His Juno acceptance speech for best Indigenous Music Album was badass: he thanked his family and team, he asked the other nominees to stand up and praised their work for creating space and defying a single genre, then he called out the Canadian Prime Minister for supporting pipelines, for sending in militarized police forces into unceeded territory and for the boil water advisory that exists in many First Nations communities. He was interrupted by the music playing him off.
Later the Arkells, who won the Rock Album of the Year, said a quick thank you and stepped back and invited Jeremy Dutcher to finish what he was saying. Before yesterday it was outside my imagination that a rock band would step back and give a two spirit Indigenous opera singer space their time and space on the stage.
I think of allyship as a verb, not as a noun, and this was a beautiful example of this. All of this is such an inspiration for me to speak truth to power, to use some of my time to hold up my colleagues’ work on the stage, and to think about where i can step back and literally create time and space for others.
Being asked to keynote code4lib was a literal dream come true for me. I shared some of the diversity and inclusion work we’re doing at Mozilla, called out whiteness and racism in libraries and shared some personal stuff.
This wasn’t the first time I’ve cried while giving a talk, but this was the first time the tears weren’t about trauma. I was overwhelmed with the feeling of what is possible when you are loved and supported by friends and community. I had some of my dearest library friends sitting in the front row holding space for me.
In my 20s and 30s my work was often fueled by anger and I was all about burning systems down. Now that I’m in my 40s I’m exploring what it means to be fueled by love and interdependence. I’m exploring what it means to have privilege and responsibility, and the type of work it takes to build the systems that are liberatory. It’s a new kind of vulnerability that is terrifying, yet incredibly freeing.
Here’s my original deck. I deviated a bit from the slides a bit in the actual talk.
It was such an honour to be invited to speak at National Digital Forum in Wellington. This was the biggest talk I’ve ever done and it’s the first talk I’ve done on the diversity and inclusion. I surprised myself by how emotional I got at the end and it couldn’t have been a safer place to share my ideas and my feelings.
blah blah blah: diversity and inclusion
Kia ora koutou
Ngā mihi nui ki ngā tangata whenua o tēnei rohe.
Ko Tara Robertson ahau, nō Vancouver ahau.
Tēnā koutou katoa.
(Thank you Courtney Johnston for the mihi and to Georgie Ferrari who recorded it on her iPhone so I could practice it again and again!)
I am so excited and delighted to be invited here. I arrived from Canada about 10 days ago and this whole trip has been full of wonderful and serendipitous connections. It’s been amazing to reconnect with old friends and colleagues. I appreciate all the hospitality that has been extended to me and my wife–thank you so much Fiona and the rest of the organizing committee. We feel really welcomed and taken care of.
Finding the right title is something that I’m not very good at. I’m going to mostly talk about my work at Mozilla but I’m going to take some detours and blah blah blah.
Thank you to:
I’m one of those annoying extroverts who needs to think out loud. I appreciate the generosity that all of these people have extended me. These people are friends, colleagues, comrades, librarians, sex worker activists, academics, feminists, queers and artists. I want to acknowledge and thank all of these people up front as extended feminist citation practice.
I was born in Vancouver and grew up in a logging town called Prince George. Prince George is 800km north of Vancouver, at the junction of the Nechako and Fraser rivers. It is on the traditional territory of the Lheidli T’enneh, which means the people of where the two rivers flow together. Growing up most towns in a 10 hour drive in any direction didn’t have any McDonald’s and Prince George, population 75,000, had 4. This is Mr. PG, the town mascot. 8m tall, originally made of wood, he rotted and the replacement is built to last out of fiberglass and sheet metal.
My mom is Japanese-Canadian and my dad is white, of Scottish and Irish ancestry. I’ve lived in 7 different countries including Scotland and Japan–partly to learn about the world but I think I was also looking for a sense of belonging and home. Being mixed race and queer means I’ve spent most of my life feeling like I don’t belong and that I don’t fit. This has also given me a first hand, personal view of group dynamics–I see things that many people in the majority groups do not.
In 2009, I moved here with the intent to spend a year in Wellington. I’m grateful that Courtney Johnston hired me on contract, to work on the National Library’s website. To be honest, I was a bit crap. I was trying to figure out a bunch of things in my life and wasn’t the greatest employee. I made some colossal errors, including taking the website down 3 times. I had planned to stay here for a year, but got homesick after 6 months during a cold and wet Wellington winter. The silver lining of feeling homesick was that I finally realized where my home was.
Vancouver has been my home for 15 years. The Pacific Ocean and the mountains feel like a giant hug. Old friendships and community connections also root me in Vancouver. Google Maps says it takes approximately 17 hours to fly here from there.
Before Mozilla I was a librarian for 12 years working mostly in post-secondary institutions. I was drawn to libraries because I’d volunteered in activist and feminist libraries and care deeply about access to information. People often ask me about my odd career path from libraries to doing diversity and inclusion work in the tech sector. I was active in the library technology community where I led some work to make our conferences safer and more inclusive. For the last 5 years of my librarian career I managed an accessibility organization that served students with print disabilities by format shifting their textbooks into a digital formats that they could use. I’m still very passionate about accessibility and universal design. I love that the NDF organizers care about accessibility and communication access. The interpreter Tania and I also know each other from 16 years ago when we lived in Hokkaido, Japan. It feels really special to have her interpreting my words in to NZ sign language.
I’ve been at Mozilla just over a year. As the Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Partner I’m the data person on our team. I’ve been building out our infrastructure so we can measure progress on diversity metrics. I partner with different parts of the organization on specific strategies for cultural inclusion. I’ve led projects on trans inclusion and continue to advocate for accessibility.
Mozilla has 1200 staff and 10,000 volunteer community members worldwide. Our mission is to ensure the Internet is a global public resource, open and accessible to all. The way we do this is with open source products, like the Firefox web browser. If you’re not using Firefox I suggest you give it a try as we relaunched Firefox Quantum last fall. It’s fast and we don’t do bad things with your data.
