Sunday, July 23, 2006

 

Working and Words

Over at Caveat Lector, Dorothea Salo responds to my somewhat toss-off question about people's tendencies to comment privately on women and library technology more readily than they do publicly:
Is it a coincidence that Rachel was the first to ask publicly about the public-private divide in women’s behavior around this? I don’t think so, not at all; Rachel doesn’t work in a library. I do. I surely do fear for my career if I stir up the kind of tornado that I was about to, the kind of storm that if you ask me, this problem deserves.
It's true, I don't work in a library -- although my career does depend on working with people who work in libraries, which is not as far removed as you might think. As Dorothea again notes, it's a question of "future marketability." Trust me, there are plenty of things I don't say, on this topic and otherwise!

But, I guess the real question is: what motivates us enough to have the tough discussions? We tend to spill a lot of virtual ink around the same issues. But we also seem to spend it most passionately on topics on which our little biblioblogosphere (if not the big bad outside world) is fairly in agreement. Yes, it surely does suck when library funding is cut. Yes, we need to figure out where libraries are going and how they are affected by technological change. And yes, we need to keep talking and writing about these issues. But we also need to pay attention to touchy internal topics -- like that nagging question of women and technology -- because our interactions with each other affect all those other recurrent issues.

If we're quiet on this topic because we "have to work with guys like that" or others ask us to "smooth things over," what else are we keeping quiet about? Silence begets silence, and not making waves quickly becomes a habit.

I'd very much like to see Dorothea's original unpublished posts on this topic -- as I'd like to see more from the unnamed library blogger she mentions, and comments from those who e-mailed me privately. (Start out by commenting anonymously, even!) Many of those who have posted on this topic stress their feelings of isolation; sharing stories and opinions is one way to combat this.

(More, perhaps, later, at a time more conducive to clear thought than 3:20 AM...)

Comments:
Rachel, I'm a female systems librarian in a public library and my former job was assistant direct in a public library. At MFPOW, many men in the city government were disconcerted by a woman being in charge and I was the first female competitive wrestler in my home town when I was in high school - so I know sexism.

But... I've never felt anything even remotely like this with techie stuff. I'm definitely a geek (geekette? ;)) but I've never had trouble with any of my tech or "geek" colleagues. Having said that, my current tech co-workers are mostly male (one other female in a department of 5) and two of my bosses are male. But I don't really notice this and neither do they.

Now that you mention it, most of the conferences and training that I've been to on the tech. side have had vastly more male participants... but again, not something that concerned me. I don't need the presence of other women in something to make me feel comfortable. Mind you, I'm often mistaken for being male... so maybe I don't get the backlash because of that.

What I have experienced in library tech. is female non-tech. librarians "accusing" me of being gay - to which my usual response is "And if I were, why would that be a problem?" Just some rambling thoughts.
 
Rachel, I'm a female systems librarian in a public library and my former job was assistant direct in a public library. At MFPOW, many men in the city government were disconcerted by a woman being in charge and I was the first female competitive wrestler in my home town when I was in high school - so I know sexism.

But... I've never felt anything even remotely like this with techie stuff. I'm definitely a geek (geekette? ;)) but I've never had trouble with any of my tech or "geek" colleagues. Having said that, my current tech co-workers are mostly male (one other female in a department of 5) and two of my bosses are male. But I don't really notice this and neither do they.

Now that you mention it, most of the conferences and training that I've been to on the tech. side have had vastly more male participants... but again, not something that concerned me. I don't need the presence of other women in something to make me feel comfortable. Mind you, I'm often mistaken for being male... so maybe I don't get the backlash because of that.

What I have experienced in library tech. is female non-tech. librarians "accusing" me of being gay - to which my usual response is "And if I were, why would that be a problem?" Just some rambling thoughts.
 
I wonder if this really is a workplace vs. community-of-practice issue. Like anonymous above, I've never had a workplace issue (note extreme lack of experience, however!) but what I've run into in certain COPs has been appalling, as is the lack of representation I'm hearing about at conferences.

An interesting question. I wonder how one would research it? Through back-issues of conference schedules, maybe? But we need the base percentage for women syslibs first, and I don't think we have that, do we?
 
Dorothea,
I don't know who is talking to you from IT but they are either mascochists or in complete denial. My husband was a network architect for 20 years - the amount of stress is amazing. I have heard from so many of his colleagues who have stated the same thing. Several of them have had nervous breakdowns, been unable to find any work - which is exactly where my husband is right now. When I have spoken about my work environment every one of them has been extremely jealous. I am a children's librarian.
 
I've been feeling a bit guilty lately after reading the discussion of this topic on various blogs. I am interested in going into systems librarianship one day, and making contributions to library technology. Should I feel guilty about this pursuit (or maybe even for considering library administration)?

The systems librarian at MPOW is a woman. I do not have a problem with that. I do not have a preference for one gender over another in that role.
 
Julian - No, I certainly don't think it's anyone's intent to make you or anyone else feel "guilty" about your choice of profession! Rather, I think it's a call to be mindful in your actions (and interactions).
 
I tend to think the issue is: "What is IT for?"

I don't want to raise a storm of controvery, but I think it's easier for guys to get caught up in the competitive nature of "what I know about IT compared to you." This may have its good points (as when scanning new technologies), but it likely gets in the way of providing the services that library patrons actually need.
 
I'm definitely guilty by association, and my "stereotypical" interests in librarianship make me even further guilty. Yes, I read Slashdot on a regular basis. Yes, I know my way around a Unix-based operating system. I can build a computer with relative ease. However, I am not fluent in every third- and fourth-generation programming language. I can barely decode (leet|l33t|1337), and I definitely don't talk to all my friends online in it. I would like to eventually transfer some of these skills, traits, and interests into a fruitful career in librarianship.

I am in the unfortunate position of having to prove that I will not become the allegedly typical sexist, misogynist male librarian who works primarily with technology. Guilty with virtually no chance to prove otherwise. I fear that along the way I might be passed over every single time (whether for a job or for a presenting opportunity at a conference) because "he's just another one of 'them' -- a tech guy trying to dominate everything." I also don't want to be told that the only acceptable places for me in the library are either in the tech closet or the director's office.
 
Julian, where'd you miss the bit about we don't have enough systems librarians to begin with?

Trust me, the women are not gonna shove you out.
 
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