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Experiencing different realities

I’ve been alerted that the December 2013/January 2014 edition of Against The Grain will include a rebuttal of my keynote address at the November 2013 Charleston Conference, and a kind soul who will remain anonymous provided me with a copy of that rebuttal. When it is published online, if you have ATG access, it will be here. The article also provides a link to a video of the speech I gave, which is here. (Note: These links are not currently working, as of 10:20 on 2/6. They are not the official links, so they were bound to be unreliable. There’s nothing I can do about it. If you want to see the official stuff, petition the conference to launch the proceedings soon.)

Against the Grain is the publication most closely linked to the Charleston Conference, so this is an eminently logical place for the article to appear. And I’m not surprised that there are detractors. I was blunt, I was confrontational, and I was aggressive. I made some people angry, and offended others. That happens when you’re blunt and confrontational. I expected pushback. I’m happy to see the debate expand and continue. So please understand that this post does not come from a place of “how dare you disagree with me.”

It does come from a place of “Really? That’s the line you’re going to take?”

There is a big and important conversation going on right now about the ALA Code of Conduct (you can start here, or here, if you don’t know what I’m talking about), and many of the most heated arguments around it have boiled down to one dichotomous understanding of librarians’ experiences: People who have not experienced or witnessed the reality of harassment think the policy will be problematic to their freedom of expression. People who have experienced or witnessed the reality of harassment think the policy is a necessary step toward making their professional world safer and more welcoming. The first group seems deeply challenged to understand the reality of the second group.

This rebuttal presents the same lack of understanding in no uncertain terms.

The problem starts here: “Though Ms. Rogers claims to speak for the library profession, the experiences she described are unlike anything we have witnessed.”

And continues here: “During her presentation, Ms. Rogers read paraphrased comments made to her or other librarians from different vendors. While some of the comments were shocking, we felt the meaning was lost without the full context; they were soundbites from a longer missing narrative, which could have included the vendor’s perspective.”

And ends here: “Yes, you are wrong. Disagreements with publishers over financial transactions or business models are in no way analogous to physical or mental abuse.”

So. When I read that, I see this: The authors state that they haven’t experienced the kind of harassment and negative interactions I’ve described, and they won’t accept my reporting of that harassment as valid without hearing from the aggressors, and in the end I’m just wrong for calling those experiences abusive.

We’re clearly experiencing different realities, here. Very similar worlds, experienced in very dissimilar ways.

The difference between the aggression and confrontation of my talk, and the aggression and confrontation I see in this article, is that my goal was not ever to tell librarians to sit down and shut up because they’re wrong. I deeply hope that isn’t the message anyone took away from my words. I very much do see that message in this piece; it’s a reprimand against speaking bluntly, against truth-telling, and against identifying abusive behavior. It contains a very clear message: I’m doing this wrong, and I should shut up.

I could refute each point, argument by argument. I have opinions on this stuff. (Clearly.) But I just don’t think it’s worth it. To keep things short, sweet, and on topic,  I’ll say this: I’m not ashamed of what I said. Nothing I said was untrue, or embellished. As a result, I’m not overly concerned by reactions to the content. I will let my words speak for themselves, and encourage you, libraryfolks, to take a look or a listen. I am concerned by reactions about tone, and about speech. So if you disagree with me on content, I hope you will do so publicly, and advance our discourse. I just hope that you’ll do it with a little less victim-blaming than I read here, and a little more awareness that we are all experiencing different realities, side by side, in this profession of ours. I hope you can see that just because you don’t recognize my reality as being parallel to yours doesn’t make me wrong.

And I won’t be shutting up.

21 Responses to Experiencing different realities

  1. Hi Jenica,
    Although as an Australian librarian I don’t want to comment on matters within the US profession, but everything you have written here about your experiences with vendors is so similar to what I have expereinced here (from the big law publishers, in my case), and I have been cheering you all the way for speaking out. Adriaan

    • Thanks, Adriaan. I think that’s part of what frustrates me so much about this article. I know there are more people like us out there — I hear from them regularly — and to have our experiences dismissed like this… That’s not my professional ideal.

  2. OK, now you have me burning to read that piece. Too bad it isn’t out yet. I saw this come through on Twitter but didn’t glean enough to know what it was all about, so I was glad to see this post. Meanwhile, I thought others might also want the link to your slides although the video is really all they need to understand your arguments (although I found that pic of the deer in headlights particularly entertaining). http://www.slideshare.net/CharlestonConference/jenica-rogers-librarians-in-the-postdigital-information-era-reclaiming-our-rights-and-responsibilities

    • I respect ATG and Charleston too much, and am too much a librarian, to blatantly post a preprint whose rights ownership is outside my understanding. So I’m sorry for that frustration, but, well, it will eventually drive traffic to them, right?

      And thanks for the slide link!