Mozilla is a company that has one shareholder, the not-for-profit Mozilla Foundation.
The Mozilla Foundation does awesome work on policy, publishes the Internet Health Report, host MozFest in London, and offers fellowships to 26 technologists, activists, and scientists from more than 10 countries, including New Zealand. This year our Fellows include:
A neuroscientist building open-source laboratory hardware.
An artist and maker who is looking to make weird projects that can only really live on the decentralized web, and to build tools and tutorials to help other people make even better, weirder things
and Sam Muirhead, here in Wellington. Sam is working on an open source approach to the creation and adaptation of illustrations, comics, and animation. The aim is to support international activist networks running digital campaigns in diverse cultural contexts — enabling local chapters to speak with their own creative voice, while building solidarity and sharing resources across the network.
I got to meet this cohort of Fellows in Toronto and they are one of the most interesting groups of people I’ve ever met. I’m so excited about the change that they’re making in the world.
Whose voices are missing? How do we include these voices?
These are two questions that have guided my work for the last 10 years.
In most social situations, I think it’s always interesting to observe:
Who is in the room?
Who is at the table?
Who speaks a lot?
Who has social capital?
Who feels welcome?
Whose ideas are respected and centered by default?
I think even more interesting is to note:
Who is missing?
Who is sitting on the margins?
Who doesn’t feel welcome?
Who has to fight to have their viewpoints heard and respected?
How diversity makes us smarter
For groups that value innovation and new ideas, diversity is key. There’s plenty of social science research that demonstrates this but one of my favourite articles is by Dr. Katherine Phillips, Professor of Leadership and Ethics and Senior Vice Dean at Columbia Business School. Her article How Diversity Makes Us Smarter in Scientific American is an accessible summary of some of the key research in this area.
Dr. Phillips says that when we’re around people like us, whether it’s people who are the same race, gender, have the same political viewpoints as us, it leads us to think we all hold the same information and share the same perspective. When we hear dissent from someone who is different from us, it provokes more thought than when it comes from someone who looks like us. Diversity jolts us into cognitive action in ways that homogeneity does not. Simply by being in the presence of someone who is not like you, you will be more diligent and open-minded. You will work harder on explaining your rationale and anticipating alternatives than you would have otherwise.
There’s a couple of other important points in Dr. Phillips’ article. While diverse groups performed better than homogeneous groups they also had more conflict and enjoyed working together less. As someone works in D&I this means that as we build more diverse teams we also need to also build people’s skills on understanding unconscious bias, giving and receiving feedback and communicating when there’s conflict.
Mozilla’s mission is to ensure the Internet is a global public resource, open and accessible to all–how can we do that if we don’t have everyone at the table building the tools to do this? It’s not just about diversity, people need to feel that they can bring their whole selves to the table and that difference will be accepted and valued. This is the inclusion piece.
What is something that someone has done to make you feel included?
So, I want you to think about something that someone did to make you feel included. The example you think about can be from work, social, school, family, church, sports team…whatever. I’m going to give you 1 minute to quietly think about this and to write your answer down.
OK, great! I want you to get into groups of two and share what you wrote down. You have 2 minutes. Go!
Share (4 min)
OK, I’m going to change the question slightly now. The question is: What can we do to make this community even more inclusive?
I want you to get into groups of 4, discuss this question and write down your group’s ideas in the Google Doc at bit.ly/NDF-2018
You have 4 minutes. Go!
(Thanks to the people who organized the responses! I love librarians!)
Diversity is the mix of people
At the start of our D&I journey at Mozilla we did 20 focus groups with Mozillians. We heard about many diversity dimensions in our findings and they have shaped the way we define diversity. Diversity is all the things that make us who we are…it is our specific, unique, beautiful mix of people.
In the top right hand corner there’s MoFo and MoCo. MoCo is our internal shorthand for the Mozilla Corporation. Internally we call people who work for the Foundation MoFos.
Inclusion is getting the mix to work
And then, what is inclusion? We Mozillians believe inclusion is getting our specific mix of people to work well together, to invite voices forward, to speak boldly but respectfully, and listen intently. Inclusion is about how each of us wants to be treated.
Quote from Mitchell Baker
This is a quote from Mitchell Baker, our Chairwoman.
Mozilla’s mission is to build the Internet as a global public resource, open and accessible to all. ‘Open and accessible to all’ implies a deep commitment to inclusion, and to building inclusive practices. As part of this commitment we describe a set of ‘behaviors of inclusion’ that we aspire to. These are set out in Mozilla’s Community Participation Guidelines.
The CPG is the Code of Conduct at Mozilla. It outlines both behaviours we want to see and behaviours that are unacceptable.
The following behaviors are expected of all Mozillians:
Value each other’s ideas, styles and viewpoints. We may not always agree, but disagreement is no excuse for poor manners. Be open to different possibilities and to being wrong. Be kind in all interactions and communications, especially when debating the merits of different options. Be aware of your impact and how intense interactions may be affecting people. Be direct, constructive and positive. Take responsibility for your impact and your mistakes – if someone says they have been harmed through your words or actions, listen carefully, apologize sincerely, and correct the behavior going forward.
Be Direct but Professional
We are likely to have some discussions about if and when criticism is respectful and when it’s not. We must be able to speak directly when we disagree and when we think we need to improve. We cannot withhold hard truths. Doing so respectfully is hard, doing so when others don’t seem to be listening is harder, and hearing such comments when one is the recipient can be even harder still. We need to be honest and direct, as well as respectful.
I love that this is written in plain English. Recently I found myself dragging my feet on having a hard conversation with someone I care about at work. When I was practicing for this talk I heard myself saying “We cannot withhold hard truths. We need to be honest and direct, as well as respectful.” This was the nudge I needed to have this conversation. Looking back I wished I’d had this conversation about a month before I worked up the courage to do so.
The CPG also outlines behaviours that are not tolerated. These include:
threats of violence
disruptive behaviour (like heckling speakers)
and unwelcome sexual attention or physical contact.
