When I see library programs with male heavy/corporate/administrator compositions I get a little outraged. At ALA this year, the Office for Internet Technology Policy is hosting a just such a panel discussion, called What is the Future of Libaries?.
I have nothing against any of the participants personally. In fact I've seen a couple of them speak and was very impressed. It's the line-up all together that bothers me, especially in the context of library futurism. Personally I want nothing to do with a future that is defined or molded by what these seven people represent as a whole.
The panel is moderated by Roger E. Levien who, though interested enough in libraries to be an OITP Fellow, doesn't seem to have a background in librarianship. From the ALA press release, what he does seem to know about is "the development of corporate and technology strategies," and he was the Corporate Vice President for Corporate Strategy and for Strategy and Innovation at Xerox, to which I say, "Ew." He may be a fine person and brilliant thinker, but I don't like where he comes from. Still, I'm hoping Laura Quilter or someone will set me straight if my bias is wrong in his case.
The first panelist listed, Joan Frye Williams has often been what seems like the token woman on technology panels. She has a sense of humor about it, having identified herself at a Top Technology Trends (I think) panel I saw as the token...public librarian. That is a good line, and it's nice to see someone on there with public library experience, but as of today, Ms. Williams is not a practitioner, but a consultant. You have to go back to 1982, according to her résumé to get to a library job, and that was for a state library. Again, this is nothing against Ms. Williams personally. I find her to be an engaging and intelligent speaker
Next up, Stephen Abram, Vice-President of Innovation, SirsiDynix, a library mega-vendor. As I'm hoping vendors won't have much of a role in the future of libraries, I'm not so interested in what he has to say on this topic.
The last panelist is José-Marie Griffiths (Why don't they list panelists alphabetically?), and...I didn't realize she was female until I looked at her site! So maybe things aren't quite as dire as I thought! Ms. Griffiths is a library school dean. While I'd like to see some (even one!) practitioner on the panel, I think LIS professors are very appropriate participants. But since I'm a hater, I do have to say that anyone chosen by Resident Bush to do anything makes me nervous. I guess I can't judge her on her politics, especially if I don't know them, so I'll leave it there.
So now I see that the panel itself is 2/3rds women, which makes me happier. If you count the moderator, though, you get down to 50%. In an 80% female profession, I think that's just wrong. People will accuse me of wanting to set a quota system, but that's not what this is about. Not every panel needs to accurately represent the population of our profession, but it seems like if you look at all the panels at all the conferences, it shouldn't be too far off, right? Then again, look at Congress. Wouldn't it be nice if the majority of Americans were rich?
This 90-minute affair also offers two presentations:
David Lankes, who I saw speak at Columbia once, quite brilliantly, in fact. He's another library school professor (with no MLS, btw) and was the first OITP Fellow. (I guess they take the term "fellow" literarally!) He seems to be the under-40 contributor, so I guess I shouldn't slam him too hard.
Vivian Pisano, who doesn't have a website or blog that I can find, seems to be the only person to work in a library and has some cred in services to Spanish speakers. Together with Alan Inouye, OITP's Director (who also doesn't seem to have much of an individual web presence), she will present their "new Program on America’s Libraries in the 21st Century that will formalize the future of libraries as an activity of ALA."
So again, there's nothing so terrible about any of the individual participants, but I do object to there not being any front lines librarians, and only one person from GenerationX. Anyway, it's not just about the individuals chosen, it's about who is doing the choosing and what those selected represent. In this case, I am not a fan of the idea that corporate executives and senior administrators are the people we're looking to for guidance and prognostication.
I'm sure some folks are saying, that's all well and good, but who would you have invited? I have to admit that I'm not much of a library futurist, and in fact my weak responses to Scott Carlson's questions may have been why I got dropped from his Young Librarians, Talkin' 'Bout Their Generation: Up-and-comers discuss what will change and what needs to change article, so I don't entirely know who to choose either. I do have a few suggestions, though (not alpha, but in the order I thought of them):
Sarah Houghton-Jan, a public librarian and technologist with the word "future" in her job title, and well known author of the Librarian in Black blog.
And why not someone like Char Booth (from Carlson's article), who is a competent techie, but also does time at the reference desk?
I'm always happy to hear Jessamyn West, who is more or less a consultant/speaker, even though she doesn't really call herself that or market herself, speak on any topic. It would be nice to see a really smart person with both an international reputation and lots of field experience in rural libraries, and also someone who is equal parts techie and public services like West.
And what about Dionne Mack-Harvin, who came up through the ranks of the Brooklyn Public Library to become its Executive Director, if you absolutely insist on having a senior administrator on the panel? I don't always like what I hear about the way they do things at BPL, but I'm definitely interested in what a large urban public library system director like Mack-Harmon has to say about her patrons and their technology needs.
With a little research I'm sure I could dig up another female library professor or two with relevant expertise. I assume there are folks at OITP who do or should already know, but perhaps they're not thinking beyond the usual suspects or the usual themes. (Or perhaps, as I hope is the case, Ms. Griffiths is the perfect choice for this panel.)
If there really must be a vendor, I think someone building in open source would be a lot more appropriate. Maybe someone from LibLime (perhaps Open Source Evangelist Nicole Engard), or a non-vendor developer of library tools like someone from Evergreen or a member of the thriving Code4Lib community like Bess Sadler?
Okay, long rant over!