welcome to code4lib

This was my first code4lib. It was awesome and one of the best library things I’ve ever been to–I’m inspired by the work people are doing, I’m excited to research new things and most importantly I feel like I’ve finally found my people in libraries.

I have been reluctant to go to code4lib in the past, as I’d heard it was a hostile environment for women. While I’ve heard about a couple of crappy incidents in the past, this was by far the most welcoming tech event I have ever been to. Here are some of the things that the code4lib community is doing to make the community and conference welcoming and inclusive place.

Community norms
While code4lib is a really loose community there are strong informal community norms. The community leaders (who would likely balk at being identified as community leaders) socialize new people by demonstrating what the community values (openness, sharing, creativity, humour and craft beer) in informal and slightly more formal ways. An example of a more formal way is Declan‘s post on hacking code4lib, which includes some guidelines for IRC:

Don’t be sexist/racist/*ist

It’s great to be funny, maybe even a little blue at times, but be careful about steering into areas that make segments of the world uncomfortable, or even feel attacked. We are in a very interesting niche of the technology world. Our librarian population is primarily female, but our technical aspects of librarianship tend to be more stereotypically white and male. We have a wonderful opportunity to attract and promote equality in our field and there’s no reason to make an underrepresented group feel unwanted just to get a couple laughs.

Seeing the gender imbalance written out and reading that this is an opportunity to promote equality makes me relax as I know there are other people who notice that this is a predominantly male environment. I really dislike how some people equate having an environment that is welcoming to women as politically correct unfun spaces. People are funny, in person, in IRC and on the mailing list, yet I don’t feel like the jokes are racist, sexist or homophobic. There’s some “that’s what she said” banter, but I didn’t hear “website that even your mom could use” rubbish or comments that made me angry, sad or feel like I was not among my people. It’s possible to be clever and funny without being a sexist douche.

Scholarships
It’s awesome to see a community put some money where their mouth is. There are   scholarships to promote gender and cultural diversity. I love that gender diversity are includes both women and transgender people. This is another language flag that signals to me that these are my people and they get it.

Newcomer dinners
The newcomer dinners are a great way for new folks to meet people. It’s hard to have indepth conversations with large groups, so having dinner with 6-8 people is perfect. For a community that is more introverts than extroverts, this is a great way for people to connect. It would be better to schedule these for the first night, instead of the second night of the conference.

Program
It was good to see a number of smart women presenting. The code4lib community has their own (broken? see some notes from Erik Hetzner’s lightening talk) way of voting for presentations.

It’s tricky–I want to see more women attending and presenting, but I don’t want to see women presenting on topics that aren’t appropriate for a technical audience. I think this is setting some women up to fail and reinforces that women aren’t doing good technical work. When I helped select the program for Access 2011 one of our goals was to aim for equality in the ratio of male:female presenters. While I think the liberal feminist strategy of counting the number of women is useful, it is also limited. After reviewing the submissions that we received I contacted a few women who I thought would have interesting things to present and invited them to present at Access. I didn’t want presenters to feel tokenized because of their gender but I didn’t want to organize a conference that was mostly men presenting.

Encouragement from code4lib vetrans
At Access both Bess Sadler and Karen Coombs encouraged me to go to code4lib. I have a lot of respect and admiration for these two geeky women who do great work. A lot of other folks in the code4lib community also encouraged me to go too. I’m so glad I did, as I met so many awesome people, have some more insights on how to put on events, learned some new things and am inspired to hack my library’s culture.

This year about 22% of the participants were women, and 38% of the presenters were women. On my bike rides to work I’ve been pondering what an ideal code4lib looks like in terms of women’s participation. It will never be a 50-50 split, and I’m not sure if that’s a super useful way to assess things. Many communities struggle with how to be inclusive while retaining their core focus. I think code4lib is doing a bunch of things right. Thank you everyone who has put their energy into making code4lib such an awesome conference and community, and doing interesting and awesome work in libraries with technology.

Also, thanks Equinox Software for the scholarship, Erik Hatcher from Lucid Imagination for your registration slot, and Kathleen Jacques for the Photoshop help.

Edit: Bohyun Kim and Becky Yoose started a Google Doc as a place to brainstorm ways to make code4lib more welcoming for newbies, go add your clever ideas there.