Gatekeeping the table full of cookies

Note: Comments are moderated on the blog. They will probably not show up to the public until the evening, when I’m back home from work. I can’t seem to train the cats to do comment moderation for me…

There’s been a lot of discussion going on around #libtechgender after the ALA Midwinter conference panel. I’ve been following and poking my head into the conversation stream every so often, but, for the most part, I’ve done a lot more reading than talking. The recent conversation has brought up some things that I’ve been struggling with in regards to #libtechwomen and #libtechgender. Some of those struggles deal with the nature of librarianship, and some of the struggles deals with trying to put some more sensitive internal discussions into words. The latter has seen people more elegant in their use in the English language than I put words to some of those internal discussions I’ve been having; for that, I thank you, and please forgive me for using some of your words to convey some of my thoughts.

I’m not sure if this is the right time for me to talk about the below things, or even if I’m the right person to talk about them, but, for what it’s worth, I’ll try to make it brief.

*****

Librarians are gatekeepers.

Barbara Fister’s recent post about librarians as (sometimes reluctant) gatekeepers touches back to some thoughts that I’ve mulled over since my cataloging days. Catalogers and metadata workers are gatekeepers in their own right. We create the data that is used for discovery and access to information resources. If we mistype a word in the title, for example, that resource might not show up in the catalog if a library user does a title search. We get the factual metadata correct, and then there should be no problem with that title search.

Then you have the subject field. Catalogers and metadata workers have a great amount of control over ambient discoverability and browsing due to the subject keyword work they do. If a particular resource is not given a subject assignment, or is classified a certain way, this excludes the resource from the user searching in a particular area. In short, even though that resource could have been what the user needed, that resource doesn’t exist to the user due to its classification in the library discovery tools.

I’m a gatekeeper, and you are too. Acknowledgment leads to action.

When #libtechwomen started, I wrote in my previous post that, despite the gender specific name, I hoped that the support network would become inclusive to other underrepresented groups. Over the past year, it has, which then #libtechgender was a spin-off of that growth. I still worry, however, that we are unconsciously carrying over our librarian gatekeeper tendencies to this realm. For example, Lisa Rabey has curated a page of #libtechgender writings from the community. This is what we as librarians do: collect resources and make them accessible to users through various ways. While Lisa has done a fine job with curating the page, there is still that gatekeeper element, that subject guide approach which might exclude certain voices and resources. Maybe migrating the list of resources to a more open platform, like a wiki or other collaborative platform, could lessen the gatekeeper aspects of documenting #libtechwomen/#libtechgender; it seems like an appropriate next step, a natural evolution of a growing list that is documenting the different types of voices in the conversation.

*****

Who sits at the table?

Andromeda Yelton talked about sitting at the table at her first hackathon. Since then I’ve paid attention at who’s at the table. Recently, however, my thoughts have shifted from the above question to the following one:

Who decides who sits at the table?

And, after the #libtechgender conversation about the place of storytelling, I don’t like where my thoughts are going with this one, because this is where well-meaning people that I care about do more harm than good.

Why are we focused on telling stories in order to ensure that we get a place at the table?

In our drive for diversity, we forget that some people are not comfortable sharing their stories for various reasons. Some people do not want to very publically come out; some do not want to publically relive the physically and emotionally painful process of becoming a man or a woman. Others are still dealing on how to handle their PTSD from traumatic experiences, and not publically speaking of said experiences could be one strategy that ensures that they don’t take two steps back in terms of managing their PTSD.

This has been a long frustration of mine, and the storytelling vs institutional structure discussion has given me words to put my frustrations into physical form, though my words are probably not as elegant as others. My observations and personal conversations with people surrounding #libtechgender have fueled this frustration. People who should be at the table are not because they feel that they have to tell stories to appease the gatekeepers to the table. If a person believes in a movement and is willing to work with others to achieve the goals of the movement, that alone gives them a place at the table. Telling a story, on the other hand, does not automatically give you a place at that same table. Pressuring people to tell stories in order to gain a seat at the table is unethical at best, dehumanizing at worst.

Perhaps we need to burn the table.

*****

The cookies are not for you.

This last part is the most personal out of the three sections, as well as the most frustrating. The frustration, however, is not with ally cookies. Allies expecting cookies need to be gently reminded (often repeatedly) that, no, you don’t get cookies when you support someone, make a change in the system that benefits underrepresented folks, and so on.

I’d like to address the other cookie seekers.

Those who solely use a movement for their own gain, be it for professional prestige, personal ego, or both.

Those who are insistent that their voice be a part of every conversation, every discussion, especially those where it is inappropriate for them to actively engage in that discussion without listening and understanding the context surrounding said discussion first.

Those who claim to listen, but otherwise show no evidence of such listening in their actions.

Those who keep telling their story, not to encourage, not to educate, not to mobilize change, but as a means to promote themselves.

Those who do not want to serve the movement, but expect the movement to serve them.

To those people, I have these three things to say:

1.       You don’t get a cookie just because you’re part of a movement.

2.       You don’t get a cookie for voluntary “martyrdom” in the name of the movement.

3.       Practice the following: Shut up. Listen. Adjust as necessary.

There are no cookies.