It seems like every ALA we have a controversy blow up … and over. Last time it was the case of the librarian rawk stars (love me or hate me, that is the question). At Anaheim it was the role of the council and its resolution on wikileaks. In 2010 it was why Emerging Leaders all suck and the program was a sham (bitter much). This year’s controversy started with a less than appropriate post on the ALA Think Tank Facebook page about hooking up at conferences (if you have to ask if it’s ok, then the answer is probably no), which turned into a name calling sh&*t storm with hurt feelings, people leaving the Think Tank page, and the migration of the whole argument onto Twitter. Le sigh.
Before we get too far, though, I need to tell a little story. I went through a hostile work situation during my graduate studies in political science, a notoriously male dominated field. A few people were accused of creating a hostile environment in our offices and lounge. They would make horribly inappropriate jokes and more. I was caught in the middle because I was friends with the accused and the accusers. It was a complex situation that didn’t have a simple solution and in the end we created a Statement on a Professional Workplace Environment. And in the end I left graduate school. I left for many reasons, but this episode was the start of me needing to find a new path. I’d like to forget this entire period of my life, but there was one comment that stuck with me. A good friend (female, if that matters) said to me, “You know, sometimes a jerk is a jerk. It doesn’t mean we should forgive the behavior and it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t create a statement of conduct and hold people to that, but ultimately some people are awful.”
What started in the Think Tank was a stupid post somebody fired off without thinking through the ramifications. And that happens. I do it every so often. But (and rightly so) people started expressing concern that ALA isn’t taking sexual harassment seriously. Yes, ALA, as any organization, needs to pay more attention to sexual harassment. It has a statement on harassment in its Policy Manual for libraries, but it is pretty vague. Could a Code of Conduct be helpful? Yes, at least it would be something to point the jerks to. But would this apply to a random grouping of people on Facebook (ALA TT is NOT affiliated with ALA)? Will it keep people from being jerks?
More importantly, if this is something that needs to happen, then make it happen. Bring this to council. Go to this awesome discussion on gender and libraries at ALA and talk about ways we can make a change. If the post bugs you, do what I do with my Republican students who like to egg me on during elections: ignore them. Having flame wars on Twitter and Facebook for the week of ALA is not making it happen. Calling people names on Facebook is not having a real
And this is the point of the #makeithappen ethos and the Think Tank. I’ve been part of the TT since 2010. I almost stayed in the first TT house, but thankfully my husband came with me so I missed out on the bunk beds. But to me the Think Tank has become more than just a house and a Facebook page and a few parties. It is an idea that we need to tackle the tough issues and try to make change. Where else do we have a forum to bring up issues that we are facing and can immediately get 10 or more responses from people in all types of libraries? Where else can we post on our accomplishments and advertise our awesome things to the world?
The Think Tank to me is the idea of #makeithappen and it really saddens me to hear good people say they are leaving or saying it is worthless. I’ve been in ALA for a relatively short time (since 2007) and I honestly think I’ve seen a change for the better since the Think Tank was created. I know more people. More people are coming together in new networks. Academic librarians are talking across the lines to public librarians. We have real parties at conference instead of dull socials that end at 6:30 pm. Innovations are happening that I know are TT inspired. The organization actually feels alive, and I believe it is because of random group of people who had an idea called the Think Tank.
So, what needs to happen from all of this? That’s for you to decide. Go to the gender discussion at ALA. Bring it up in Council. Bury the crap on Facebook with posts about your accomplishments or other cool library-ish things. Start your own discussion group on rape culture and libraries. Or, if you don’t have time for that, just ignore the trolls and go back to being the rawk star librarians you always were. Ultimately, though, let’s think before we type because feeding the trolls is not making it happen.