This includes touching a person without permission, including sensitive areas such as their hair, pregnant stomach, mobility device (wheelchair, scooter, etc) or tattoos. This also includes physically blocking or intimidating another person. Physical contact or simulated physical contact (such as emojis like “kiss”) without affirmative consent is not acceptable.
I love that the CPG includes these concrete examples–some of them I hadn’t thought about before.
The CPG also includes information about consequences of unacceptable behaviours and information on how to report. It is open licensed under a CC Attribution Sharealike license.
The work we all do has a ripple effect in the world. Mozillians in Brazil used our CPG as the base of their open letter to a JS conference to call out a transphobic incident. And a couple of weeks ago, the SQLite community adopted our CPG as their code of conduct.
Open source is “startlingly white and male” No rockstars. No ninjas.
…even though users of the open source software present in countless products and services are now as diverse as the internet itself, the open source development community remains startlingly white and male—even by the tech industry’s dismal standards.
I had a lot of imposter syndrome throughout the application process for Mozilla. I was just a librarian at a college in Canada that no one had heard of. Who did I think I was applying to work for Mozilla? There were 3 sentences in the job posting that made me apply:
You demonstrate a history of working in a collaborative and open manner—whether that be in open source projects or simply openly discussing projects and questions.
You should apply even if you don’t feel that your credentials are a 100% match with the position description.
We are looking for relevant skills and experience, not a checklist that exactly matches the position itself.
Of course this was by design. Knowing that open source skews white and male, requiring open source experience would limit the people who would choose to apply, and likely some excellent candidates would self select out. The key experience is open collaboration, not open source experience.
We also use a tool called Text.io to make sure that our job postings use balanced language. Thankfully we don’t post job ads for code ninjas and rockstar developers anymore.
In the 1970s, top orchestras in the US were only 5% women. At that time there were lots of reasons given for this including:
“women have smaller techniques than men,”
“women more temperamental and more likely to demand special attention or treatment,” and that
“the more women, the poorer the sound.”
Zubin Mehta, conductor of the Los Angeles Symphony from 1964-78 and of the New York Philharmonic from 1978-90, said, “I just don’t think women should be in an orchestra.” (Goldin and Rouse, p 719)
By 2000, orchestras were up to almost 30% women. Part of the reason for the change was the introduction of “blind auditions”, where the musicians literally auditioned behind a curtain so that the panel couldn’t see them. They were only assessing candidates based on how they sounded. They found that even with the curtain that there were other telltale signs, like the click clack of women’s high heels. They either added a carpet or got women to take their shoes off and had a man make clomp clomp clomp noises with his shoes. Now most US orchestras are 40-50% women, though there are very few women who are conductors or who play in the brass section. In researching this I learned about “the brass ceiling”.
At Mozilla our version of the blind audition is a tool called HackerRank. This enables hiring managers to evaluate candidates based on their code, not their perceived gender or race, or the university that they graduated from. We started using Hackerrank to select candidates for our internships. There was more than 4x improvement in first two years of HackerRank, we went from:
From 2 women to 13 women
From 7 colleges to 27 colleges + 1 code academy
61% of the 2017 cohort were women and/or People of Color
I’ve been involved in open source projects for more than 10 years. When I first got involved I really bought into the idea of a meritocracy, which means those with merit rise to the top. Merit is based on your contributions, talent and achievements, and not on your job title, the company you work for, or the university you graduated from. I now see that meritocracy has a tonne of bias baked into it. We come with different privilege, access to resources, tools, and technology. It’s not a level playing field.
Last month Mozilla stopped using meritocracy as a way to describe our governance and leadership structures. This was a big deal. Emma Irwin, our D&I community lead writes “From the beginning of this journey to a more inclusive organization, we have been thinking about the words we use as important carriers of our intended culture and the culture we wish to see in the broader movements we participate in.”
I personally long for a word that conveys a person’s ability to demonstrate competence and expertise and commitment separate from job title, or college degree, or management hierarchy, and to be evaluated fairly by one’s peers. I long for a word that makes it clear that each individual who shares our mission is welcome, and valued, and will get a fair deal at Mozilla – that they will be recognized and celebrated for their contributions without regard to other factors.
Sadly, “meritocracy” is not that word. Maybe it once was, or could have been. But not today. The challenge is not to retain a word that has become tainted. The challenge is to build teams and culture and systems that are truly inclusive. This is where we focus.
External diversity disclosure
In April we did our first ever external diversity disclosure. This is voluntary and we’ve joined about 30 tech companies that have published high level demographic data. As of the end of last year women made up 24% of Mozilla overall, 33% in leadership, 13% in tech roles. Underrepresented minorities (Black, Latinx, Indigenous folks) in the US made up 7% of Mozilla overall, 0% in leadership, 6% in tech roles.
Our CEO Chris Beard said: “We are not where we want to be, and have a lot more to do.” I appreciate this intellectual honesty and transparency.
I’m excited for us to publish the 2018 update so we can share our progress.
Librarianship: startlingly white
We know that librarianship is a female dominated profession, but there’s not much data about the racial demographics of librarians in Canada, NZ and the US.
In Canada there was one study done by the Canadian Association of Professional Academic Librarians of, not surprisingly, academic librarians. The researchers collected 1730 names and email addresses by looking at college and university websites. Of the 1730 people they contacted, they received 904 responses. 91% of respondents were white. Only 2% of respondents identified as Indigenous — First Nations, Métis or Inuit.
Being in a community of librarians I’m often a lazy researcher. I’ll do a quick search for something then reach out to someone I know who is more expert in the topic than me. When Fiona asked if I had any questions about the NZ context I asked her my demographic question. She in turn used the same methodology and reached out to LIANZA, Te Rōpū Whakahau and RNANZ. No one was aware of demographic research that had been done in this area.
According to ALISE: Library and Information Science Education Statistical Report in 2015, 79% of students at ALA accredited universities in the US are white. This means that the pipeline for future librarians is only slightly more diverse than the workforce.
