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McMaster’s Future of the Academic Library Symposium: I’m looking for quality not gender

McMaster University in Hamilton is hosting Library Journal’s Future of The Academic Library, sponsored by Gale/Cengage and Ingram Coutts. This free, yes FREE symposium features some of the foremost thought-leaders in academic libraries: Mike Ridley, CIO & Chief Librarian University of Guelph, Arnold Hirshon, Asst Provost & University Librarian Case Western Reserve University, James Neal,  VP Information Services and University Librarian, Columbia University  David Lewis, Dean of the IUPUI University Library, Michael Stephens (he’s practically an ICON!) and others, including Joan Lippincott, CNI’s Associate Executive Director talking about student behaviours, and Kate Wittenberg and Roger Schonfeld discussing the all-important Ithaka Report. Plus there are researchers discussing “new models of research” which is critical for libraries to understand.  I registered immediately and “shared” this incredible event on Facebook.  And what did I hear? Admittedly, I heard from a few people that they were registering and looking forward to this opportunity to hear from and discuss these issues with these individuals. But I also heard complaints that there were too few females as well as too few staff from McMaster speaking.

I fully acknowledge that my tendency is to see the glass half-full.  In fact, my tendency is to be happy that there IS a glass — that there IS water — and that there are people paying attention to the glass and the water. So, even at my ripe age, I’m continually blind-sided when people point out the issues with the glass even being there.  I appreciate it when people point out risks and problems — it makes me think.

So, here’s what I think about the complaints that there more men speaking than women, and few McMaster staff:  I care about this profession. I care about libraries. I care about the students, faculty and researchers whose lives are positively impacted by library services and the richness of the resources.  I care that there is squabbling about who is doing what when Paris is burning. I do not care about the age, gender, race or education of those engaging in solution-oriented dialogue, strategies and actions. I do care about the quality of their engagement. I’m simple that way.

Here’s a comment I put on a blog post questioning that only 15% of the symposium’s speakers are female:

I hear your concerns; and I encourage you to view the symposium from a different perspective. I’m a librarian who has practiced in many sectors, and I’m a female who views everyone as equals. I’m delighted that this symposium is happening here, in Ontario, with these speakers.


The chance to hear this caliber of speakers, for free, in Ontario, is incredible. I have helped organize many events and trying to get the right speakers for the right time on the right topic is daunting. I’m assuming, rightly or wrongly, that other speakers – “female” speakers – weren’t available. They are busy too.

And, I’m also not surprised that more McMaster staff, are not speaking because this is an opportunity for them to hear and engage with Mike Ridley, Jim Neal, David Lewis, Arnold Hirshon, Michael Stephens and others from other institutions. Plus – McMaster’s President is speaking. It is extremely difficult to arrange a time when a President is able to contribute to this type of forum,and yet, it is the Presidents that we need to hear and that we need to engage in this dialogue.

The quality of speakers at this symposium is outstanding. I applaud McMaster for organizing and hosting this forum for discourse. The gender or race isn’t a factor for me; the quality, perspective and experience is. And, believe me, I’m a feminist from way back. I encourage you to look at this symposium and McMaster from a broader perspective – and to engage in the more strategic imperative of academic libraries. Thanks for the opportunity to comment.

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