Further Thoughts on #teamharpy

A roundup of various takes on the libel lawsuit against two librarians. 

October 2, 2014

It has been fascinating to see the different issues surfacing in the discussion about a libel suit brought against two librarians by Joe Murphy, library futurist and frequent library conference headliner. Here’s the #teamharpy FAQ.What follows are links to things I've been reading.

First, sexual harassment happens in librarians’ professional circles. This continues to astonish some people. The American Library Association has adopted a Code of Conduct, which is helpful, even though it’s new so it’s hard to know how it will function and cultures are slow to change. The fact is, it’s damned difficult for a woman at a conference to trust her instincts when a big-name speaker corners her, touches her, says weird things (did he really say that?), and generally acts entitled to her body and her attention. It’s hard for even eloquent, outspoken, confident women to name names. 

Second, librarians are involved in tech culture, which is often hostile to women (and frequently oblivious about its own hostility). Culturally, some of the harassment behaviors librarians experience are directly imported from tech culture, which raises interesting issues around power and privilege and what we think of as "women's work." (By the way, last week I said that librarianship is a "female-dominated profession." I should have said, more accurately, it's "predominately female." Hat tip to Amy Buckland for that insight.) 

Third, librarians have been wondering whether anointing individuals as rock stars is problematic. It’s unclear in some cases why a particular person has become a celebrity and an expert. Quite often, they are brought in to tell the rank and file what the future of libraries will be. That’s a weird position of power to be in for a profession that relies on collective effort. That power seems to go to some people’s heads.  (I suspect there’s also an age dimension to this. Though there are tons of awards in our field – a bewildering number of them - some of our most visible paths to recognition seem to be reserved for librarians who are fairly new to the field and assumed to be more technically talented and daring than the old tarnished ones.) 

Finally, lawsuits are not the most productive way to address issues. They are silencing and debilitating. They put people who name problems out loud in the cross hairs and require that they pass a sainthood test before they will be taken seriously. The assumption, for example, that the defendants have no proof and didn't try to "go through channels" before going public, is just that: an assumption. Hat tip to Sarah Houghton for that insight. Once you've been sued, there is a whole lot that you cannot say publicly. See silencing, above. 

If nothing else, this issue demonstrates that we have a lot of problems to work through and #teamharpy has brought them into focus. I support the two defendants. If you do, too, you can donate to their legal defense fund, be a witness, or sign the petition asking for the lawsuit to be dropped.   


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