The sparse or non-existing data tells a story by what’s missing. We measure what we care about. I hope that our library associations or researchers will take on this important work. We need to know what our baseline is and we need to be able to track change over time.
Should the MLIS/MLS be a requirement for all librarian jobs? No.
If we go back to the arguments around diversity and innovation, working to make our workplaces more diverse is something that libraries must do to survive and be relevant. There’s additional arguments about reflecting the diversity of our user groups and society. Also–it’s the right thing to do.
Seeing the lack of racial diversity in the library school student data, which is our pipeline, we need to to rethink the MLIS/MLS as a requirement for all librarian jobs. We need to articulate the core competencies for what is important in libraries now and broaden our view of whose qualifications are relevant. We need to recruit from a more diverse pool of candidates. I’m not talking about lowering the bar, rather being more critical of what libraries need, which might raise the bar.
We need to stop talking about cultural fit on our hiring committees. Culture fit means that we’re perpetuating a monoculture of people who look just like us and think just like us–this isn’t what we need to be relevant now, or in the future.
In addition to rethinking our hiring pool, we need to build in additional scaffolding so that people of colour can imagine a future for themselves in libraries, where there’s mentorship and a promotion path is clear. As diversity and inclusion are intertwined we need to work to change the culture of libraries so that people of colour can bring their full selves to work and that that difference would be valued. This will mean some hard and necessary conversations about our culture and whiteness.
Developing a culture of consent
I’m going to shift gears and talk about consent now. code4lib is a library technology conference and community where I feel at home. In 2015 I proposed that we ask speakers for permission to livestream their talks and that we use coloured lanyards as a visual shorthand to communicate people’s desire to be in photos online. Red meant absolutely no photos, green meant photos are fine, and yellow meant you needed to ask. (blog post)
Some of the initial comments from men who had been in the community longer than me bummed me out. Some of those comments included:
“This needs to be opt out, not opt in.”
“I enjoy taking candid photos of people at the conference and no one seems to mind.”
“My old Hippy soul cringes at unnecessary paperwork. A consent form means nothing. Situations change. Even a well-intended agreement sometimes needs to be reneged on.”
I was able to get enough support to get this off the ground. Another woman of colour, Ranti Junus, helped me pull together a consent form and we did the work of talking to all of the speakers. Thankfully things have changed a lot and this is now standard practice at code4lib and many other conferences have followed suit.
Consent and digitization ethics
Consent is something that’s really important to me as a feminist. I want to take a quick detour and share a personal story.
In Spring 2016 I came out in my professional life as former sex worker. I know what it’s like to have content about myself online that I didn’t consent to. In my case, it’s a newspaper article that appeared in a major Canadian newspaper that identifies me as a sex worker and a librarian. For most of my career I’d been terrified that my employer or my colleagues would find this out. We live in a judgmental society where there are many negative stereotypes about sex workers. I was worried that this would undermine my professional reputation.
I think that we would all agree that open access to information is a good thing. If you remember, this is the reason I became a librarian. However, over the last couple of years I’ve come to realize that this isn’t an absolute and that there are some times where it’s not appropriate or ethical for information to be open to all.
In 2016 I learned that Reveal Digital, a nonprofit that works with libraries, digitized On Our Backs, a lesbian porn magazine that ran from 1984-2004. For a brief moment I was really excited — porn that was nostalgic for me was online! Then I quickly thought about friends who appeared in this magazine before the internet existed. I was worried that this kind of exposure could be personally or professionally harmful for them. There are ethical issues with digitizing collections like this. Consenting to a porn shoot that would be in a queer magazine with a limited print run is a different thing to consenting to have your porn shoot be available online.
For a year I kept digging and researching this topic—I visited Cornell University’s Rare Book and Manuscripts Collection and found the contributor contracts, learned a lot more about US copyright law, and most importantly I talked to queer women who modeled for On Our Backs about their thoughts and feelings about this.
Quote from an anonymous model
This is a quote from one of the models from an email to me.
She writes: “People can cut up my body and make a collage. My professional and personal life can be high jacked. These are uses I never intended and still don’t want.”
I was successful in getting this collection taken down from Reveal Digital’s collection by publicly questioning the ethics of digitization projects like this and amplifying the voices of models who appeared in On Our Backs.
Like many of the people who use Firefox, our employees value being able to choose — with clarity and confidence — what information they share with whom. One of the ways we look out for this, when hosting our All Hands events, is by offering our attendees the choice of a white or red lanyard. White lanyards mean you are okay being photographed. A red one means you are not. Wearing a name badge is required during our events so a colored lanyard is a very visible way to communicate a preference without having to say a word. It also makes it easy to spot and remove any photographs that may have been taken by mistake.
Like with our work, Mozilla’s values don’t necessarily tell us what to do but rather remind us of how we should do it. Making red lanyards available to our employees and their families as part of our semi-annual events is a small but tangible manifestation of just what we mean.
I love how we keep iterating on our culture. At our last All Hands Brianna added pronoun stickers for people to add to their name badges. I like this is something we can all do to make our culture more inclusive.
This is another example of how our actions creates ripples in the world. After seeing this photo on social media, a labour union adopted this idea for their conference.
So, I’ve mentioned All Hands a few times now. All Hands is our twice yearly meeting where we all come together in person.
Mozilla staff are in 16 countries and 40% of our workforce is remote. All Hands is critical part of building the connective tissue that allows us to work well together the rest of the year.
The week after I get home to Canada, I’m heading to Orlando for our next All Hands.
This past summer All Hands was in SF. The big event is the plenary session where our senior execs talk about where we’re at and where we’re going. Imagine 1200 of us in this giant hotel ballroom…
San Francisco All Hands – Lauren’s talk
In between each of the executive presentations, regular staff were interspersed reading thank you emails from our users and sharing other short snippets.
This was the short snippet between the Chief Marketing Officer and the Chief People Officer.
