Rebecca West quotation

Since Midwinter 2014, ALA has established a Conference Code of Conduct with which attendees need to comply. It is ALA’s stance against harassment of any kind during conferences.

I am sure questions abound. First, why is a blog post on conference anti-harassment policy tagged with “feminism”? Though the language of ALA’s Conference Code of Conduct covers the broad spectrum of potential targets of harassing behavior–from gender identity and expression to race, religion, and language–the roots of this movement to establish professional conferences as harassment-free zones came from the concerns of women and feminists in the technology fields.

From the concerns expressed by women in the information technology fields, we arrive at the question of why is an anti-harassment policy needed at ALA conferences? One answer, to put it simply: because it is needed. Or at least, there were enough people who felt it was needed. One would not think that harassment occurs among librarians, much else during ALA conferences, but it does.

Ingrid Henny Abrams is currently conducting a survey that will establish a more statistically oriented picture of harassment incidents at ALA conferences. Until now, incidents of harassment have lived on in the realm of anecdotal stories. As Abrams says on her blog, this survey is not intended to shame ALA, its staff members or any ALA Councilors. It’s meant to get a better understanding of how we conduct ourselves when we gather in a professional capacity, under ALA’s umbrella of conferences and meetings.

Another question that I have heard asked regarding the ALA Conference Code of Conduct is how such a statement can have a chilling effect on freedom of speech. Does it violate or prohibit free speech? I suppose one can imagine a scenario when it possibly could. However, I also sense a dichotomy being constructed here. One that doesn’t work very well with the realities lived by people in groups that are often marginalized, even within ALA.

I can offer very few answers. And since I think it best to take this issue as an ongoing, evolving one, I invite you, dear readers, to explore the links offered in this post and formulate your own ideas and questions. Maybe even participate in Ingrid’s survey, should you be impelled to do so. May these events within our professional association be fruitful in your own teaching of Women’s & Gender Studies.

~ Melissa Cardenas-Dow, ACRL-WGSS blog co-editor, 2013-2016