The sort of blog post that jumbles together a few almost randomly-chosen bits on a topic, caps them off with an inflammatory title, then ends with “let’s discuss!” has always struck me as one of the lazier options in the blogger’s toolbox.  Sure, if the blog has an established community, gently tweaking the noses of the commentariat may provide some weekend fun and a breather for the blogger. If the blog doesn’t have such a community, however, a post that invites random commenters to tussle is better if the blogger takes the effort to put together a coherent argument for folks to respond to.  Otherwise, the assertion-jumble approach can result in the post becoming so bad that it’s not even wrong.

Case in point: Jorge Perez’s post on the LITA blog yesterday, Is Technology Bringing in More Skillful Male Librarians?

It’s a short read, but here’s a representative quote:

[…] I was appalled to read that the few male librarians in our profession are negatively stereotyped into being unable to handle a real career and the male dominated technology field infers that more skillful males will join the profession in the future.

Are we supposed to weep for the plight of the male librarian, particularly the one in library technology? On reflection, I think I’ll just follow the lead of the scrivener Bartleby and move on. I do worry about many things in library technology: how money spent on library software tends to be badly allocated; how few libraries (especially public ones) are able to hire technology staff in the first place; how technology projects all too often get oversold; the state of relations between library technologists and other sorts of library workers; and yes, a collective lack of self-confidence that library technology is worth doing as a distinct branch of library work (as opposed to giving the game up and leaving it to our commercial, Google-ish “betters”).

I am also worried about gender balance (and balance on all axes) among those who work in library technology — but the last thing I worry about in that respect is the ability of men (particularly men who look like me) to secure employment and promotions building software for libraries.  For example, consider Melissa Lamont’s article in 2009, Gender, Technology, and Libraries. With men accounting for about 65% of heads of library systems department positions and about 65% of authorship in various library technology journals… in a profession that is predominantly comprised of women… no, I’m not worried that I’m a member of an underrepresented class. Exactly the opposite.  And to call out the particular pasture of library tech I mostly play in: the contributor base of most large library open source software projects, Koha and Evergreen included, continue to skew heavily male.

I do think that library technology does better at gender balance than Silicon Valley as a whole.

That previous statement is, of course, damning with faint praise (although I suppose there could be some small hope that efforts in library technology to do better might spill over into IT as whole).

Back to Perez’s post. Some other things that I raise my eyebrow at: an infographic of a study of stereotypes of male librarians from 23 years ago. Still relevant? An infographic without a complete legend (leading free me to conclude that 79.5% of folks in ALA-accredited library schools wear red socks ALL THE TIME).  And, to top it off, a sentence that all too easily could be read as a homophobic joke — or perhaps as a self-deprecating joke where the deprecation comes from imputed effemination, which is no improvement. Playing around with stereotypes can be useful, but it requires effort to do well, which this post lacks.

Of course, by this point I’ve written over 500 words regarding Perez’s post, so I suppose the “let’s discuss!” prompt worked on me.  I do think think that LITA should be tackling difficult topics, but… I am disappointed.

LITA, you can do better. (And as a LITA member, perhaps I should put it this way: we can do better.)

I promised stuff to make satisfying thuds with.  Sadly, what with the epublishing revolution, most of the thuds will be virtual, but we shall persevere nonetheless: there are plenty of people around with smart things to say about gender in library technology.  Here some links:

I hope LITA will reach out to some of them.

Update 2015-10-26:

Update 2015-10-28:

  • Swapped in a more direct link to Lisa Rabey’s post.
Update 2015-11-06:

Perez has posted follow-up on the LITA blog. I am underwhelmed by the response — if in fact it’s actually a response as such. Perez states that “I wanted to present information I found while reading”, but ultimately missed an opportunity to more directly let Deborah Hicks’ work speak for itself. Karen Schneider picked up that task, got a copy of Hicks’ book, and posted about it on LITA-L.

I agree with Karen Schneider’s assessment that Hicks’ book is worth reading by folks interested in gender and librarianship (and it is on my to-be-read pile), but I am not on board with her suggestion that the matter be viewed as just the publication of a very awkward blog post from which a reference to a good book can be extracted (although I acknowledge her generosity in that viewpoint). It’s one thing to write an infelicitously-composed post that provides a technical tip of interest to systems librarians; it’s another thing to be careless when writing about gender in library technology.

In his follow-up, Perez expresses concerns how certain stereotypes about librarianship can affect others’ perceptions of librarianship — and consequently, salaries and access to perceived authority. He also alludes to (if I understand him correctly) how being a Latino and a librarian has affected perceptions of him and his work. Should the experiences of Latino librarians be discussed? Of course! Is librarianship and how that interacts with the performance of masculinity worthy of study? Of course! But until women in library technology (and in technology fields in general) can count on getting a fair shake, and until the glass escalator is shattered, failing to acknowledge that the glass escalator is still operating when writing about gender in library technology can transform awkwardness into a source of pain.

I recently circulated a petition to start a new interest group within LITA, to be called the Patron Privacy Technologies IG.  I’ve submitted the formation petition to the LITA Council, and a vote on the petition is scheduled for early November.  I also held an organizational meeting with the co-chairs; I’m really looking forward to what we all can do to help improve how our tools protect patron privacy.

But enough about the IG, let’s talk about the petition! To be specific, let’s talk about when the signatures came in.

I’ve been on Twitter since March of 2009, but a few months ago I made the decision to become much more active there (you see, there was a dearth of cat pictures on Twitter, and I felt it my duty to help do something about it).  My first thought was to tweet the link to a Google Form I created for the petition. I did so at 7:20 a.m. Pacific Time on 15 October:

Since I wanted to gauge whether there was interest beyond just LITA members, I also posted about the petition on the ALA Think Tank Facebook group at 7:50 a.m. on the 15th.

By the following morning, I had 13 responses: 7 from LITA members, and 6 from non-LITA members. An interest group petition requires 10 signatures from LITA members, so at 8:15 on the 16th, I sent another tweet, which got retweeted by LITA:

By early afternoon, that had gotten me one more signature. I was feeling a bit impatient, so at 2:28 p.m. on the 16th, I sent a message to the LITA-L mailing list.

That opened the floodgates: 10 more signatures from LITA members arrived by the end of the day, and 10 more came in on the 17th. All told, a total of 42 responses to the form were submitted between the 15th and the 23rd.

The petition didn’t ask how the responder found it, but if I make the assumption that most respondents filled out the form shortly after they first heard about it, I arrive at my bit of anecdata: over half of the petition responses were inspired by my post to LITA-L, suggesting that the mailing list remains an effective way of getting the attention of many LITA members.

By the way, the petition form is still up for folks to use if they want to be automatically subscribed to the IG’s mailing list when it gets created.