Developing a culture of consent at code4lib

two letterpressed greeting cards, left one "yes way", right one "no way"

I love code4lib. code4lib is not a formal organization, it’s more of a loose collective of folks. The culture is very DIY. If you see something that needs doing someone needs to step up and do it. I love that part of our culture is reflecting on our culture and thinking of ways to improve it. At this year’s conference we made some improvements on our culture.

Galen Charlton kicked this discussion off with an email on the code4lib list by suggesting we institute a policy like the Evergreen conference (which was informed by work done by The Ada Initiative) where “consent be explicitly given to be photographed or recorded”.

Kudos to the local organizing committee for moving quickly (like just over 3 hours from Galen’s initial email). They purchased coloured lanyards to indicate to participants views on being photographed: red means don’t photograph me, yellow means ask me before photographing me, and green means go ahead and photograph me. This is an elegant and simple solution.

Over the past few years streaming the conference presentations has become standard as is publishing these videos to the web after the conference. This is awesome and important—not everyone can travel to attend the conference. This allows us to learn faster and build better things. I suggested that it was time to explicitly obtain speaker’s consent to stream their presentation and archive the video online.

At first I was disheartened by some of comments on the list :

  • “This needs to be opt out, not opt in.”
  • “An Opt-Out policy would be more workable for presenters.”
  • “requiring explicit permission from presenters is overly burdensome for the (streaming) crew that is struggling to get the recordings”
  • 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.”

The lack of understanding about informed consent means a few things about the code4lib community:

  1. there’s a lack of connection to feminist organizing that has a long history of collective organizing and consent
  2. the laissez-faire approach to consent (opt-out) centres male privilege
  3. this community still has work to do around rape culture. 

It was awesome to get support from the Programming Committee, the local organizers and some individuals. We managed to update the consent form we used for Access to be specific to code4lib and get it out to speakers in just over a week. Ranti quickly stepped up and volunteered to help me obtain consent forms from all of the speakers. As this is a single stream conference there were only 39 people so it wasn’t that much work to do. 

Here’s the consent form we used.  A few people couldn’t agree to the copyright bits, so they crossed that part out. I’m sure this form will evolve to become better.

At code4lib 2015 in Portland it was the first time we were explicit about consent. The colour coded lanyards and speaker consent forms are an important part of building a culture of consent.

Thanks to my smart friend Eli Manning (not the football player) for giving me feedback on this.

this is a love letter

Photo credit: Danita Thewalkingcrime

I’m sad I wasn’t able to make it to code4lib this year in Chicago. Instead I tuned in via the Livestream and have rewatched a couple of talks several times. The presentations that have been had the biggest impact on me at code4lib and other conferences are the ones where I feel an emotional connection with the speaker or when I know the presenter is stretching out of their comfort zone to push against the edges of what’s possible. The speakers who resonate most deeply for me are ones who take an emotional risk and name their personal stake in their work or give me a glimpse of the complexity of who they are.

Bess Sadler’s talk titled Creating a Commons  moved me to tears at my desk. I love her values, intelligence and bravery. Her comments about community are spot on:

Hydra, in additional to being a digital  repository  solution, is a  community. In fact, increasinly this seems like our primary identity. What we are finding is the ability to collaborate on common solutions is more important than any single project. This gives us  resiliency  and room to experiment. I think having a community makes us feel safe enough to take risks. And sharing work frees up our time to innovate. By trusting in each other and cultivating in each other willingness to experiment. We get to try cool experiments like Fedora4lib.

Bess talked about how she ways that she has hacked code4lib. I love how she modeled behaviour for “receiving a bug report” from a colleague about the original title of her talk. I hope she posts the text of her talk soon, because she there were some excellent soundbites about libraries, software, our values, “hacker  epistemology” and concrete ideas on how to grow the code4lib community in a more inclusive way for the benefit of all. (Edit: Bess has posted the text of her talk.)

I’ve watched Mark Matienzo’s lightning talk a few times and it still gives me goosebumps. I thought I understood what he was saying, but now I’m not sure. Currently I’m lost down the rabbit hole of some awesome links (1, 2) that he shared about Tim Sherratt’s work, especially the real face of white Australians  project.

Mark’s post about his lightning talk is intellectually rich and has given me some big ideas to chew on. However, this is the most powerful part for me, where he makes the personal political:

Through depression and loss I have learned that keeping my emotions  private  was deleterous to my well-being. Making them public was a necessity, even to just a selected public. It also dawned on me that acknowledging emotion publicly could be a political act or bound with political expression, which I surprisingly discovered as also being present in some of Ann Cvetkovich’s more recent work. Expressing emotion itself could also, in some cases, become an expression or assertion of power. The hardest part of this, at least, was finding my voice.

Thank you Bess and Mark for talking about emotion at the most technical library conference out there. It was a brave, inspring and radical thing to do. The work that folks in the code4lib community is so awesome, but how we choose to do it is also awesome. Some days at work I lose hope that we will be able to accomplish our lofty goals. The work that people in the code4lib community do, the ways that we’re working to be more inclusive community, and the things that we accomplish when we work together give me hope.

Thank you code4lib. I love you folks so much.

 

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.