  3. An entirely classy response. Hope it goes well once it’s published.

  4. I really want to see the rest of that video! I didn’t make it to Charleston this year. Are there more links to the rest of it? As a librarian who has worked for a small private university, a big research university, a for-profit vendor and a not-for profit cooperative, I have always endeavored to improve the relationships and two-way education between libraries and service providers (throw in the non-library sector vendors and it’s even more fun!). Keep up the the good work, Jenica, it moves the library profession forward and enhances the entire ecosystem. I look forward to reading ATG (partly because I’m interviewed in there, too!) and to following your blog.

  5. As I read that piece I was simply shocked by the oddness of it all. I found myself saying “huh?” and “what?” out loud many times. I think that “different realities” is indeed the best way to describe it. Kudos for handling this odd attack with professionalism and grace.

  6. If you download from the Dropbox link, rather than just play the preview, it’s all there.

    • Nope. Link is DEAD.

      “Error (509)
      This account’s public links are generating too much traffic and have been temporarily disabled!”

      • To which Error I must reply “Go Jenica!” Your point was to start a conversation – I think you’ve succeeded, in part thanks to your rather narrow-minded detractors. Thanks for keeping it classy, but not apologetic.

  7. Extra traffic kudos! “This account’s public links are generating too much traffic and have been temporarily disabled!”

  8. This is reminding me of another drama taking place in the media…in the NYT perhaps? Victim-blaming indeed.

  9. I’m really interested by watching this whole ALA CoC thing play out. It really reminds me of previous pushback experienced by geek conferences looking to introduce a CoC such as PyCon and Linux.conf.au and also gamer conferences such as PAX.

    There is a greater veneer of politeness in some cases over the ALA discussion, but it still seems to come down to people in a position of power and privilege (i.e. generally older white men) refuting the importance of a CoC because nothing bad has ever happened to them. As a feminist it’s frustratingly familiar.

    I’m really glad to see people I respect such as yourself, Matthew Cizek (and many more) fighting the good fight. It is important to have a robust Code of Conduct in place and I hope other library associations take notice and follow ALAs lead.

  10. I know that the CoC is not the central point of discussion here so I hope you don’t mind if I take a moment comment on that issue. I think the following is an over simplification: “People who have not experienced or witnessed the reality of harassment think the policy will be problematic to their freedom of expression. People who have experienced or witnessed the reality of harassment think the policy is a necessary step toward making their professional world safer and more welcoming.”

    I have both experienced and witnessed the reality of harassment within this profession and yet I remain deeply troubled by a small portion of the CoC that I think is more aimed at speech than conduct. I welcome a CoC, I am just uncomfortable with some of the content of this this one. Sadly, the discussions were so polarizing it was hard to make such a nuanced point — people tended to be categorized as for or against. It’s a gray world and there should be room for respectful dialogue.

    As to the main topic here — I think you have started a very important conversation and I have followed it for sometime now. While I have appreciated your perspective, until recently I had not “experienced the reality” of the negative interactions with vendors to the extent that I recently did during some meetings at ALA. Please do keep speaking out as there are others out here who appreciate an honest open discussion on this topic.

  11. I am a woman of similar age and background to you, Jenica. Even though we have some of the same hobbies, I am not a librarian nor a “folk hero.” Like you, I do have “a thing based on how [I’ve] been treated over the years that is [my] pet peeve.”

    I was once a nervous 20+ year old presenting in front of a room of 50+ librarians about an unpopular policy. That was the first time I was shouted down and sworn at in the course of trying to do my job. Over the years I have had clients yell at me, call me names, tell me I’m a bad person and the work I do helping negotiate content into universities is evil. Last year, I sat in a crowded room at a conference and listened as the keynote speaker called me an abuser and the people I respect just passive victims. Regarding NDAs, which when used are commonly negotiated to mutually protect the privacy and rights of both parties: “Let me reframe that for you in domestic terms. Your spouse won’t let you talk to your friends. Your spouse asks you to break the law for them. Your spouse reminds you that you can’t support yourselves without them and so if you walk away you’ll be homeless. Your spouse buys you presents in exchange for your silence about the state of your home life. That sounds awful, right?” It’s funny because I would have said the same thing about how I was treated. Of course, I couldn’t object, I couldn’t defend the young people sitting next to me, and I can’t complain because my job is as a service provider. Besides, I deserve this treatment because of who I work for. It’s my fault I stayed in this relationship. Right?

    I have read the rebuttal in its entirety and personally I am grateful to the diverse group of writers for advocating that both sides treat each other with respect and open dialogue, the very opposite of telling anyone to shutting up. Just as I am grateful that most librarians, the vast majority of librarians, choose to talk to me as a person, recognize that people like me still get naively excited about providing access to knowledge to students around the world, and choose to debate and negotiate without a flame war or just saying “fuck all of ‘em” as you said on Twitter yesterday about your colleagues. Instead, they call, they write, they talk, and they keep dialogue open because that is the best way forward forward for all parties, including the patrons we all serve.

