It was announced on Twitter this past Sunday and there was a bit of a Twitter-storm about the conference as quite a few people (myself included) thought the program participants a bit problematic, to say the least.
But I'll let my University of Windsor colleague Mita Willliams take it from here. With her permission, I'm reposting the letter she wrote yesterday to President Deane.
I am writing this letter to you today on International Women's Day. Or, to be more accurate I'm writing you this letter *because* it's International Women's Day.
I am writing to ask you if you think that it's acceptable for a symposium that you will be a speaking at - The Future of Academic Libraries - to have what appears to be only 3 women presenting out of a possible 21 speakers.
The percentage of women in Canadian academic librarianship is 73% [CAUT Almanac, pdf].
Last night I got a call from a student from McMaster as part of the University's current Alumni fund-raising drive. She was kind, clear, engaging and polite. When I told her that I was able to apply my geography and environmental science degree from McMaster in my work as a science librarian, she told me that she really appreciated librarians and just recently a McMaster librarian helped her find the data she needed for her GIS class.
But as able as she was, she was not ultimately effective in getting closer to her fund-raising goal for reasons that were not her fault. So after I told the student my reasons why I would not donate to McMaster University, I told her that I would write you personally and tell you those reasons myself because... well because it only seemed fair.
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.)
I will not be attending The Future of Academic Libraries Symposium because 15% doesn't sound fair to me. I want a future that's more fair than the present, for myself and for the student I spoke to last night.
Mita has it exactly right.
Consider me an additional signatory to Mita's letter.
Another thing that I find problematic is that most of the presenters from the library world are senior administrators -- university librarians and others at that level. While I have nothing against senior administrators per se, it seems to me that a symposium on the future of something could certainly benefit from some younger blood. See Peter Brantley's excellent call to arms, Get in the goddamn wagon, for some further thoughts in that direction.
A panel discussion featuring some of McMaster's front-line librarians would seem to be a natural for dealing with at least some of the aforementioned issues -- lack of women, lack of Mac librarians and lack of early-career and front-line librarians.
I realize that it's probably too late to change the program significantly, in particular since the schedule of events seems inordinately packed. However, I feel the three prominent omissions seriously damage the credibility of what should have been a significant event in the spring calendar for academic librarians in southern Ontario.