It has been a long and quiet summer over here on my blog as one thing after another has fallen apart. including my and my family’s health, but we’re all (mostly) ok now. It’s time to dust things off and get to back to business though because this issue is important and I’m concerned it’s not even on the radar of most medical librarians.
As soon as I learned the details a week ago, I spoke up via Twitter early of my support of two librarians (#teamharpy) who are being sued for $1.25 million in a defamation lawsuit for speaking out about sexual harassment by another librarian:
— Nikki Dettmar (@eagledawg) September 20, 2014
Since then I have seen numerous perspectives written which have been collected on their press page. Let me be clear: I do not personally or professionally know the plaintiff or the defendants, have
not been to a single conference where they the plaintiff has ve been ( to my knowledge has been enlightened; he was at 2009 ACRL but I have no recollection of this at all), and for that matter have never been an American Library Association (ALA) member even as a student (do I have to turn in my librarian card now?) so I have no ‘informed’ opinion to give regarding sexual or other harassment that may be occurring on their scene – nor should I.
Why, then, am I specifically blogging that I support and have donated to the legal defense fund for #teamharpy? Two reasons: I have been in similar (not anywhere near identical) shoes as the defendants and know the value of explicit support for doing the right thing, and it’s time for others to stop thinking their professional conference experience is both omniscient and extrapolated to thousands of other attendees and that harassment can’t possibly be occurring because they don’t see it happening.
Revisiting Clinical Reader
Readers since 2009 may remember when I was threatened to be sued via a tweet on Twitter by a company for blogging the truth about their misrepresentation of product endorsement by the National Library of Medicine on their website. The support I immediately and strongly received from others, many of whom were not in the medical library community nor had any clue who I was, kept me sane as the scenario evolved into a rather surreal mess. I remain thankful for Peter Murray’s coverage On the Pitfalls of Social Media: Learning from Clinical Reader as a recap of that bizarre and stressful time.
I still remember the moment I saw this tweet:
In the first 10 seconds I thought I was going to faint or enter cardiac arrest from abject fear and shock – and that was only from a litigation threat from a tweet, not actually being served with a lawsuit. It’s a terrifying place to be in for speaking your truth. The defendants are facing The Real Deal to a truly asinine amount of money that I believe the plaintiff (who lives in the United States) chose quite intentionally to file in Canada (where one of the the defendants lives) because it likely wouldn’t hold in an American court. There is no First Amendment in Canada protecting their citizens from SLAPP-happy litigation.
Out of the Shadows
What happened to me was blatantly obvious and visible to everyone both in that tweet and the actions the company took afterwards. Advocacy doesn’t get better than having Ben Goldacre take them on in a public Twitter discussion (1, 2, 3, 4). One of my favorites –
@ClinicalReader keen to engage with librarians… by suing them when they point out that your endorsements seem not to be for real?
— ben goldacre (@bengoldacre) July 14, 2009
Therefore, it absolutely disgusts me to hear that people are now interjecting things along the lines of ‘Well I saw the plaintiff at a conference and he didn’t say or do anything like that to me‘ and ‘I don’t see harassment happening at conferences’ regarding the #teamharpy discussion. These comments are indicative of an attitude that blames victims of harassment, further enables harassers, and reduces the likelihood that those who have experienced harassment past, present and future will come forward to seek the help and support they deserve to receive. I believe Anita. I believe the defendants and potential witnesses when they say they are experiencing harassment at their conferences. They do not have to conform to anyone else’s expectations of what they should and should not be doing regarding the discussion of sexual harassment within their community.
I also support the proactive development and enforcement of a conference code of conduct for the Medical Library Association (MLA). To believe that similar things are not occurring in our community is really stretching it, and I am in favor of having the professional conference environment be as clearly against all forms of harassment as our work environments are because we are at work within them. Rachel Walden and Kate Flewelling from the Relevant Issues Section helped start the discussion already on our July 17th #medlibs chat and I welcome it continuing. While I personally find ALA’s code of conduct a bit lacking, I’ve found the updated ScienceOnline’s Harassment Policy to be a good model to consider and thank my colleague Betsy Rolland for encouraging us to look in that direction given what that community has experienced.