The Problems with the LITA Top Tech Trends Panels

I didn’t make it to ALA’s Midwinter this year, and, truth be told, I haven’t been paying attention to what’s happening there. But yesterday morning as I was going through my post-workout post-shower routine someone sent me a private message about the LITA Top Tech Trends panel. I went to Twitter to check out the hashtag and tried to find out who was on the panel this time. On Twitter, I found someone asking “Why is there so little female representation on the ALA Top Tech Trends panel?  #ALATTT” Which I promptly retweeted. Because seriously it’s 2015. There were six people on the Midwinter panel, one of them was a woman. I also tweeted “Sounds like #alattt consists of the usual suspects. No wonder I dropped my LITA membership” I dropped my LITA membership for many reasons, which I won’t go into here, but one of them was the lack of diversity in the leadership. Many people rushed to assure me about LITA’s commitment to diversity and to “educate” me about the how and why of panelist selection. I was assured that “most” of the panelist had not been on a TTT panel before. My response was that there are too many amazing librarians out there for there to be any repeat and to offer clarification that my original tweet was about the generalization about the general makeup of the panel’s gender and race/ethnicity.

Before delving further into this issue, I want to make a couple of things clear. First, I am only going to address the gender issue in this post. There is a very clear and pressing issue with the lack of racial and ethnicity diversity in ALA and the Top Tech Trends panels. Second, I analyzed the TTT panels (not moderators) back to 2003. I coded panelists as male or female. I understand that gender is not binary. I have coded panelists to the best of my ability with the information I had, lack of time, lack of funding, and lack of co-collaborators. If your name is on this list and you identify differently than I have coded you, please let me know. If you know someone on this list identifies differently, please let me know. I am willing to keep this information private and rework the data without making the names publicly available.

I voiced some of these concerns about panels at Annual. The ALA membership is 81% (1) women, so WHY in 2015 are we still seeing panels of all, or mostly, men? Yes, I know the reasons, and I am sure they will be a rush to the comments to explain why to me. But. But. One way to start addressing all or some of those issues is to ensure that panels reflect the membership. This might mean organizers need to work harder to get diverse panelist, that IS their responsibility.

Back to the TTT panel. One response to my complaint about repeat panelists was that it was “okay”. It’s not. First, there are so many competent, capable professionals out there that there is not a reason to have repeat panelist. Second, if one of LITA’s goals is diversity then repeat panelists for one of the highest profile events at the conference does not reflect or achieve that goal. From 2003 through 2016 Midwinter 56.95% of panelist were repeaters and of those repeats, 74.42% were men (4).

It was also pointed out that some people repeatedly volunteer.  This casual acceptance of repeat volunteers is troubling for several reasons. One, it suggests the possibility of some laziness on the part of organizers and lack of commitment to diversity. More importantly, of course, some people repeatedly volunteer. This is a high profile speaking event that is widely publicized, and panelists are referred to as “experts”.  Being a panelist at this event provides prestige and additional benefits afterward. It looks good on a CV and leads to name recognition which can have a cascading career effects such as increased invitations for paid work outside of a nine-to-five job further increasing the disparities in income and opportunity between men and women.

ljx140701webSalaryChart1c

The average salary for female librarians in 2013 was $51,780, for men it was $58,000, which means women make 89% of what men do (2).  There is a far greater percentage of men in management positions while men only make up 19% of the profession (1), they hold 50% of management positions (3).

Some people disagreed with my assertions about the TTT panels, so I looked at the data. I analyzed the top tech trends panelists from 2003 Annual through Midwinter 2016 (I could not locate panelists for Midwinter 2006). I coded each panelist by gender. I also coded repeated panelist; first appearances were coded as a 0, and all subsequent appearances were coded as 1. This allowed me to determine how many repeat panel appearances there were.

There were 151-panel speakers (this means seats at the table, not individuals) in those years. Of those seats, 97 were occupied by men (64.24%) and 54 were occupied by women (35.76%). The disparity between repeat panels was greater, 74.42% of repeat appearances were by men, and only 25.58% were by women. The panelist with the most number of repeats had 12 appearances.

I also analyzed the last 5 years, from 2010 through Midwinter 2016. The good news is we have seen a marked improvement in that time; the bad news is it isn’t good enough. From 2010 Midwinter through 2016 Midwinter there were 71-panel seats, men occupied 38 of those seats (53.52%) and women 33 (46.48%). There were 21 repeat appearances and men made 16 of those (76.19%). Remember the profession is 81% female (1).