Hi. My name is Lauren Niolet. I work on lifecycle marketing out of my home in North Carolina. I recently sent a letter to Jascha, who you just met, and I’m going to share it with all of you now.
Jascha, you might recall a conversation we briefly had at Austin All Hands about some interesting changes in my life. But just to put a label on it, I’m transitioning my gender presentation to female. This has been a lifelong time coming. While I wouldn’t say changing genders is anything close to the easiest thing I’ve ever done, this ongoing process has already been one of the best. I’ve been asking colleagues, one or two at a time, to start calling me Lauren, and referring to me with feminine pronouns. I’d like for you to do the same. Don’t worry about slip ups. I forget at least once a day and it’s my name.
Like any self-respecting marketer, I’m working with HR on a go-to-market strategy to take this news big. That is, by the way, highfalutin talk for an email to all of marketing. But I’m writing to give you an early heads up.
I do want to mention that your personal and professional commitment to making Mozilla marketing a safe space that values all people was a huge factor in my decision to begin transition. As a member of the group that worked on team norms, I’m very aware that things here weren’t perfect. But I also know that after I began living authentically, I would feel respected and protected at Mozilla. And the work I do would be more important than my pronouns. You should know how much of an incredible impact your commitment to these values can have on one individual life. Thank you just doesn’t seem to capture it.
Lauren moved me to tears–and I wasn’t the only one in the audience who was crying. I have deep admiration for her courage.
There was also an amazing feeling in the room. After the loud cheers I could feel people’s careful attention in how they were leaning forward and listening with care and attention.
I wrote guidelines to support staff who are transitioning their gender at work. Initially I intended for it to be a simple list of places where one would need to update usernames and gender markers, but it became more comprehensive to give context to understanding gender more broadly, for managers to understand their responsibilities, and for all staff to understand how they can make Mozilla a more welcoming and inclusive place. I heard from managers that they wanted to do the right thing and were worried they might make a mistake and hurt someone. So, I organized some training to help our staff level up their knowledge and comfort in being inclusive of trans and non-binary colleagues. 180 people RSVPed to attend the sessions, and over the recordings have been viewed 300 times over just a couple of weeks.
Mozillians care and want to learn more and do better.
What is the most important thing in the world?
As of yesterday morning I didn’t have an ending to this talk and was starting to get a bit worried.
Fiona organized two tours for us at the National Library. Michael Edson had a question about Māori worldviews. Just then Bella, a Māori elder, was walking by. She was very generous with her time and explained some things about her culture. One of the things she said stuck in my head and heart, and I realized it was the thread that ties this whole talk together.
What is the most important thing in the world?
He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata
It is the people, it is the people, it is the people
Susie Bright’s papers in Cornell’s Rare Book and Manuscripts Collection
A couple of weeks before code4lib NYS, I learned that Cornell has Susie Bright’s papers, which include some of the administrative records for On Our Backs. When I was at Cornell I visited the Rare Book and Manuscripts Collection and looked through this amazing collection. The first book of erotica I ever bought was Herotica, edited by Susie Bright, so it was especially amazing to see her papers. It was so exciting to see photo negatives or photos of images that became iconic for lesbians either in On Our Backs, or on the covers of other books. While the wave of nostalgia was fun, the purpose of my visit was to see if the contracts with the contributors were in the administrative papers.
I hit the jackpot when found a thin folder labelled Contributors Agreements. All of them weren’t there, but there were many contracts where the content creators did not sign over all rights to the magazine. Here are three examples.
This contributor contract from 1991 is for “one-time rights only”.
This contributor contract from 1988 is for “1st time N.A. serial rights”. In this context N.A. means North American.
This contributor’s contract from 1985 is “for the period of one year, beginning 1.1.86”.
Copyright and digitizing On Our Backs
Initially I thought that Reveal Digital had proper copyright clearances to put this content online. In addition to the above contributors contract examples, I talked to someone who modeled for On Our Backs (see slides 9 to 11 for model quotes) who said there was an agreement with the editor that the photo shoot would never appear online. These things make me wonder if the perceived current rights holder of this defunct magazine actually had the rights to grant to Reveal Digital to put this content online.
I’m still puzzled by Reveal Digital’s choice for a Creative Commons attribution (CC-BY) license. One of the former models describes how inappropriate this license is, and more worrisome as the lack of her consent in making this content available online.
People can cut up my body and make a collage. My professional and personal life can be high jacked. These are uses I never intended and still don’t want.
Response from Reveal Digital
Last week I spoke with Peggy Glahn, Program Director and part of the leadership team at Reveal Digital. She updated me on some Reveal Digital’s response to my critiques.
Takedown policy and proceedures
Peggy informed me that they had a takedown request and will be redacting some content and with their workflow it takes about 3 weeks to make those changes. She also said that they’ll be posting their takedown policy and process on their website but that there are technical challenges with their digital collections platform. It shouldn’t be difficult to link to a HTML page with the takedown policy, procedures and contact information. I’m not sure why this is a technical challenge. In the meantime, people can email Tech.Support@revealdigital.com with takedown requests. Reveal Digital will “assess each request on a case-by-case basis”.
Not removing this collection
I am really disappointed to hear that Reveal Digital does not have plans to take down this entire collection. Peggy spoke about a need to balance the rights of people accessing this collection and individual people’s right to privacy. It was nice to hear that they recognized that lesbian porn from the 80s and 90s differs from historical newspapers, both in content and in relative age. However by putting both types of collections on the web in the same way it feels like this is a shallow understanding of the differences.
Peggy mentioned that Reveal Digital had consulted the community and made the decision to leave this collection online. I asked who the community was in this case and she answered that the community was the libraries who are funding this initiative. This is an overly narrow definition of community, which is basically the fiscal stakeholders (thanks Christina Harlow for this phrase). If you work at one of these institutions, I’d love to hear what the consultation process looked like.
