I endorse the ALA Conference Code of Conduct

Note: I was planning on writing this post a little closer to conference, but I’m writing now because of an explosion of recent blogging and social media activity. As such, this might be a little rough around the edges. 

As noted in my About page, I am on the American Library Association (ALA) Council as Alaska Chapter Representative. As a member of Council, I think it is useful to take a stand on ALA’s recently created Conference Code of Conduct. Here’s the code in full so you can stay on this page:

The American Library Association holds professional conferences and meetings to enable its members to receive continuing education, build professional networks, and discover new products and services for professional use. To provide all participants – members and other attendees, speakers, exhibitors, staff and volunteers – the opportunity to benefit from the event, the American Library Association is committed to providing a harassment-free environment for everyone, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, disability, physical appearance, ethnicity, religion or other group identity.

As an association, ALA is strongly committed to diversity, equity and the free expression of ideas. These values have  been repeatedly delineated in ALA policy (for instance: Policy A.1.4 – Core Organizational ValuesPolicy B.1.1 – Core Values of LibrarianshipPolicy B.1.2 – Code of Professional Ethics). Taken cumulatively, the values and beliefs delineated within ALA policy describe conduct based on a firm belief in the value of civil discourse and the free exploration of competing ideas and concepts – with a fundamental respect for the rights, dignity and value of all persons.

Within the context of ALA policy and the professional practices of librarianship, critical examination of beliefs and viewpoints does not, by itself, constitute hostile conduct or harassment.  Similarly, use of sexual imagery or language in the context of a professional discussion might not constitute hostile conduct or harassment.

ALA seeks to provide a conference environment in which diverse participants may learn, network and enjoy the company of colleagues in an environment of mutual human respect. We recognize a shared responsibility to create and hold that environment for the benefit of all. Some behaviors are, therefore, specifically prohibited:

  • Harassment or intimidation based on race, religion, language, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, disability, appearance,  or other group status.
  • Sexual harassment or intimidation, including unwelcome sexual attention, stalking (physical or virtual), or unsolicited physical contact.
  • Yelling at or threatening speakers (verbally or physically).

Speakers are asked to frame discussions as openly and inclusively as possible and to be aware of how language or images may be perceived by others. Participants may – and do – exercise the “law of two feet.” Exhibitors must follow all ALA Exhibits rules and regulations and ALA policies.

All participants are expected to observe these rules and behaviors in all conference venues, including online venues, and conference social events. Participants asked to stop a hostile or harassing behavior are expected to comply immediately. Conference participants seek to learn, network and have fun. Please do so responsibly and with respect for the right of others to do likewise.

Please contact Conference Services staff in the ALA Office at conference if you believe you have been harassed or that a harassment problem exists. All such reports will be directed immediately to the Director of Conference Services, who will determine and carry out the appropriate course of action, and who may consult with and engage other ALA staff, leaders and legal counsel as appropriate. Event security and/or local law enforcement may be involved, as appropriate based on the specific circumstances. A follow-up report will be made to individuals who report being harassed.

Prior to each ALA Midwinter Meeting and ALA Annual Conference, ALA Conference Services will make the following information available:

  • Information on how to report incidents of any sort to Conference Management (telephone, room location)
  • Emergency contact information:
    • Venue (convention center, hotel) security
    • Local law enforcement, emergency and non-emergency
    • Local emergency and non-emergency medical information
    • Local taxi company(s)
    • Other local services, e.g. hotlines

I support this policy.  I accept that it did not need a formal vote from Council because this statement is an implementation of policies previously passed by Council. I think of policies passed by Council as similar to statutes passed by Congress. Executive Board actions implementing policies are like federal agencies creating regulations based on statute. I do not find anything hinky here.

Beyond that, I don’t find anything objectionable or free speech chilling here. I think that Matthew Ciszek did an excellent job of explaining the difference between professional discourse on difficult topics vs. harassment.

I am a white, heterosexual male and I don’t see anything in the above policy that will keep me from having a good time with my colleagues. But even if I were inconvenienced in some way, it would be worth it to make people feel safer and included (Thanks Ingrid!).

I’m also a big fan of trying things and seeing what happens. If this policy does turn out excessively burdensome for many (against my expectations), then ALA can make adjustments. No one is going to jail for the conduct policy. ALA doesn’t have that kind of power. If you’ve violated local criminal statutes, well it wasn’t the policy that got you arrested.

I’m willing to take comments on this issue, but my primary purpose with this blog post is simply to declare my public support for the Code of Conduct as a member of ALA Council and to say I think the only people who will actually be impacted are haters and people who won’t take no for an answer. And I’m ok with those folks being impacted.

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6 Responses to I endorse the ALA Conference Code of Conduct

  1. Coral says:

    Thanks for this, Daniel! It’s nice to see more Council voices coming out in favor of the Statement and against harassment.

    • Coral, I wanted to add, I love the #backup ribbons!! What a wonderful idea. To me, this is what the CodeOfConduct is all about. Someone has your back. When ‘bad stuff’ happens, the CoC assures me that I can react and stick up for myself (or seek help). All too often people who have been bullied/harassed are afraid to say anything or seek help for fear of being told to “get over it’ and suffer further humiliation. In a sense, all the uproar about the CoC helps remind people that there IS a CoC. Keep up the good work!

  2. Thank you! As Coral said, the more ALA Council voices supporting this, the better.

  3. Caroline Hassler says:

    Thanks, Daniel. I learned about this from your post on FB; I hadn’t heard about this policy but I got curious and looked it up. I value your opinion about it so thanks for addressing it in your blog.

  4. Daniel Cornwall says:

    Coral and Polly – thanks for your kind words. Caroline. Glad I could help. Andromeda Yelton, one of the dozen or so architects of the policy has a post on how it came about at http://andromedayelton.com/blog/2013/11/19/the-new-ala-code-of-conduct/. The first I heard of it was when the completed policy was announced on the ALA Council list.

    As a Council member, I would have liked a notification through official ALA channels that a conference conduct policy was being worked on. BUT the process was out in the open for people following public social media channel and the policy was vetted by the bodies that it needed to be — the ALA Conference Committee, the Executive Board and the ALA Lawyers. Additionally, I think the group, which included Alaska’s own Coral Sheldon-Hess, came up with a reasonable product worth trying. Hence my decision to publicly back the policy. I was also moved by the fierceness of some (not all) of the opposition. I’m not going to say that anyone who is against the conduct policy is pro-groping, but some of the rhetoric against the policy seems to descend to the level of “those whiny girls need to get over themselves and their sensitivities.” Talk like that almost always makes me see red.

    Finally, to reiterate my post, let’s try the policy out for a few years and see what happens. If it makes for more inclusive and civil conferences, we keep it. If there is a real chilling effect on free speech, we’ll take note of it and modify the policy.

  5. Pingback: Frankenstein’s Monsters: Roundup of Responses to ALA’s Code of Conduct | Exit, Pursued By A Bear

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