Privacy, Stalking and Harassment

This post is in response to several posts by David Lee King, beginning with ‘anonymity, libraries and websites‘ and followed by ‘Privacy Part 2‘ and ‘Stalking – is it really a huge problem for libraries?

Ok, let me tackle King’s first argument:

Libraries can’t really base policy decisions or day-to-day practice decisions on one-time events or on worse case scenarios. We have to base those policies on a library’s strategic plans and on current best practices in order to best serve our communities. And then deal with the exceptions and single instances as they crop up.

Here, I agree. If we based our operations on worst case scenarios, we’d be working behind bullet-proof glass. Within a single day my library plays host to ex-convicts, the newly unemployed, the dumped and abandoned, and infants. People in the worst moments of their lives, people attempting to change their lives, and people in the prime of their lives. Librarians aid them all. I have received kisses from babies only to be harassed an hour later by an irate and impassioned end-of-days evangelist.

My point: Librarians deal daily with isolated one-time harassments until those incidents may be strung into a chaplet of little miseries.

My problem: Librarians are left to deal with unstable, potentially explosive patrons with little (or more likely nothing) in their organization’s policies that dictate their responsibilities, outline their best course of action or address their safety. If the responses to King’s posts are anything to judge by, Library Management is doing a very poor job of addressing “instances as they crop up.”

Ok, on to Privacy Part 2.

We expect those staff to provide their names, their business cards, their email address, etc. It’s simply part of the job.

Again, I agree. We are professionals. I believe it is important to present a professional appearance, engage in professional development and promote oneself (this includes a web presence). All of which require you to brand yourself around your name. But this should be an opt-in plan, not a mandate. I do these things but they aren’t tied to my organization. I wouldn’t have a problem if they were, but I have also never been stalked. I wouldn’t want to make that decision for a colleague.

However, it is your library management’s responsibility to create an environment where staff will feel secure and safe while using their full name and image. It has been my observation that Library management across the board is failing to achieve safe environments for their staff.

Consider this from David Lee King’s post:

Here’s what Stephen Lusk, our HR manager, said when I asked him about the whole choice thing. He said “sure, they have a choice. They don’t have to work here.” Then he and Gina (our library director) went on to talk about how good managers and good libraries set expectations on work-related activities, then follow those up with annual reviews, etc.

It is, in my opinion, poor leadership if management fails to see their responsibility in providing a welcoming and safe atmosphere for staff, opting instead to have good people walk away. Has Steve or Gina sat down with staff who feel uncomfortable sharing what they deem personal information? Are they willing to make exceptions?

[BTW: David stated on Twitter, “I think my point got lost in the shuffle – harassment happens at the desk, not bcause of our posted names.” I agree. There is an illusion of safety when our names are not known. But LizB also has a good point, a full name will aid a potential stalker. I think the opt-in/out idea is a good one.]

Perhaps there are a few simple steps managers can take. I suggest enforcing existing policies. Too often I have a seen a Librarian cursed at and instead of facing expulsion, a manager will be contrite and apologetic toward the offending patron. Unacceptable.

So, managers can pat themselves on the back for enforcing their staff policies (annual reviews, ha! Please read Drive: The Surprising Truth Behind What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink to educate yourselves on the relevance of annual reviews) but not enforcing patron policies. I wouldn’t want to work for a system that forced me to reveal personal information if I believed it would lead to harassment or stalking. I would want an opt-out option.

Now, let’s address Stalking. King writes:

Most librarians simply don’t fit into the “most likely to be stalked” category. I’m not a female younger than 35. No one in my department is either. And librarians in general? Look around ALA Midwinter in a few weeks … again, not trying to come off as flippant (though some of you will no doubt suggest that I am) … most of us simply don’t fit that profile.

I must state the obvious. More senior Librarians are funded to attend conferences. The chicks stay at home. My library’s technology department employees mostly men. They sit in cozy offices off the public floor, as you probably do. The Librarians on the floor are overwhelmingly female. There is an even divide between those over 35 and those like me, under 35 and (I flatter myself) attractive.

To suggest that Librarians don’t fit ‘the profile’ is not only ridiculous but inaccurate. You are also forgetting the large number of support staff we employee, many who happen to be young female students. Are they to be left to the wolves? Many a time I have seen a shelver approached and intervened. Remember, there are still 1 in 4 victims who don’t know their attacker. The parking garage adjacent to my Library is pretty much vacant and dark when the all-female staff leaves the building at 9 p.m.

So, anyone who wants to have a productive conversation about GREAT managers/leaders attending to staff concerns (not dismissing them), providing a safe and welcoming environment for staff and patrons in a setting that requires a unique combination of professionalism and public service, and the art of savior faire… let’s talk!

11 thoughts on “Privacy, Stalking and Harassment

  1. Good points, and good post. Thanks for the different viewpoint.

    And just to clarify something. You said “Steven and Gina are poor managers if they fail to see their responsibility in providing a welcoming and safe atmosphere for staff, opting instead to have good people walk away. Has Steve or Gina sat down with staff who feel uncomfortable sharing what they deem personal information?”

    Of course they do. They’re actually quite good at their jobs, and do a great job of listening to staff needs and concerns. Not a great idea to make a point based on something you think someone doesn’t do (without first checking it out). Just sayin.

    That said, if a few staff (it’s never happened, but just for argument’s sake) didn’t want to do something that was a requirement of the job, whatever that requirement was – sure we’d let them go. While they might do other parts of their job well, if they refuse to align with system-wide goals and strategies … that’s ultimately not the type of employee we’re looking for.

