I’ve got a long list of things I’d like to post about, but I’m just feeling crabby and unable to focus on them right now. I’m not feeling down about my own life. Other than the folks in IT doing something horrendous to our proxy server, my life’s pretty good. It’s just the state of things… things that affect groups I’m a member of (librarians and women)… things that I have very little control over as an individual but that large numbers of people could do a lot about.
So here’s what has put me into a black mood:
- My good friend Michelle getting much less than she deserves for speaking at a conference
- this whole business with Kathy Sierra from Creating Passionate Users getting scary misogynistic death threats
So background on thing number 1. Michelle is giving a full-day workshop at the Texas Library Association. I have never done a full-day workshop at a conference, but after spending a full day teaching the folks at ALA about wikis (which was pretty casual and low-stress) I was completely worn out. It’s hard work to talk all day and answer questions and be charming, even if you’re enjoying what you’re doing. I got paid to speak with the folks from ALA and got to stay in a nice hotel room that had a flat screen TV (yes, I’m such a yokel… it was the first flat screen TV I’ve ever watched other than in the stores!). I also got to eat my favorite Edwardo’s pizza, which really, made the trip for me. 🙂 It was a very positive experience. So the first problem is, Michelle is not getting paid to give this talk. And if she gets to sit in a hotel room with a flat screen TV, it will be on her own dime since she’s not getting reimbursed for travel. I think Michelle’s first mistake was saying yes to this. That’s a whole lot of work for no compensation. But I understand her position… she’s on the tenure track and that can make a librarian do things that go against their very sense of self-worth. If it wasn’t bad enough, if Michelle wants to go to other talks at the conference, she has to pay to attend them. Michelle is making thousands of dollars for their organization; the least they could do is show a little bit of appreciation.
On the other hand, my friend Dorothea, who does not live in Texas, is getting paid a good deal of money and is getting her travel expenses covered to speak for 45 minutes at the same conference. And she thinks this is just as completely unbalanced and unfair as I do. I’m just glad both Michelle and Dorothea are being so candid and are showing us how differently they are being treated by conference organizers.
I would like for one person to give me a good reason why a speaker from out-of-state should be treated so much better a speaker from in-state (who isn’t even a member of the organization). And then add to that the fact that the in-state speaker is actually making far more money for the conference and is giving a talk that is 5 or 6 hours longer. I constantly hear that this happens all the time. And I had it pulled on me by the New England Library Association Conference (which is why I won’t be speaking at their conference next October). What I’m wondering is why? Is there some really good reason for this that I am missing?
If I was considering getting involved in my state library association and they pulled that, I wouldn’t ever give them a dime. Really, it’s not a great move on the member recruitment end. I spoke at my state library conference last year and I got paid. I didn’t even ask for money; I just got a letter saying “you will be paid $200.” They also reimbursed me for my mileage, which was an additional $50. Plus, I attended the other talks all day without paying any money. I’m sure it didn’t bankrupt the conference to do any of this and it made me feel good about my involvement. How many Texas speakers who aren’t members of TLA might become members if they didn’t feel like they were already getting shafted?
I genuinely hope that Michelle quickly becomes a white-hot commodity in the speaking world so that she never again feels that she needs to do this. I’m sure as soon as people see her speak at our Computers in Libraries talk (which I’m told will involve ponies), word of her super-terrific-greatness will spread.
The second thing I am unhappy about involves petty blogosphere squabbles, Internet bullying, misogyny, death threats and mob mentality. I am definitely a fan of Kathy Sierra’s writing on her blog, and I was appalled to hear that she’d been getting death threats. The quick story is, some too-cool-for-school bloggers started these two sites devoted to bashing popular bloggers (at least that’s what I’ve gotten out of the commentary; the sites have been taken down). One of the people they went after is Kathy Sierra. Apparently, anonymous posters on the site starting posting really hateful, misogynistic and graphically violent things and there seem to have been some visual and text death threats aimed at Kathy. Whether these people would actually do anything or not, Kathy is rightly afraid and is now canceling speaking engagements and feels like she can’t leave her home. I really can’t imagine what she is going through and I am appalled that she has to go through it.
But it’s more than just death threats. It’s about the misogyny (often anonymous) that we all see spewed out on the Web from time to time. The best way to really hurt a smart successful woman who is successful because she is so smart is to demean her sexually or physically. No, don’t come up with a good argument about why their writing sucks or their arguments are weak. Talk about how ugly she is or how big or small her chest is. Make her feel less like an intellectual equal and more like a piece of meat. You don’t even have to make it graphic or violent like in Kathy’s case for it to sting. It hurts when someone goes after your looks or sexuality instead of after your thoughts and ideas. And it doesn’t matter if you’re gorgeous or not; when someone makes you feel like you’re not deserving of engaging on an intellectual level… it’s just cutting. I guess it’s a sore point for me because there were people in high school who thought I was a ditz because I was petite and had a big chest. I guess I missed the study that showed a correlation between IQ and chest size.
Look at what Robert Scoble said about this:
Whenever I post a video of a female technologist there invariably are snide remarks about body parts and other things that simply wouldn’t happen if the interviewee were a man.
