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How to Conduct Yourself at ALA Conferences

The ALA wants to tell you how to act at ALA conferences. There’s now an official Statement of Appropriate Conduct at ALA Conferences. Read it and be warned.

The statement itself isn’t as interesting as the intrigue behind it. It says the ALA wants a “harassment-free environment for everyone.” Anyone who wouldn’t want that probably should be ignored.

So you don’t have to read the entire document, here are the actions that are “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).

I know sexual harassment of various kinds goes on because I’ve seen it and heard stories about more. I’m not sure what other harassment or intimidation goes on, and sometimes one person’s harassment is another person’s criticism.

Have there been any incidents of yelling at or threatening speakers verbally or physically? Seems very unlibrarianlike behavior.

And why just the speakers? If someone yells at or threatens a librarian passing through the exhibits, is that okay? I guess it must be.

The statement tries to sound ominous near the end.

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.

That sounds dire, but there’s only so much authority anyone’s going to have in these situations. Yelling or threatening might call for legal action, but many of the prohibited behaviors aren’t illegal, at least in this context, and other than public shaming there’s not a darn thing the ALA can do about some of them.

And based on what I’ve seen of the ALA, the organization is definitely not going to do publicly shame or do anything else to an accused person that might bring legal action against the organization. It’s one thing to request that people act courteously and responsibly, but in some situations trying to enforce that behavior is just a lawsuit waiting to happen.

What’s curious about the statement isn’t its existence. Many conferences are starting to do this. Based on a little research, it looks like it started in the tech world, and given the behavior of some of those people, especially some of those men against women, I’m not at all surprised.

What’s curious is the secretive way the document was created. It’s not from or endorsed by the ALA Council, and they had no idea about it until it was a done deal. As far as I can tell, the group creating the document didn’t seek member input at all, either.

It seems like some people secreted themselves away and just wrote the document and got it published as ALA policy without any discussion by the Council or the members in general.

It’s highly unlikely anyone would have voted against a non-harassment policy, but there are plenty of people who probably would have wanted to make a contribution, and based on the discussion on the Council listserv, plenty of people are annoyed that this sort of emerged from nowhere.

But I guess there are worse ALA documents to have emerged from nowhere.

Anyway, I hope everyone has a happy Thanksgiving. I’ll be too busy gobbling turkey to pay attention to blogging stuff.




  1. I think you’ve overlooked the possibility that this is the Social Responsibilities Round Table preparing the “Battle Space” for some near-to-mid-term initiative, one where they can expect to run into some of the the behaviors this document purports to guard against.

    • I followed the discussion about this on the ALA Council list and not in LJ but the comment about the Social Responsibilities Round Table (SRRT) was just pointed out to me. You may have been trying to have a little fun here but here is the reality check. SRRT Action Council and members were as surprised as anyone to see this new policy suddenly appear.

      I am on SRRT Action Council for the Feminist Task Force (FTF) so I really think I would have known if SRRT had any involvement at all with this.

  2. This statement of appropriate conduct is puzzling. It’s odd to use a statement to ban sexual harassment and harassment. They already violate federal law and the laws of many states. Physical and verbal threats are already illegal under most if not all state criminal codes. The prohibition against yelling appears to be an attempt to suppress conference attendee’s ability to speak. Any person who wants to pose a question or make a comment at a conference session would need to raise her voice to be heard, even in a small room. Pretty much any attempt to speak can be interpreted as yelling and banned.


  3. From what I remember in my library history course a little sexual harassment is just continuing in the grand tradition Melvil Dewey set when he founded the ALA so he could be more efficient in his pickup artistry.

  4. John Scalzi recently stated that he wouldn’t be attending conferences or conventions unless they had an enforceable harassment policy on the books ( Approximately one gazillion other writers and associated personalities (conservative estimate) co-signed or voiced their support for Scalzi’s policy, which is probably why ALA put this in place so quickly.

    Not that I think it’s a bad thing; I’m actually very glad to see that the policy exists. But that might explain why it was done in such a hurry as to give it the appearance of a covert op.

  5. I’m sorry, but Scalzi et al have lost me here. What harassment etc… are they referring to? Or, perhaps more pertinently, what kind of conferences do they attend? I’ve been to dozens of library and literary conferences, and I never once sensed that there was rape and pillage going on anywhere. An abrupt or rude questioner or two, sure, but what can be done about that.

    Come on, Scalzi’s stance is nothing but bedwetting that’s got the better of him…

    • Scalzi wrote the policy mostly with sci-fi and comic cons in mind. Being a sci-fi and comic fan myself, I know that most of these cons are safe for the vast majority of attendees, but there have been some nasty incidents made public lately (and probably happening far longer than that.)

      I think what really set Scalzi off was that often the harasser is someone of power in the industry, taking advantage of someone without power by trying to make it in that industry.

    • Erasmus, I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that you might be male. I know it’s been a few weeks since this comment was posted, but harassment, especially of female attendees, is distressingly common in in both fan-run and professional conventions. Just looking for articles and blog posts on the subject will show you that, although not everyone has experienced harassment, these incidents are far from isolated.

  6. I thought the policy had to do with the AL’s martini drinking habit…

    • That’s why she doesn’t recall any insults or threats being made towards speakers. She was too hammered to remember she was yelling obscenties.

  7. All such reports will be directed immediately to the Director of Conference Services, who will determine and carry out the appropriate course of action,…

    How is this policy different than no policy? Either way, people can talk to the director, and the director can do whatever they want after talking to whoever they way.

    The whole thing seems more like some political statement (Look how much we care! We have a policy!) than an actual attempt to create predictable action.

  8. Two comments.

    1) ALA just last week made little of the sexual harassment of librarians that result from ALA’s pro-porn policy. You can see this yourselves (YouTube) when Barbara Jones and Deborah Caldwell-Stone speak at the library board meeting of the Orland Park Public Library.

    2) I am happy ALA has taken this step to protect librarians from harassment, although only at conferences, as I have urged ALA to take action to stop the harassment: “Stalker Assaults and Librarians Harass Librarian In Black; ALA Should Support Sarah Houghton and Other Beleaguered Librarians”:

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