wynn and Shelley Correll looked at the impact of how well tech workers felt they matched the cultural traits of a successful tech worker on a number of outcomes.

First they developed a composite scale based on how tech employees, men and women, described successful tech workers. The stereotype that emerged was masculine, obsessive, assertive, cool, geeky, young, and working long hours.

Their data show that women tech workers are significantly less likely than their male counterparts to view themselves as fitting the cultural image of a successful tech worker.  While that may not be a surprising finding, their research goes on to show that the sense of not fitting the cultural image has consequences.

Because women are less likely to feel they fit the image of a successful tech worker, they are less likely to identify with the tech field, more likely to consider leaving the tech field for another career, and less likely to report positive treatment from their supervisors.

The bottom line is that cultural fit matters – not just in the pipeline, as women decide whether to major in STEM fields or to pursue tech jobs – but also among women who are currently working in technology. In other words, stereotypes about tech work and tech workers continue to hinder women even after they have entered tech careers. If we want to ensure that our technologies are built by diverse and inclusive groups of people, we have to find ways to break down the stereotypes and cultural images associated with tech work.

How do we do that?

If we want to look to success stories, Carnegie Mellon University is a good example. At Carnegie Mellon they increased the percentage of women majoring in computer science from 7% in 1995 to 42% in 2000 by explicitly trying to change the cultural image of computer scientists. Faculty were encouraged to discuss multiple ways to be a computer scientist and to emphasize the real world applications of computer science and how computer science connects to other disciplines. They also offered computer science classes that explicitly stated that no prerequisites in math or computer science were required.

For libraries, we can talk about multiple ways to be a library technologist, and we can emphasize the value of a wide variety of skills in working on library tech projects – metadata skills, user experience skills, design skills. We can provide staff with opportunities to gain tech skills in low-threat environments and in environments where white women and people of color are less likely to feel culturally alienated.

RailsBridge workshops and AdaCamps seem like good fits here, and I’d like to see more library administrators encouraging staff from across their org’s to attend such training. At Stanford, my colleagues Bess Sadler and Cathy Aster started basic tech training workshops for women on the digital libraries’ staff who were doing tech work like scanning, but who didn’t see themselves as tech workers. Providing the opportunity to learn and ask questions, in a safe environment away from their supervisors and male co-workers gave these women skills and confidence that enhanced their work and the work of their groups.

Another simple way we can make progress within our own organizations is to pay attention to the physical markers of culture.

In a fascinating experimental study, psychologist Sapna Cheryan and colleagues found that women who enter a computer science environment that is decorated with objects stereotypically associated with the field – such as Star Trek posters — are less likely to consider pursuing computer science than women who enter a computer science environment with non-stereotypical objects — such as nature or travel posters. These results held even when the proportion of women in the environment was equal across the two differently decorated settings.

We need to pay attention to the computer labs and maker spaces in our libraries, and we need to pay attention to physical work environments our technical staff work in. By simply ensuring that these environments aren’t plastered with images and objects associated with the stereotypes about “tech guys”, we will remove one of the impediments to women’s sense of cultural fit.

So let me try to sum up here.

I’ve argued that like libraries, technology is never neutral. I’ve offered examples from search engines to photography to Apple’s health tracking app.

I’ve talked about how the pervasive stereotypes about who does tech work limit women’s participation in tech fields, through both supply and demand side mechanisms.

The stereotypes about tech workers also contain assumptions about race and sexuality in the US context, in that the stereotypical tech guy is white (or Asian) and straight. Sadly, there is significantly less research on the effect of those stereotypes on black and Latino men and women and queer people who are also vastly underrepresented in technology work.

Let me offer some parting thoughts on how we might make progress.

To borrow from the conference theme, we need to think and we need to do.

We need to think about the technology we use in our libraries, and ask where and how it falls short of being inclusive. Whose experiences and preferences are privileged in the user design? Whose experiences are marginalized? Then we need to do what we can to push for more inclusive technology experiences. We likewise need to be transparent with our patrons about how the technology works and where and how the biases built into that technology might affect their experience. The folks who do work in critical information literacy provide great models for this.

We should think about how libraries and library staff reinforces stereotypes about technology and technology work. Subtle changes can make a difference. We should drop the term “tech guy” from our vocabulary and we should ditch the Star Trek posters. I’d like to see more libraries provide training and multiple paths for staff to develop tech skills and to become involved in technology projects. We need to pay attention to the demographics and to the culture – and remember that they are mutually reinforcing.

We also need to remember that we aren’t striving for neutral, and we aren’t aiming for perfectly equitable and inclusive technology.

While neutral technologies are not possible – or necessarily desirable – I believe that an awareness of the ways in which technology embodies and perpetuates existing biases and inequalities will help us make changes that move us towards more inclusive and equitable technologies.

my queer butch playlist

My buddy ButchWonders recently posted 20 Songs that Make Me Feel Butch, and it is a great list … but nothing really resonated.

She challenged me to come up with my own list, and I came up with a few before I realized something important. Ever since I got my truck, which is where I listen to most of my music these days, every song makes me feel butch. When I’m driving along in my pick-up truck, looking like I do … I could be singing along to The Spice Girls* and I’d still feel butch.

That said, there are some songs that are queer/butch/genderqueer anthems for me:

The entire Transgender Dysphoria Blues CD by Against Me! is in a class by itself on this list, with the title cut and Black Me Out as my 2 favorites.