I’m not one of those people who sees sexism everywhere. It takes a lot for me to call something sexism, but this has forced me to take off my rose-tinted glasses.
And it’s not just about people who hate or disrespect women… it’s about a blogging culture that delights in making other people look and feel bad. What is up with sites like Mean Kids and Bob’s Yer Uncle? Did they really only exist to bash and bully other bloggers? Are we still in middle school? What kind of cheap thrills can someone get from writing horrible things about other people? All of these big-time A-list bloggers are human beings with feelings and lives outside of the blogosphere. Each of them probably dedicates a great deal of time to providing us with useful, entertaining and/or thought-provoking content and most of them don’t get paid for it. There is absolutely nothing wrong with disagreeing with people or with disliking their blogs, but it just doesn’t have to get so personal, nasty and even threatening. I have only seen a few really nasty attacks in the library blogosphere (and almost always anomyous), and it’s even more perplexing to me why people who seem to be so full of rage and hate would choose to work in a helping profession such as ours.
Sorry for venting my spleen all over the place. I think I tend to be a bit naive and idealistic, so when I see really bad things going on in the Internet or library worlds, they affect me more than they should. I’ll get over it soon. By tomorrow, I’m sure I’ll be much more focused on why people on-campus are now being asked to log-in every time they click on a database. Oy veh…
Taking last things first, we had the same proxy problem last week. There were new IP ranges on campus, and the proxy wasn’t aware of them, so it treated everyone as if they were coming from off-campus.
As for the nastiness, I have a weakness for blog drama, and had even once thought that a liblog gossip site would be fun. Oh boy, do I no longer think that. Reminds me of this graphic from Penny Arcade that I saw when Boing Boing linked it a little while back. (Strong language warning.)
I’m having mixed feelings on the state library association thing. I have spoken at my state association meeting twice, and am doing two things in the coming months. I’m not getting paid, and it hadn’t really occurred to me that I should. And I can see where invited guests might need some more financial consideration than local members who apply to speak. I do fully agree with Dorothea that the money and the process should be made as public as possible so the membership and the speakers can hash it out and know what the deal is in advance.
Oops, I lied. It looks like I am getting paid $50 for doing two one-hour sessions at one of those upcoming events. w00t!
When I first heard word of Kathy Sierra’s unfortunate predicament, I felt that those [insert appropriate word for the people who said all those mean things] just set me back at least 50 years. Even Tom Leykis would say that they went way over the line. Whenever I even see the word misogyny, I feel extremely guilty, like I did something horribly wrong. When that word is in any way connected to the field in which I have my career, especially in an anonymous manner, I feel that because I am a male human being, I am equally to blame, and that I am just a little less welcome. I wouldn’t feel that way if such… well… horrible people would reveal their identities when doing such horrible things. Until then, I am, unfortunately, guilty by association to a faceless entity.
And even $50, though small, indicates that they appreciate you and your efforts. It’s more, to me, about showing your appreciation for someone’s hard work than about paying their mortgage. Even a speakers’ gift, lunch, or something can make someone feel appreciated.
“And I can see where invited guests might need some more financial consideration than local members who apply to speak.”
I was invited to give a talk at the New England Library Association conference (I did not apply and am not a member) and yet I would have had to pay my own way there and would not have gotten paid a dime to give a talk.
Sure, people from out of state probably wouldn’t want to schlep their way over there without at least getting their travel reimbursed, however, I still don’t really understand why they should get paid for speaking and the others should not.
Whether you, as you said, expect it or not, I’m just wondering why it is that way. It sounds to me like a whole lot of “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” If we want to stamp that out in the way we treat our patrons, we should also stamp it out in the way we treat each other.
Julian, I don’t think you should feel guilty just because you’re a guy. There are guys who are jerks and there are women who are jerks and I don’t honestly think the concentration is higher in either gender (though I think women may often express their jerkiness in different ways). And there are women out there who hate men too who are no less repugnant for that.
I think if you feel guilty, then you know that you’re not a part of the problem and should stop feeling guilty. Just because you’re a man does not mean you’re responsible for the actions of other members of your gender. It would be like me, as a Jew, feeling responsible for some of the awful things Israel does.
Meredith, I think asking why it is this way is definitely a necessity. I had no idea that many state library associations treat “local” speakers so very differently. The dichotomy between Michelle Boule’s situation and Dorothea Salo’s at TLA is rather eyeopening. What a awful message this sends to local talent. I would think that smaller groups would want to court local people in order to encourage people to speak and present. I’m all for volunteering to help organizations that have limited funding, but would have absolutely no interest in volunteering while others were being generously compensated.
I think I may have also promised people monocles. Monocles and ponies. How could our talk possibly be boring?
Thanks for the support, Meredith. Looking back, maybe I should have said no, but I did not and thus in two weeks I teach. This is definitely going to make me more picky though.
Eh, I’ve done things like that which I regret too. You learn from these mistakes. When recently asked to do a similar talk for a similar deal, I said no.
Just out of curiosity, did they ask you to do it or did you apply to do it?
I was asked to do it.