So while an almost fifty-fifty split seems reasonable, it does not accurately reflect the profession. Even more troubling is the percentage of male repeaters. This event has only grown in profile in the last 5 years. Thanks to social media and other circumstances, it is very high profile, and men have reaped far more of the benefits from appearances on the panel and repeat appearances.

We need to see more woman on stage at our conferences; we need to see more people with a diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. There are many people in LITA who want to emulate the tech industry. It is no secret that technology industry has deep-seated racial and sexist issues and has done a terrible job addressing those issues. We can do better than that.

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge Jenny Levine’s response to my tweets. She is the new Executive Director of LITA. Rather than offering excuses explanations or assuring me that LITA is committed to diversity, she reached out to me to talk about how we move forward. I appreciate this because it indicates she recognizes there is a problem and is committed to making changes. Jenny has a long history of listening to concerns from ALA members and addressing the issues; I look forward to seeing what she does in her new role.

Sources

  1. ALA Demographic Studies, Sept 2014,
  2. Payday | LJ Salary Survey 2014
  3. Gendered Expectations for Leadership in Libraries 
  4. Analysis of TTT panel

Recommended reading:

Simpson, R. (2004). Masculinity at Work: The Experiences of Men in Female-Dominated Occupations. Work Employment and Society, 18 (2), 349-368.

Gendered Expectations for Leadership in Libraries
Dealing With Self-Important Concern Trolls

8 comments

  1. Thanks for pulling together all of these statistics, Bobbi – this is incredibly helpful. If you’re willing to share the spreadsheet, we’ll try to fill in the missing 2006 data and maintain it publicly going forward in order to measure progress.

    There’s nothing to disagree with here, which is one reason diversity/inclusion/accessibility is a top priority for LITA. We’ve started to do better, we’re further increasing those efforts, and we will do better. The library community /should/ continue to hold us accountable for this, and in five years we plan for these statistics to look very different.

    Our call for Midwinter panelists included a self-nomination form, which didn’t produce the results we wanted. At that point, we began reaching out to others, but clearly we weren’t as successful as we should have been and we need to increase our outreach. We’re now working more closely with ALA’s Office for Diversity as a start. We welcome additional ideas for getting the call out and proactively approaching diverse speakers. If you have ideas or want to help with this, please contact me at jlevine at ala.org.

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    1. Hi Jenny, I will definitely share the file. I’ve linked to the PDF in the post, but I’ll email you the Excel file. I would appreciate if you’d share the 2006 Midwinter data when you find it.

      Thank you again for your response, I really appreciate it. I look forward to talking with you.

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  2. […] for various reasons. However, that didn’t stop one person from writing a long blog post about The Problems with the LITA Top Tech Panels. But what I think is great about LITA (and its new Executive Director, Jenny Levine) is that it […]

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  3. GREAT post. I agree with all of it, but I want to comment especially on repeat panelists. This is a pet peeve of mine at our state library conferences. The same, same, same, people present year after year after year. They may be good, great, even, they may volunteer, but. . . But.
    Thanks.

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    1. You’re welcome!

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  4. Interesting analysis and thoughts, Bobbi, thank you. Two things:
    1. Getting new folks involved in a panel series like this or in leadership positions often takes a proactive commitment by current leaders in cultivating, mentoring, encouraging, etc. the new folks. That takes some planning and time. Even in the small business librarianship section of our state association, if we want to get new folks to serve as officers, we have to start thinking about who our future leaders could be a year or two in advance of elections. Otherwise us old timers would end up repeating our roles yet again. So using a self-nomination form to recruit experts isn’t going to cut it. (Props to Jenny for writing about that, though.)
    2. hmm yes, isn’t the topic — tech trends — part of the problem? If the panel was something like “How some librarians are using emerging technology TODAY to improve the lives of a specific group of patrons in their communities”, LITA would have a very different mix of panelists than on yet another futurist/expert panel.

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    1. Steve, I agree with your first point, it will take more effort to ensure diversity in the panelist. As the second, maybe a hard look needs to be taken at the topics from the last 10 years or so. Are the topics relevant to libraries, will they make a difference to patron? Or is this just throw out the most absurd tech possibilities.

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      1. Hmm yes, Bobbi, I like the relevance question! Make the panelists accountable for their predictions, heh.

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