Community consultation is critical
As this is porn from the lesbian community in the 80s and 90s it is important that these people are consulted about their wishes and desires. Like most communities, I don’t think the lesbian and queer women’s community has ever agreed on anything, but it’s important that this consultation takes place. It’s also important to centre the voices of the queer women whose asses are literally on the page and respect their right to keep this content offline. I don’t have quick or simple solutions on how this can happen, but this is the responsibility that one takes on when you do a digitization project like this.
Learning from the best practices of digitizing traditional knowledge
After talking to several models who appeared in On Our Backs a common thread was that they did not consent to have their bodies online and that this posed a risk to their careers. Keeping this collection online is an act of institutional violence against the queer women who do not want this extremely personal information about themselves to so easily accessible online.
Yesterday a had a big realization. Many textbook publishers continue to publish inaccessible content and those costs are borne by the public education system through alternate format production. Publishers are not responsible for producing accessible material and universities and colleges purchase things that aren’t accessible to all their students and then pay again to make them accessible. In BC I’d estimate that at least $1 million per year is spent on obtaining or producing alternate formats. This is an access issue, a human rights issue, and it’s also an economics issue.
Here are some of the conversations and pieces of information that led to this observation.
Creating an Inclusive Quality Standard of Education
I was sad to miss The Guelph Accessibility Conference at University of Guelph last week. Karen McCall presented Creating an Inclusive Quality Standard of Education (PDF handouts of her slides) where she argues that access to education is a human right. At work I’m more focused on the technical workflows and had forgotten about the human rights issues around access to education. She says that “accommodation is the norm, rather than the exception” and that this keeps people with disabilities “on the periphery of society” (slide 3). She states that “what this does is shift “the ‘cost” of inclusive design and inclusive communities to the corporate sector instead of in primary, secondary and tertiary education” (slide 3).
Karen states that in the US $79 billion is spent on ICT (information communication technology) a year, so there is enough purchasing power to demand that things are accessible from the start. She argues that “the best way to ensure inclusive communities is to mandate the procurement of eAccessible only products and services” (slide 6). This would also encourage competition and innovation in the market, which would benefit everyone.
In this workshop we also compare disability accommodation and UDL. There will always be a need for disability accommodation, but we argue that using the UDL principles can solve many of the common access issues (videos without captions, images that lack descriptions, poor organization of information and concepts).
Universal design for learning
accommodation is for one student who has appropriate documentation
improves accessibility for many students students with disabilities; students who have a disability and lack the documentation; students with a disability who for whom the stigma in accessing services is too great; students for whom English is not their first language; students with a variety of learning styles
for many students there is a stigma in accessing disability services
the onus is on the instructor to think about how they are teaching rather than on the individual student to request a retrofit
Jennifer LeVecque, from Camosun’s Disability Services Department, pointed out that for print coursepacks from the campus bookstore it’s possible that the publisher gets paid more than once. First, the library might already be paying to license journal articles databases that have those articles. Second, the bookstore (or the copyright office) might be paying the publisher for the rights to produce the coursepack, then passing those costs on to the student. When most academic libraries opted out of Access Copyright tariff in 2012, many worked to change the workflow for producing and licensing coursepacks, encouraging faculty to link directly to the articles that the library had licensed. This is also a UDL best practice as it supports multiple ways of representation and allows students who have print disabilities to access these digital files using whatever assistive technology they use.
CAPER-BC Advisory Committee meeting
At the CAPER BC Advisory Committee meeting there were questions about why publishers are producing new e-textbooks that are not accessible. Jewelles Smith, BC Director for NEADS, suggested that it would be useful to collaborate in assessing the accessibility of specific publisher e-textbook platforms, or of common e-textbook titles that are being used. Last month Benetech published their Buy Accessible guidelines, which is a list of specific questions for people who are selecting and purchasing textbooks to ask publishers and vendors.
Many for profit textbook publishers continue to publish content that is inaccessible and the public education system spends money to remediate these textbooks to make them accessible. Textbook publishers make a lot of money and have shrugged off their ethical and legal (depending on where you live) responsibilities to students with disabilities and faculty keep choosing to use these textbooks, and bookstores keep buying them. Then Disability Service Offices and organizations like where I work spend a lot of time and money retrofitting. This is not a financially sustainable model.
We need to build in language around accessibility into procurement policies at universities and colleges. Where things are not accessible we need to make the cost of retrofit explicit and charge that cost back to the publisher. With digital workflows publishers have the opportunity to make fully accessible digital versions of textbooks available for students to buy. Right now alternate format production is a market externality to publishers, so there is no financial incentive or cost to meeting accessibility guidelines. If we believe that education is a human right for all, then we need procurement policies and laws that reflect this.
Recently two awesome things changed my world. Beyoncé released her album Lemonade and the BC Library Association conference happened.
Cory Doctorow’s opening keynote was brilliant. As expected he gave a smart and funny talk full of examples to illustrate the bigger issues. I don’t think anyone will forget the baby monitor cam that was taken over by creepy men who were taunting the baby as an example of privacy flaws in everyday “smart” devices. I feel like he gave libraries more credit than we deserve. I felt pretty depressed and without hope thinking about how libraries continue to choose proprietary vendor technology that does not reflect our core values.
One of my favourite conversations at this conference was with Alison Macrina, from the Library Freedom Project. We talked about many things, including our mutual love for Beyoncé. She saw her concert in Houston and told me about the amazing choreography for Freedom, which was the last song Beyoncé performed.
When I asked friends what their favourite song was on Beyoncé’s Lemonade a few people said that they thought of the whole album as one song, or as an opera. So, on the way home from the conference, I was listening the whole album and hearing it in a new way. I jumped off the bus and walked up the street to my home just as Freedom came on, by the end of the song I had a realization. Beyonce embodies freedom by owning her creative product, but perhaps even more importantly she owns the means of distribution. Like Beyoncé, libraries need to own our distribution platforms.