The rest in no particular order:

LucyStoners by Amy Ray
Lola by The Kinks
Turn the Page by Bob Seger
Dude Looks like a Lady by Aerosmith
King for a Day by Green Day
Walk on the Wild Side by Lou Reed
Rebel, Rebel by David Bowie
Androgynous by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts

Other great genderqueer song suggestions most welcome.

(* Thanks to Suzy for The Spice Girls suggestion)

Get ready for #Mad4Equality

I’ve hosted March Madness tournaments here before, but this year I’m super excited to team up with ButchWonders, Bess Sadler, and the Campaign for Southern Equality to organize a bracket challenge to raise money for marraige equality.

The basic details are described at Announcing … Mad for Equality! We are planning on a $10 per bracket entry fee, with 1/3 of the pot going to the winner(s), 1/3 to Campaign for Southern Equality, and 1/3 to another LGBT equality charity to be determined by popular vote. So — head over to Butch Wonders and nominate your favorite charity.

As noted on ButchWonders, you really don’t need to know anything about basketball to enter. In fact, we plan to provide some sort of recognition for the the most creative “themed” brackets — so you libranian types might want to come up with something a bit more clever than the All-HathiTrust bracket (Just Kidding — that was awesome!).

The tournament field will be announced on Monday, March 18; and brackets will be due before the First Round games start on Saturday, March 23. Note that we are running this bracket challenge for the regular tournament only. If there is enough interest, we might expand to include the Men’s tournament (see what I did there?).

Stay tuned for details about how to pay your $10 and enter your bracket(s). If you are on Twitter, you can follow along via hashtag #Mad4Equality.

Krzyzewskiville sign

I love my Cardinal women, but Cameron Indoor Stadium will always be my hoops mecca

And Go Cardinal, Go Blue Devils!

(In my ideal tournament, Stanford meets Duke in the Championship Game; which goes to 10 overtimes, forcing the NCAA to declare Co-Champions.)

There is no such thing as a dressy baseball cap

Unless you are Hillary Clinton; no baseball caps with suits, please. (From mediamatters.org)

Unless you are Hillary Clinton; no baseball caps with suits, please. (From mediamatters.org)

My buddy ButchWonders does a monthly round-up of interesting search terms, and it is always pretty amusing. Here at Feral Librarian, the vast majority of search terms used by folks who wind up here are pretty mundane: “academic libraries”, “is google making us stupid”, “harvard library transition”, “what is browsing”, “feral librarian”, etc.

But my What does Suit Up mean for this butch? and my Suit Up: Some free advice on interviewing for a librarian job posts have drawn in some folks with unusual search terms this year. For your amusement, here are some of my personal favorites, along with my responses:

  1. what’s a dressy baseball cap to wear with a suit?: A bad idea.
  2. men’s white dress pants in charleston: Yes, you will see them. Ignore them. It’s a southern thing.
  3. what shall a butch wear for a party: A butch shall wear whatever attire matches her style and the occasion. She shall also RSVP promptly, she shall bring a host/hostess gift, and she shall definitely write a thank you note afterwards.
  4. grey and orange suit: Doesn’t sound good. Especially without a dressy baseball cap.
  5. how to dress professionally for queer women: A nice business suit is fine, but most of the queer women I know prefer that you dress casually for us.
  6. “wearing a men’s suit” my husband: Plenty of husbands wear men’s suits. I wouldn’t worry about it. Just hide his baseball caps on the days he will be wearing a suit.
  7. black with orange tie suits for men: Only OK in October, either on the 31st and/or when the Giants are playing.

Post-Gender-Mistake Etiquette: Friendly Advice From Women Who are Often Called “Sir”

My buddy Butch Wonders and I co-authored this piece offering our advice on what to do after making a Gender Mistake (believe it or not, you can actually write a whole dissertation about Gender Mistakes).

Things to do after you make a mistake about someone’s gender:

  1. Just say, “Oops, sorry,” and move on like it is no big deal. Because it really isn’t. It’s happened to us before, and we won’t hold a grudge. Promise.

We’d love to end this post here, but unfortunately, personal experience suggests that a second list is warranted.

Things NOT to do after you make a mistake about someone’s gender:

  1. Do not blame the other person. Do not say that our hair or clothes are “confusing” or point out that we are “dressed like a man.” Doing so is embarrassing for you and annoying for us.
  2. Do not overapologize (hint: more than two apologies qualifies as “overapologizing”). We realize that our self-presentation is not gender typical, and don’t think you’re nuts or a jerk for making the mistake.
  3. Do not use it as an excuse to tell us how much you support gay rights or trans rights, or about all the friends you have who are trans and/or gay. This takes a relatively innocuous situation and douses it with awkwardness juice.

There’s more … including some advice based on actual encounters, and a wonderful video about “little titties.” Please head on over to Butch Wonders to read the whole thing.

A personal note on the repeal of DADT

I posted an early version of this on Facebook back in December when the official announcement was made that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell would be repealed. It may seem off-topic for this blog, but I figure y’all can deal.

In the early days of DADT, I was an active-duty Captain on the faculty at West Point. I had the honor of knowing cadets with the courage and integrity to reject the inherent hypocrisy of a policy that required them to lie. Some of them were kicked out of the academy for abiding by the Cadet Honor Code (“A cadet will not lie, cheat, or steal.”). Some were punished for telling the truth. Watching them struggle do the right thing in an impossible situation (and at an impossibly young age), gave me the courage to finally be honest with myself about my own sexuality. I’m sadly not in touch with any of them anymore, but I think of them often and their courage, integrity, and strength continue to inspire me. Jenn, Holly, Megan, and the kid with the secret tongue piercing whose name I forget (and many others)– today is your day. Thank you.


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