Don’t be a unicorn

This weekend, a conversation turned silly and ended with “and that’s why there are no unicorns. They didn’t pay attention, missed the boat, and drowned. Don’t be a unicorn.”

Last week I had a meeting with a campus colleague in which we worked on a planning proposal for the President and his Cabinet about the College’s Bicentennial in 2016.  One of the ideas in the proposal is a conference on the Future of Higher Education in which we look back at our 200 years of experience as educators and then call on it to write our future.  An enticing thought exercise. A way to encourage us to build our own ark as the floodwaters rise around higher education. To not be the unicorn.

Today I saw this tweet from @redgirl13: “To sum up: A Future of Libraries event with no women or librarians, being hosted by a uni cutting professional librarians. Pass, thanks.”

It’s in reference to The Future of the Academic Library: A Symposium, which crossed my professional radar last week.  I immediately saw that title, and thought about our bicentennial conference idea, our desire to reflect on our experiences as educators and to use that to project a future full of hope and challenges.  So I checked out the event description.  The speaker slate is full of notable information theorists and library constituents, and is organized by Jeff Trzeciak.  Trzeciak leads the libraries at McMaster University, and my professional gossip network tells me he’s increasing post-docs on staff and possibly reducing the number of librarians at the same time, while simultaneously increasing outreach and expanding services.  While I haven’t spoken to any of the McMaster folks directly about these rumors and observations, that kind of plan makes me nervous; doing more with less, and with fewer professionals, always means either “having someone else do it” or “doing it badly”, or both. And while the tweeter is possibly inaccurate on the “no librarians” part — a quick Google of the names included in the day’s roster show a decent distribution of MLS degrees given the intentional breadth of speakers — the No Women part is more challenging. 3 out of 21 is not awesome.**

So. I look at all of that. I have no doubt that the symposium will be interesting, thought-provoking, and will both challenge and support our expectations about libraries.  However, I hold my expectations and interests in one hand, and put this symposium as advertised in the other.  In that other hand I see that the organizer seems to be someone who devalues professional librarianship.  I see that everyone but non-administration academic librarians is being consulted about the future of academic libraries for this symposium.  I see a whole lotta men speaking for a profession with a century of gender issues trailing behind it.  And I wonder. Are librarians the unicorns in this scenario?  Are women?

But I’ll say this, as a female academic librarian and administrator: It’s not that I’m not paying attention. I’m not going to miss the boat. It’s just that this is not the ark I want to get on.  There must be another boat.  I’ll build a new one, if I have to.

You might consider building it with me.


**As of this writing, 3 of 21 speakers are, based on given names, women. Last week I saw a similar comment from a librarian I trust, and it also referenced “No women”. I suspect the lineup may be changing based on feedback.  I’m not sure if that makes me feel better or worse — yay for better representation of multiple viewpoints and the reality of gender distribution in our profession, boo for forced affirmative action in high-profile discussions.


  1. Hyperbole has always been my mortal enemy. But I’m thrilled that you’ve turned it into a such a thoughtful, inspiring piece. I’m definitely not passing on this boat.


  2. Anyone interested in planning a symposium on May 16 & 17, 2011? 😉

    “The Future of the Academic Library: A Symposium in an Alternate Boat”


  3. […] I support McMaster librarians and the excellent work that they do. I'm looking forward to working with them at Code4Lib North (that McMaster University is kindly sponsoring) and I hope to run into them again at The Humanities and Technology Camp being held two weeks later at UWO. (As an aside, did you notice that there are no McMaster Librarians speaking at The Future of Academic libraries at the symposium? Others have.) […]


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