Tidal, Beyonce’s distribution channel, is a streaming music platform that is a competitor to Spotify and Pandora. I’m not sure what the ownership breakdown is, but Tidal is owned by artists. A few of the artist-owners are Jay Z , Beyoncé, Prince, Rihanna, Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, Daft Punk, Jack White, Madonna, Arcade Fire, Alicia Keys, Usher, Chris Martin, Calvin Harris, deadmau5, Jason Aldean and J. Cole. Initially many people thought Tidal was a failure, but that has changed.
Lemonade was launched on HBO on April 22. On the 23rd the only place Lemonade was available was streamed through Tidal, and for purchase the day after. On the 25th it was available for purchase by track or album to Amazon Music and the iTunes Store. Physical copies of the album went on sale at brick and mortar stores on May 6. Initially the shift to digital distribution replicated the business model for distributing records which generated huge profits for record labels, but often cut out the artist.
PKP (Public Knowledge Project) is a great example of how academic libraries built open source publishing tools to challenge scholarly publishers. This has been a game changer in terms of how research is published, distributed and accessed.
For more than 10 years we’ve been complaining about Overdrive’s DRM-laced ebooks, and the crappy user experience. Instead of relying on vendors, we need to build our own distribution platform for ebooks. I realize that it’s the content our patrons are hungry for, and that we’re neither Jay Z, nor Beyoncé. If publishers aren’t willing to play with us, we have strong relationships with authors and could work directly with them as content creators. There needs to be a new business model where people can access creative works and that the content creators can make a living. Access Copyright’s model doesn’t work, but we could work with content creators to figure out a business model that does.
In her closing keynote at BCLA activist and writer Harsha Walia talked about systemic power structures and the need to change how we do things. Talking about pay equity she said “It’s not about breaking the glass ceiling, it’s about shattering the whole house.” Vendor rules and platforms are about profit margins for those companies. Libraries need to change the rules of the game.
Tryna rain, tryna rain on the thunder
Tell the storm I’m new
I’m a wall, come and march on the regular
Painting white flags blue
Freedom! Freedom! I can’t move
Freedom, cut me loose!
Freedom! Freedom! Where are you?
Cause I need freedom too!
Vanessa Richards‘ keynote was amazing. She spoke a bit and facilitated us in singing together. It was powerful, transformative and extremely emotional for me. Some of the instruction she gave us was to pay attention to our bodies, “what do you feel and where in your body do you feel it when I tell you we are going to sing together?” Both my body and my mind are very uncomfortable with singing. At some point in my life someone told me I was a bad singer and ridiculed me and I think I believed them. Vanessa Richards said something like: “Your body is the source code. Your body knows how to sing. All the people who told you that you can’t sing, kick them to the curb. This is your human right.”
For me this was deeply transformative and created magic in the room. We sang 3 songs together, and by the last one there was a beautiful transformation. I observed people’s bodies. People’s shoulders had dropped and their weight was sinking their weight down into their feet. People were taking up more space and looking less self conscious. Also, our voices were much louder and they were beautiful. This was an unconventional and magical way to start the day together.
There were so many excellent presentations. I was so excited to learn about GynePunk, the cyborg witches of DIY gynecology in Spain. James Cheng, Lauren Di Monte, and Madison Sullivan completely blew my mind in their talk titled Makerspace Meets Medicine: Politics, Gender, and Embodiment in Critical Information Practice. This is the most exciting talk I’ve heard about makerspaces, though they argued that because it’s gendered and political we’re unlikely to see this in a library makerspace. GynePunk reminds me of the zine Hot Pantz that starts with:
Patriarchy sucks. It’s robbed us of our autonomy and much of our history. We believe it’s integral for women to be aware and in control of our own bodies.
I also loved Stacy Wood’s talk on Mourning and Melancholia in Archives. She told the story of working in an archive and having cremated ashes fall out of a poorly sealed bag that was in a poorly sealed envelope. I hope I have a chance to read her paper as she had many smart things to say about institutional practice, as well as melancholia.
Marika Cifor presented Blood, Sweat, and Hair: The Archival Potential of Queer and Trans Bodies in three acts: blood, sweat and hair. She used examples of these parts of our bodies that were part of archival objects:
blood – blood on a menstrual sponge, blood during the AIDS crisis, blood on Harvey Milk’s clothing from when he was shot and killed
sweat – sweat stains on a tshirt from a gay leather bar
It was so exciting and nourishing to talk about bodies in relation to libraries, archives and information work. I didn’t realize that I was so hungry to have these conversations. I realized that when I’m doing my daily work I’m fairly unembodied dissociated. I bike to work, hang up my body on the back of my office door, and then let my brain run around for the day. I put on my body and go about the rest of my life. I’ve been working to try and be my whole self at work, and have realized that the brain/body binary needs to be dismantled.
I’m not really sure what this is going to look like. I fear it might be messy, as bodies often are. I also fear that there will be failure, as is common with trying new things. To start, I think I’m going to go join the Woodward’s Community Singers this Thursday and sing again.
I learned this week that Reveal Digital has digitized On Our Backs (OOB), a lesbian porn magazine that ran from 1984-2004. This is a part of the Independent Voices collection that “chronicles the transformative decades of the 60s, 70s and 80s through the lens of an independent alternative press.” For a split second I was really excited — porn that was nostalgic for me was online! Then I quickly thought about friends who appeared in this magazine before the internet existed. I am deeply concerned that this kind of exposure could be personally or professionally harmful for them.
While Reveal Digital went through the proper steps to get permission from the copyright holder, there are ethical issues with digitizing collections like this. Consenting to a porn shoot that would be in a queer print magazine is a different thing to consenting to have your porn shoot be available online. I’m disappointed in my profession. Librarians have let down the queer community by digitizing On Our Backs.
Why is this collection different?
The nature of this content makes it different from digitizing textual content or non-pornographic images. We think about porn differently than other types of content.
Most of the OOB run was published before the internet existed. Consenting to appear in a limited run print publication is very different than consenting to have one’s sexualized image be freely available on the internet. These two things are completely different. Who in the early 90s could imagine what the internet would look like in 2016?