    • I did say “fuck all of em”, of the authors of this piece, you’re correct. And I said it in a context you’ve chosen to ignore: that I am insulted, personally, that the authors of the piece in question have decided I can’t speak to what emotional abuse is or feels like. They have no right to that assertion about my life experiences, and are incorrect in their assumptions. I’m still pissed about that part. Just because they don’t like what I said doesn’t negate my right to say it, or erase my experiences or my reactions to them or the way those experiences have shaped my life and worldview. And that’s entirely unprofessional: it’s utterly personal. I own it. I said it. I’m still furious. I won’t apologize for it. They are plainly out of line in this regard.

      What I find interesting is that you’re taking this so personally. You’ve chosen not to leave your name, though my bog stats tell me who you work for, and I made no comment about your employer. We, here at Potsdam, actually rather love your business model as a whole. I called out explicit and identified cases of abusive actions from corporations, and I was honest and accurate about my experiences with those organizations. I exhorted librarians not to accept such poor treatment. How is that, in any way, an attack on you, unless your behavior matches what I was describing?

      And you’re making analogies I never made. You clearly have access to the transcript or to the video of the speech. Please, go through it again, and look at what I actually encouraged librarians to do. Find the place where I said or implied that librarians should abuse vendors and those who work for them. Find something untrue in what I said about how I have been treated or the impacts of that treatment on libraries. Show me what I’ve done, and I’ll gladly talk that through with anyone who wants to discuss it. I am not afraid of or concerned by the content of this discussion, as I said above. I’m objecting to the tone, as I think you are, as well. But I think we see the tone and intent and delivery of my talk very differently. So show me where I was out of line. I’ve apologized many times for things I’ve said and done. If I need to do it again, I will. But not without something more than you’ve given thus far.

      • Though I’m not the original person to whom you replied, and don’t wish to speak on her behalf, I do think I can shed some light on why some people may find your plenary problematic.

        As the authors of the piece (which I have also read) say, with respect to your domestic abuse analogy, it was “inappropriate and offensive, especially to those in attendance (and there were a few) who had experienced, either directly or indirectly, domestic violence.” In no way does that statement read as a call to silence you about your own experiences with domestic abuse. Rather, it states pretty plainly that discussing domestic abuse in a roomful of people ostensibly at a talk about librarianship might serve to trigger, in some of the attendees, horrible recollections of their own experiences with domestic abuse.

        A talk at Charleston, in other words, should probably not have to come with a trigger warning, and if the speaker is insistent on making an analogy that might require one, she should at the very least have the courtesy to warn her audience beforehand.

        Hence, from my reading of the article, the claim that the analogy was “inappropriate and offensive.” It was neither the time nor the place for a discussion of domestic abuse.

        To the people in the audience that you caused personal pain, you do indeed owe an apology, regardless of your own experiences and no matter how apt you think your analogy is.

        • And to those who have made that argument, I have apologized, personally and privately, as that was how it was brought to me. I have not felt the need to make a public apology, as there has been no public outcry. (Though it had occurred to me to put a trigger warning and an apology on the link when I posted it officially, after Charleston published it — I just, frankly, forgot this time around, in my fury over the tone of the piece, which is my fault.) An the lack of public outcry is part of why I’ve asked the questions I’ve asked. I want to see where things fall. I’m curious.

          I still will argue about authorial intent in the piece referenced above. The quote you’ve given concludes with the quote I’ve given, which says “Yes, you are wrong. Disagreements with publishers over financial transactions or business models are in no way analogous to physical or mental abuse.” And *that* directly states that I am *wrong* in my interpretation of abuse. *That* defines abuse externally, without acknowledging that I too am speaking from personal experiences. *That* gives privilege to other people’s experiences rather than mine. They are directly saying I have no right to say what I said.

          And I do have that right. Some say it was an inappropriate venue. Some say I shouldn’t have said it. Others have disagreed. Clearly, *I* disagreed at the time, or I wouldn’t have done it. But I didn’t do it with the intent to hurt anyone. It was 30 seconds of a 50 minute speech, and in my overall attempt to craft that 50 minute message, I didn’t consider how it might be hurtful to others, because I wouldn’t find it hurtful. That lack of consideration is also my fault. And I am sorry that people were hurt by it; that wasn’t my intent, by a long shot. No prevarication or mitigation: I did not mean to hurt anyone, and I apologize for doing so. I’ll happily take that as a lesson learned in my own life and strive not to do it again.

          But no one gets to tell me I’m wrong about how I’ve been treated, or my right and ability to identify that treatment as abusive behavior. Specifically when the people in question have already identified that they’ve never experienced it themselves.

  12. now I really wish I had access to the video. dang it.

  13. *slow clap*

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