The ‘whisper network’ – if you’ve worked in an office, you probably know it. There are two sides to that network. One is destructive and full of gossip, one is empathetic and fiercely protective. I’ll focus on the latter side and its importance in supporting those undermined in a working environment. The ‘whisper network’ creates a safe haven to discuss problems and prejudices experienced, warn others of harassers, and bolster camaraderie. (Source)Across multiple media, Lisa Rabey and nina de jesus wrote that Joe Murphy has made women feel unsafe at library and information science conferences. Murphy's response was not to reflect and reevaluate his behavior, but to serve the two other librarians with a lawsuit, presumably in an attempt to silence them and receive compensation for reputational damages, never mind that informal networks were discussing his behavior as far back as 2010. The details on the lawsuit are here.
Murphy is a frequent presenter and sits on at least one conference selection committee. Within the last week, at least three librarians have written on the topic of "library rockstars" that, one assumes, are at least partially directed at him. These posts are well-written and thought-provoking. Please read them. Later. Much later. As the title of this blog post states, focusing on rockstars, American Library Association Emerging Leaders, Library Journal Movers & Shakers, trendspotting conference presenters, serial keynoters, and the like, is a red herring, a distraction, a derail, and a smoke screen.
The implicit argument made by these librarian authors is that upon becoming rockstars, librarians' sense of entitlement grows, which may lead to sexual harassment. One author notes that rockstars are made, a cultural construct that implicates library and information science professionals, and that we can and should unmake them. This thesis ignores the many of acts of sexual harassment, microaggressions, and other behaviors by librarians that take place every day that make our colleagues feel unsafe and unwelcome. Getting rid of rockstars will not end sexual harassment, and will not create safe spaces for our colleagues. But that argument, placing blame on rockstars, does make librarianship, writ large, feel better about itself, and make librarians feel better about themselves. It is not us, not our fellow LIS professionals that create, propagate, and reinforce these norms. No, it is rockstars that are the problem.
It is hard to look in the mirror in general, and harder still for many librarians. We make things accessible. We serve the public. We want information to be free. And we do this among budget cuts, hiring freezes, and salaries that do not always reflect our work and our value to the communities we serve. As such, there is a tendency to think that libraries are not oppressive spaces, and that librarians are free of bias when compared to other professions. Focusing on rockstars allows us to continue to think this way.
The library is an institution, which has policies to define who is and is not a member, channels to resolve disputes, as well as feedback mechanisms. These structures intentionally legitimate some behaviors, and just as purposefully discriminate against others.
Many libraries deliberately practice social exclusion. Exclusion may also be an unintentional consequence, along with the illusion of community expertise where there is none.* The library is not unique or alone in this. Every institution has ways to include and exclude. Whether these actions and practices are intentional or unintentional is in many ways besides the point. Libraries, and librarianship, are implicated and often strengthen them. (Source)Joe Murphy has Lisa and nina on trial. But they're on trial every day as women, and as women in technology. One is often an outspoken advocate for mental health and overcoming the stigmas that publicly discussing mental illness brings. The other is a trans woman of color who cannot use the bathroom at her place of work without suffering some sort of aggression, micro- or otherwise. In this sense, they are not the "perfect" people to speak out against Joe Murphy's behavior because their marginalized statuses make them easier to discount and dismiss. Librarians and librarianship have created and reinforced an environment, couched in cis white heteronormativity and suppression of dialogue on mental health, that enables people like Lisa and nina to be sued for speaking up. And writing about rockstars, blaming them, rather than interrogating ourselves and supporting Lisa and nina furthers these discourses.
There are worthy and important conversations to be had about how we as librarians place people on pedestals, how we create LIS rockstars, their demographics, and how they behave. Reflect on that, yes, after we reflect on the transphobic and ableist reactions to the defendants and what we as librarians and information professionals have done to bring us to this point.
Lisa and nina are looking for people who have witnessed or experienced the behavior they write about. If you fall into either of these categories, please consider coming forward. I understand that doing so may be triggering. Please take care of yourselves if this is the case.
If you would like to ask Joe Murphy to drop his lawsuit and reflect on his behavior, and I hope you do, please sign this petition.