In talking to some queer pornographers, I’ve learned that some of their former models are now elementary school teachers, clergy, professors, child care workers, lawyers, mechanics, health care professionals, bus drivers and librarians. We live and work in a society that is homophobic and not sex positive. Librarians have an ethical obligation to steward this content with care for both the object and with care for the people involved in producing it.
How could this be different?
Reveal Digital does not have a clear takedown policy on their website. A takedown policy describes the mechanism for someone to request that digital content be taken off a website or digital collection. Hathi’s Trust’s takedown policy is a good example of a policy around copyright. When I spoke to Peggy Glahn, Program Director for Reveal Digital she explained there isn’t a formal takedown policy. Someone could contact the rights holder (the magazine publisher, the photographer, or the person who owns the copyright to the content) and have them make the takedown request to Reveal Digital. Even for librarians it’s sometimes tricky to track down the copyright holder of a magazine that’s not being published anymore. By being stewards of this digital content I believe that Reveal Digital has an ethical obligation to make this process clearer.
There are ways to improve access to the content through metadata initiatives. I’m really, really excited by Bobby Noble and Lisa Sloniowski‘s proposed project exploring linked data in relation to Derrida and feminism. I’ve loved hearing how Lisa’s project has shifted from a physical or digital archive of feminist porn to a linked data project documenting the various relationships between different people. I think the current iteration avoids dodgy ethics while exploring new ways of thinking about the content and people through linked data. Another example of this is Sarah Mann’s index of the first 10 years of OOB for the Canadian Gay and Lesbian Archive.
We need to have an in depth discussion about the ethics of digitization in libraries. The Zine librarian’s Code of Ethics is the best discussion of these issues that I’ve read. There two ideas that are relevant to my concerns are about consent and balancing interests between access to the collection and respect for individuals.
Whenever possible, it is important to give creators the right of refusal if they do not wish their work to be highly visible.
Because of the often highly personal content of zines, creators may object to having their material being publicly accessible. Zinesters (especially those who created zines before the Internet era) typically create their work without thought to their work ending up in institutions or being read by large numbers of people. To some, exposure to a wider audience is exciting, but others may find it unwelcome. For example, a zinester who wrote about questioning their sexuality as a young person in a zine distributed to their friends may object to having that material available to patrons in a library, or a particular zinester, as a countercultural creator, may object to having their zine in a government or academic institution.
Consent is a key feminist and legal concept. Digitizing a feminist porn publication without consideration for the right to be forgotten is unethical.
The Zine librarian’s Code of Ethics does a great job of articulating the tension that sometimes exists between making content available and the safety and privacy of the content creators:
To echo our preamble, zines are “often weird, ephemeral, magical, dangerous, and emotional.” Dangerous to whom, one might ask? It likely depends on whom one asks, but in the age of the Internet, at least one prospectively endangered population are zinesters themselves. Librarians and archivists should consider that making zines discoverable on the Web or in local catalogs and databases could have impacts on creators – anything from mild embarrassment to the divulging of dangerous personal information.
Zine librarians/archivists should strive to make zines as discoverable as possible while also respecting the safety and privacy of their creators.
I’ve heard similar concerns with lack of care by universities when digitizing traditional Indigenous knowledge without adequate consultation, policies or understanding of cultural protocols. I want to learn more about Indigenous intellectual property, especially in Canada. It’s been a few years since I’ve looked at Mukurtu, a digital collection platform that was built in collaboration with Indigenous groups to reflect and support cultural protocols. Perhaps queers and other marginalized groups can learn from Indigenous communities about how to create culturally appropriate digital collections.
Librarians need to take more care with the ethical issues, that go far beyond simple copyright clearances, when digitizing and putting content online.
As a newcomer to the open education community I observed that there is a core group of smart and passionate people who were doing their thing. At first the opportunities for where and how I could participate were not obvious or clear to me. I don’t think I’m the only person who has been puzzled by how to become an active participant, instead of a bystander, in this community.
I’m completely inspired by the idea of a Z-degree, or a degree program where there is no cost for textbooks for any of the classes, but feel that’s a daunting goal from where most of our institutions are at currently. I’m excited about how some faculty are moving away from disposable assignments to assignments that further knowledge creation and sharing, but I don’t regularly teach so this isn’t something that connects with me either.
While the open education community is much more decentralized and open source communities have some additional structures (like feature road maps and release dates) there are still some valuable lessons that can be learned.
I’m excited to see that accessibility is becoming more of a mainstream discussion within web development communities and technology companies.
This short 2 minute video from IBM answers the question “why is accessibility important?” The production values are high and the music is upbeat and feel good. This video was created with subtitles, which makes it accessible to Deaf and Hard of Hearing folks.
This video, however, is not accessible to blind and many visually impaired people as it has lots of information that is only conveyed visually and there is no descriptive audio. The following facts are only presented as text on the screen:
1.2 billion people in the world have a disability
600 million are over the age of 60
10,000 people will turn 65 every day for the next 15 years
20% of the population has language or text comprehension difficulty
2.4 million children have cognitive learning difficulties
In addition to these snippets of text, the visuals of different people with different types of disabilities doing different things is not accessible to blind people. While the talking heads are accessible, a blind person doesn’t know who the person talking is. This context is important.
This is highly ironic as the video opens with a (presumably blind) person using a white cane and then cuts to a short clip of a different person walking with a service dog.
Phil Gilbert, General Manager, IBM Design and one of the talking heads in this video says:
I think we have a unique responsibility to the world, being who we are, to design for inclusion. The differentiation that we can drive into the marketplace by designing intentionally to reach every possible human being on the planet, regardless of their technical capability, I think it could possibly be one of the key differentiation of our portfolio has in the marketplace.
In addition to being full of jargon like “key differentiation of our portfolio” this video does not deliver on the promise to design for inclusion or to reach every possible human being on the planet. This video on accessibility excludes blind and visually impaired people and that sucks.