Codes and levels

I haven’t written anything about the ALA Statement of Appropriate Conduct so far. In some ways, “Freedom of speech” relates to some of the issues, but it was mostly inspired by a separate, wholly ludicrous “controversy.”

I don’t anticipate that I will write much of anything about the Statement, and I am not tagging posts and articles toward a future essay about it.

Which does not mean either that (a) I think the statement is addressing nonexistent problems or (b) I’m in fundamental disagreement with the statement. Neither of those is true.

Of course there’s a problem

ALA conferences don’t have any instances of attempted silencing, sexual and other forms of harassment (verbal and otherwise), that sort of thing? Bull. I can’t think of a medium-to-large conference I’ve been to where I didn’t see at least one or two situations that were at least borderline harassment, silencing or unwanted attention. With 12,000 to 25,000 people and a huge variety of formal and informal social events as well as sessions, it’s essentially not possible that ALA conferences would be paragons in this regard, and they’re not. (Of course they’re not as bad as a lot of tech and entertainment and other conferences. That’s a different issue.)

More to the point, perhaps, many of the more insidious and dangerous instances won’t be visible, because they’ll be one-on-one.

Hey, I’ve even been the subject of attempted silencing and unwanted attention. But I’m also…well, we’ll get to that in the next section. Let’s say the odds of my being the subject of such stuff are maybe 1% of those of, say, a 25-30 year old woman.

The Statement strikes me as a reasonable start

I wrote about a proposed Code of Conduct in June 2007 (C&I 7:6). I didn’t believe the particular code made sense. If I revisited that issue now, I still probably wouldn’t believe the code made sense. (As far as I can tell, it disappeared without a trace.)

ALA’s Statement does make sense. It isn’t a solution for which there is no problem–there is a problem, and even shining light on the problem may reduce it.

Could it be improved? I’m not the one to say, but I’m certain that there will be efforts to do so. I’m certain the people involved in crafting it put informed and intelligent effort into it.

It’s not censorship. It doesn’t attack freedom of speech. (ALA isn’t the government, and the meeting spaces, exhibit halls and social events of ALA aren’t inherently public fora. In any case, I don’t see anything forbidding specific language. Telling people it’s not OK to intimidate or harass other people is quite a different thing…and I find the argument that this somehow impinges upon free speech unconvincing, to put it mildly.)

A number of people have written about this eloquently and reasonably. I won’t give you a list, but Andromeda Yelton has at least a couple of relevant, worthwhile posts. On the more general issue of appropriate conduct and the need for codes to deal with harassers, John Scalzi has done a fair amount of writing, as have others.

Why I’m not the one to write about this

  •  I’m a middle-aged (OK, aging) straight white male of mostly Anglo-Saxon/Northern European extraction who grew up in a healthy family, never went hungry and have no obvious disabilities*. I operate at the lowest level of difficulty (or did until I turned 60 or so and ageism became a factor), so maybe I’m not the one to be arguing these things.
  • I’m no longer an active ALA participant. It’s unclear how often I’ll be attending any ALA conferences in the future (or whether, for that matter), for fiscal and other reasons, so this doesn’t affect me directly.
  • There are plenty of library folk who (a) are more directly affected, (b) operate at different levels of difficulty, (c) write and think as well as or better than I do.
  • I have no reason to believe that what I say would carry much weight.

So that’s it: Probably all I’ll say about this. Not because I don’t feel strongly about it, not because I’m not reading about it.


*Introversion may be a slight disadvantage in some work and professional areas, and may make me a bit more likely to be shouted down, but it’s far from being a disability or a real level-changer.

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