Reflection: Questioning What We’re Saying

The last week or so, I don’t think any one involved in libraries and connected to social media (especially Twitter) will have missed what happened at CLA and the subsequent blow out from that. I mostly declined to comment on the incident (and I’ll explain why below), but it got me thinking.

If you know about the situation, then names are obvious and yet, for the purpose of this post, names aren’t necessary.

On Twitter

To provide some context, I wasn’t at CLA. All I saw were tweets (and later on, blog posts) about what happened, so at first, I was totally confused about what was going on. When I saw a tweet commenting on a man calling someone a “slut” (the tweet has since been deleted).

my first reaction was

He what?!

but I also immediately questioned the tweet. Did he use that exact word? In what context was this? Is this another situation where someone heard a joke and decided to tweet it, taking it out of context?

I saw many other tweets being supportive of the woman and hating on the man. Subsequent tweets spoke of essentially boycotting anything to do with him.

I refrained from commenting because I had no idea what had happened.

Mixed Reactions

He later posted on his own blog both an explanation and apology.

I was surprised the comment was made on stage while moderating a panel. Definitely a joke in bad taste made very publicly.

CLA’s Response

However, I was also surprised by CLA’s actions. They admit that they don’t have a Code of Conduct nor an updated Code of Ethics, but then pulled him out of the program without consulting anyone (according to the blog post).

Most Codes of Conduct have a clear enforcement policy that includes at least communicating with the harasser and warning of sanctions.

Your guiding principle should be the safety of your community members from harassment and you should evaluate sanctions in light of whether they provide the safety needed.1

If the person apologizes, has a one-on-one chat with the “victim”, and both are okay with the resolution, then

how was this man a continued threat to the safety to the community?

I also cannot find anything on CLA’s website or twitter about the supposed sanction of pulling him from the program.

So at this point, all I can ask is:

Is it true? What has CLA (not) done?

This is a question that warrants a good answer.

I am not saying nothing should be done by CLA and/or the organizers, but the process has not been transparent in any way.

Everybody Makes Mistakes

I am not defending the man’s comments or actions, but I also have to question the reactions I’ve seen from people around this situation.

I have rarely thought that banning/boycotting something/someone is the best solution. If you look at the Code of Conduct I referred to earlier, the idea is to educate people, to help create safety in an environment.

If he realizes his mistake, apologizes, and has people calmly explain his mistakes to him, then shouldn’t we accept that people are allowed to make mistakes? Continuing to berate or harass him turns the harasser into a victim.

On Apologizing

Of course, his problem might be that he dug himself a bigger hole. Personally, I can be a very defensive person, and I understand his need to write an explanation and defence for himself, but he didn’t call it that, he called it an apology.

So, better if he had apologized up front and then tried to explain what happened. It didn’t help that he made further assumptions about why people were so up in arms about his “joke”. (I admit that I didn’t get the SNL joke, but that’s because I never watched SNL, not because I’m younger than he is.) Amy Watts wrote a lovely post on how any cultural reference can alienate your audience.

Jenica Rogers wrote more on this, but more than just him reflecting on it, I think someone just needs to explain to him what went wrong; then he can reflect on it.


We should not accept this behaviour, and we’ve said so loud and clear. What we need to think about is how we should be dealing with these issues and the people involved.

I don’t have a solution, and I don’t think there is a single or simple one. Hopefully, we can look to things like the Ada initiative to help us.

Ultimately, we need to be doing what we keep talking about: being open and improving our profession.

Author: Cynthia

Technologist, Librarian, Metadata and Technical Services expert, Educator, Mentor, Web Developer, UXer, Accessibility Advocate, Documentarian

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