I know, I know. I think it too. This is the last time.
See, I think there is a big difference between being asked to do something and applying to do something. No way should invited presenters ever have to pay, and I think they should expect slightly more consideration.
I probably need to work this up as a longer post on my own site, but for now I’ll say that I think it is generally OK if a group is bringing in people and compensating them more than they are the locals who have applied to present. After all, the reason they are flying people in is because those people are well-known and likely to be a draw for the conference in a way that the local folks aren’t. But, again, I think this should all be public, so if the majority of the membership doesn’t see it that way, it can be hashed out in the open.
But I guess it gets a bit sticky when locals are invited to present…
True! I guess this shows the importance of understanding what you are getting into and thinking about what *you* consider appropriate before you apply to present or accept an invitation.
In response to Julian’s comment
As another male who used to feel that way (after being exposed to liberal doses of feminism as an undergraduate), it doesn’t do much good to feel the kind of guilt by association, especially with the misogynistic thugs that have threatened Kathy Sierra. Showing support for her is the least one can do… as you have already done.
Ann Ewbank, President of the Arizona Library Assocation. I read your comments about being an invited speaker to local/state library conferences with great interest, and I hope I can shed some light on why things happen from a state organization/conference organizer perspective.
A few years ago, before I became involved in the conference, I would have asked the very same questions you are raising here. Now that I have been involved in conference planning for a couple of years, I have a different outlook.
The Arizona Librar Association (AzLA) has just under 1000 members, and our annual conference, with an attendance of about 800, pretty much funds our entire organization. We have, as I’m sure you understand, a limited budget to provide speakers with honorarium and travel expenses. This includes authors. Our total budget for speakers, presenters, and authors is about $17,000. This does not go very far, considering that many authors require honoraria of $1500 plus travel. Paying for knowledgeable folks like you to present at our conference can cost about $2000 once you factor in airfare, lodging, a small honorarium, ground transporation, and per diem. So you see our predicament. We want to invite dynamic speakers, we want to pay for airfare, a couple of night’s lodging, meals, and ground transportation, and we do the best we can. However, if we extended this policy to our in-state presenters and/or non-members in Arizona, it would completely break us. We simply cannot afford to pay honoraria or expenses for anyone in-state, invited or not, and that is clearly stated in our policy, up front.
Our policy states that anyone who works in a library in Arizona, AzLA member or not, is not eligible for honorarium or travel expenses. If you are a member of AzLA and live out of state you are also not eligible. The rationale is that AzLA is a volunteer association and that we provide you with the infrastructure to share knowledge with your colleagues. Your dues and conference registration fees pay for folks who would not normally come to our conference to be there. As a member or a librarian in Arizona, you are expected to contribute, as part of your commitment to the profession. It is not a money making venture.
That is not to say that we do not treat our member speakers well; we provide a speaker gift to every speaker and have a speaker liaison who makes sure that each speaker is comfortable and gives an introduction during the session. We do try hard to make sure that our speakers feel special.
I hope this gives you some insight on conferences from the inside. I know not every conference experience is the same, but many of the mid-size and small state organizations are in similar situations and I hope that you continue to present in those venues. Many librarians and paraprofessionals go to the state conference as their only opportunity for professional development, so your expertise is needed.
And you are welcome to take a look at our call for proposals and submit one if you like! Let me know if you have any questions.
I’ll repeat a comment I left on Michelle’s blog, mostly in response to your statement “Michelle is making thousands of dollars for their organization.”
LIRT did not go into this preconference expecting to make a lot of money. We’re only charging $40 for a full-day preconference. What a deal!
Michelle stated from the first that she wanted Internet access, and I agreed. This is a preconference about online tools, after all! She also expressed concerns about wireless access, and I agreed (it can be flaky, and I don’t like to count on it). TLA, as a matter of policy, does not provide Internet access, so I arranged it directly with the convention center. Total bill: $995 for a day for hard-line access for the presenters. Attendees can get wireless access for $12.95. I’m not happy about that, but it’s what we were able to get.
So, the reality is, if this preconference hadn’t had 100 people sign up, LIRT would have lost money. A lot of money. But it’s a good topic, and I have every confidence that Michelle (and Gary Wan from Texas A&M– let us not forget that Michelle isn’t doing this all alone!) will provide great information for the folks who attend.
And yes, it’s a shame that conferences don’t comp registrations for speakers. And I really hate that I can’t pay Texas librarians for their travel and expenses when they present at TLA. I’ve really hated that I can’t get paid, too, when I speak at state and national conferences, but that’s another story. We’ll just keep fighting that battle.
Danielle Cunniff Plumer
Chair, Library Instruction Round Table
Texas Library Association
It’s only a school play…
In which I compare state library association presentations to participating in the high school play. As we used to say, “don’t worry about it! It’ll be dark, they’ll be drunk!” I also link to some other folks who are more&…
Re: misogyny …. this is slightly off-topic, but have you joined/looked at WikiChix? We’re looking at women’s participation in wikis, generally, spurred on by feelings of sexism in Wikipedia and other large communities. No conclusions yet, of course, but I think it’s a good project to think about these things seriously.