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Small Steps (or One Email) Can Make a World of Difference

By Rachel Frick

Last summer, a DLF community member emailed me to ask whether DLF had a code of conduct or other anti-harassment policy. He wanted to know because a colleague of his was making an effort to only attend conferences that had some sort of policy publicly in place.

Until then, I hadn’t heard much about codes of conduct. After a few hours down the rabbit hole of the Internet, and then in discussions with DLF advisory committee members and a few other peers, I started to understand how this conversation began and why it continues.

It became clear to me that creating a code of conduct for the DLF Forum and for other DLF-organized events was the right thing to do. The 2012 DLF Program Planning Committee (PPC) agreed, noting that having an explicit code of conduct is a straightforward way to express our community’s values, as well as providing a mechanism for acting on disruptive behavior.

A code of conduct is similar to a memo of understanding, but is geared toward an event and its participants, for both conference attendees AND presenters. A code of conduct lays out expectations, a plan of work, assessment and measures, and the actions for non-compliance. The PPC recommended posting the code on the Forum web site—not in small type, buried in the background—but prominently, similar to those “safe place” signs you see on firehouses and schools.

The DLF Code of Conduct was put into place before the 2012 Forum. We borrowed heavily from codes associated with O’Reily events and the Geek Feminism Wiki. After we posted our Code, there were a few requests from other conference organizers to hack our version; it also generated some comments at the Forum and a few lively discussions. Nothing huge, but a small hum had started, and awareness had been raised.

Conversations began in other venues (Code4Lib), focusing not only on anti-harassment policies, but also on larger issue of gender and technology—how it is playing out in libraryland and what lessons can be observed in the greater computer programming community. Groups such as LibTechWomenThe Ada Initiative, and Girls Who Code have popped up on the scene. This July, Mike Keller, university librarian at Stanford, announced his support of anti-harassment policies at conferences, advocating that staff attend only those events that have a policy in place. (Chris Bourg has a couple of great blog posts on this story.)

Increasingly, we see prominent speakers announce their own commitment to attend or speak at conferences that have well-articulated anti-harassment policies. I hope we see more libraries follow Stanford’s lead and individuals commit to supporting conferences’ adoption of codes of conduct.

I am not saying “DLF made this all happen,” but rather, because of one DLF community member, DLF adopted an important stance on an issue that, in turn, helped others make similar commitments and raised awareness about an important issue. As a result of many small changes, we are moving forward.

Small actions that are filled with meaning and are intentional can inspire change. Issues such as harassment, gender and technology, civility, leadership, and diversity are big. Making sure we hold the door open for all who want to participate is easier said then done. But we have to try. We have to take the small steps that add up to the big journey.

This year I was asked, “Why doesn’t the Forum offer diversity fellowships?” Good question—why didn’t we? The DLF sponsors other conference diversity fellowships. How could we fund similar fellowships for our Forum? After a little brainstorming and assistance from Mark Puente, the director of diversity and leadership programs at the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), we were able to offer, for the 2013 Forum, ARL/DLF Fellowships for Underrepresented Groups.

Again, as a result of a challenge from a DLF community member, we were able to pivot, make a change, create a partnership, and improve on the status quo.

So what is the takeaway from today’s post? Never underestimate your ability to catalyze action. In words of TSA, “If you see something, say something.” Or, as my grandmother used to say, “you don’t get if you don’t ask.”

We can achieve our goals through intentional, meaningful action. For the DLF, it was crafting and committing to a code of conduct and teaming up with ARL to offer Forum Fellowships for Underrepresented Groups.

What are your small steps?

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