Harassment at ALA and Canadian Libel Law Resources #teamharpy

Update 3/25/2015 – Team Harpy retracts their allegations against Joe Murphy.

In my post on the Joe Murphy Lawsuit and Team Harpy, I provided links in the sentence:

We need to make it easier to report harassment, not harder —  given incidents at tech conferences, the US Congress, and ALA itself.

Almost as soon as I posted that entry, I realized that the material listed under “ALA itself” deserved a fuller mention. I also thought it would be helpful to provide a few links to resources about Canadian libel law, since that is where the suit is taking place. Rather than update my original post, I thought I’d do a new one.

Harassment at ALA

All through the development of the American Library Association’s (ALA) Code of Conference Conduct and beyond, some people have argued that a Code of Conduct was unneeded because “that sort of thing” didn’t happen at ALA conferences.

In July 2014, after the Las Vegas ALA Annual Conference, Ingrid Henny Abrams aka Magpie Librarian decided to run an online survey asking people if they faced harassment at an ALA conference. The survey link was broadcast through a number of outlets and eventually 321 people responded. While a self-selected sample can’t specify an accurate rate of harassment, I feel that Ms. Abrams’ survey clearly shows it exists at ALA conferences. Her survey lead to three blog posts:

Code of Conduct Survey Results: Just the Numbers

This post indicated that 48 people reported that they had been harassed or intimated at an ALA Conference and other 34 people witnessed such incidents.

Code of Conduct Survey Results: Your Stories

This post provided textual responses from the people completing the survey. Here are some excerpts from Ms. Abrams’ post (She has more stories in each section below, I just picked one or two from each):

Though harassment can manifest itself in many forms, it is unsurprising that many of the stories about harassment were specifically about sexual harassment:

  •  Being hit on by a male (obviously married) vendor who was drunk but kept trying to get me to kiss him
  • One person suggested that we start going to the same conferences so we could start an affair. A second person told me, in a very awkward way, that I was very attractive and just sort of hung around to see what I’d say.

Other harassment came in the form of misgendering, microaggressions, and ageism:

  • I’ve been told that I don’t “look old enough to be a librarian” at a conference before. As with most ageism I’ve encountered in this profession, I suspect the comment was rooted in sexism too. Who goes around telling dudes they don’t look “old enough” to be a professional whatever? I can’t say for certain, I’d venture to guess that not many people do that.
  • A microaggression… someone in a line of white women asking the Latina librarian for assistance in the restroom a black librarian being asked ” Do you work here?” after exiting a stall in the ladies room

Many people whom we meet at conferences are not librarians or traditional conference attendees. Several survey-users mentioned incidences with exhibit floor vendors, authors, hotel workers, and others. Here are some of those stories:

  • I was asked repeated questions about my physical appearance by somebody from the **redacted** Institute (an exhibitor). He asked me to come up to his hotel suite. I refused, but he continued to press the issue. Finally, he got the hint and went away.

“You angry feminist types are always looking for crap to stir”: Code of Conduct Survey Trolls and Others

This posts addresses some of the responses that offered reactions to the idea of the survey.

I think Ms. Abrams has done good work here. She saw a need for information and created a survey that began the process of filling this information gap. By her own admission this isn’t a scientific survey but it does document problems at ALA conferences. The true extent of the problem could probably be determined by a formal, randomized survey of attendees to ALA conferences over the past 10 years. That would be something I’d encourage ALA to do.

Of course, fewer people would be willing to respond to such a survey if Joe Murphy wins his $1.25 million lawsuit against Team Harpy. Why take the risk that your answers might become public and have your harasser(s) sue you? That’s part of the reason Mr. Murphy needs to drop his lawsuit, even if his conduct has always been beyond question. To raise the comfort level to frankly discuss harassment issues within ALA.

Canadian Libel Law Resources

If you’re looking to understand the basics of Canadian libel law and why it is easier to prove than in the United States, I think you’ll find these two resources helpful:

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One Response to Harassment at ALA and Canadian Libel Law Resources #teamharpy

  1. Daniel Cornwall says:

    The Librarian in Black has some powerful personal stories about harassment in general at http://librarianinblack.net/librarianinblack/laundry-and-skeletons-the-reality-of-sexual-assault-and-harassment/.

    I also liked her comment about “microfame.” I think it’s well taken.

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