  2. We’ll have to agree to disagree, then.

    In terms of full names, nametags, and websites:

    If an employee says this is a problem for them because of harassment, stalking, etc., why ignore or dismiss their concerns? Why make their job and career dependent on ignoring that voice saying “this is a problem.”

    It’s pretty much standard self defense to trust your instincts yet in a library, if the employee’s instincts are “don’t use my full name, don’t use my photo” why does the employer respond “no, don’t trust your instincts”? Not only that, but now imply “your instincts are wrong! you’re not the right statistic!”

    Giving a name — a full name — gives the person doing the harrasment one more tool to use. Particularly a last name.

    As for professionalism, I didn’t have the contact with the public (good, bad, indifferent) in a law firm that I do in a public library, so no, not quite the same. And, just because in some situations I say “yes” about what I reveal about my identity does not mean I say “yes” in all situations or “yes” to all aspects of my identlty.

    The problem with waiting for an instance to crop up is now we’re talking about dealing with an event, rather than prevention. So, wait for Something to Happen? Why?

    And it’s a whole other issue that even when something happens, it’s dismissed, ignored, and no police involvement. But, personally, the fact that a library starts from a position of “we’re ignoring your instincts for self preservation” does not make me confident that issues of harassment/stalking will be addressed. Or, that as things start to happen, a report will be welcomed, because if the initial “my instincts…” was down-played why will “standing too close/ leaning over me/ asking inappropriate questions / following me etc ” be listened to?

    Will a name or no name stop harrasment, etc? No — but it can make it better or worse. And in seeking solutions, I don’t think dismissing the voiced concerns of those who believe themselves at risk helps anyone.

  3. Confused, I guess. Liz, you said “If an employee says this is a problem for them because of harassment, stalking, etc., why ignore or dismiss their concerns?”

    I fully agree. Why would an employer ignore or dismiss those concerns? We certainly don’t. No one is dismissing those voiced concerns where I work. Maybe they do where you have worked? But in the 4 libraries I’ve worked in … we never dismissed those concerns.

  4. David, You’re dismissing it when you say that the employees objecting to full names & images being used still have to use their full names.

    Unless you’re saying that is an opt-out? Which is not how I read your posts. If you are saying that an employee can opt out of names and images on tags, nametags, websites, etc., then I misread your post.

    Nicole, in case I’m not clear — I agree that management fails to take seriously concerns voiced by staff.

  5. We’ll have to disagree then. Dismissing concerns and requiring something that an employee was hired to do are two very different things.

    Just because en employee has concerns and airs those – it simply doesn’t follow that management then has to then give in to that concern. Running an organization means you follow organization goals and strategies. Certainly you listen to staff and get staff buy in first (which we always do). But then you make a decision and go with it, then adjust as needed. But not because one staff member doesn’t like it.

  6. Ok, David, I was refering to ‘Steve and Gina’ in a generic way. As in, managers who are ready to dismiss a staffers concern over harassment/stalking/inappropriate behavior, especailly where there is a legitimate concern, is uninformed.

    I didn’t mean to imply they, specifically, are responsible for that type of behavior (I will fix this in my post).

    Now, I have worked with managers who are apathetic to staff concerns and even incidents. They have a very ‘Steve and Gina’ outlook on dismissing staff (another reason I’m glad to be currently unionized).

    I think we need to look at the broader picture here. You are a man. You have admitted you have no experience with stalking. I doubt a woman has ever made suggestive/threatening remarks to you at work (have they?). Do your managers spend hours on the reference desk observing the type of behavior patrons exhibit towards the staff?

    You are talking with women who have had those experiences… sometimes daily. We are emotionally tied to these issues. To be told to “align with system-wide goals and strategies” when lewd men take advantage of our desire to educate and serve the public, we balk. My coworkers have been driven to tears (!) by management over such incidents.

    Liz is right, we have been told to NOT call the police when we feel threatened (but to call mangement! ha. Can you see how we might subvert them because we do not trust them?).

    This is a complicated issue. I think I was most offended when you attempted to dismiss stalking/harassing as not being an issue because Librarians don’t fit the profile. We do, absolutuely. Even if we didn’t, there is clear evidence other disturbing behavior is happened. To see management so inssitant on their own goals when personal saftey is in question, is horrifying.

    My own experience is coloring this response and I hope that speaks to you. I hope you will understand if I don’t trust you to speak for the front line female staffers at your organization. Your experience is wildly different than theirs. It is almost enough to drive me to another career.

  7. Well, no – you’re right. I’m not frontline female staff, and I shouldn’t speak for them. I was simply interested in stats, saw some that made me go “huh” – and shared outloud. I’m seeing that was the WRONG way to go about it (even if I still agree with my main points).

    You said “I doubt a woman has ever made suggestive/threatening remarks to you at work (have they?). Do your managers spend hours on the reference desk observing the type of behavior patrons exhibit towards the staff?”

    Yes to both. Our public services managers all work the desk and regularly observe happenings. And on the first part – yep. Before this job, I was threatened multiple times by a weird deputy director. For about six months, I had to document all odd behaviors, and it was very very close to doing something formal about it.

    And then it stopped. I think she started taking medication or something (I never found out about it). It certainly wasn’t stalking, but it was definitely harrassment. And I confronted it head on, both with the deputy director and with management.

  8. David, I’m sorry you had to go through that but I’m equally glad you confronted it and were supported by management. I think some of my frustrations come from being the victim of similar harassment, doing the documentation, and then being told I’m overreacting (fortunately, in one instance, a patron was banned for a month and never returned… but it took too long for that to happen. He was a clear threat).

    I’m also glad your experiences with management have been so positive. I wonder, then, that your staff members are hesitant to put full names/pics on the web or on nametags. Perhaps these incidents, however well documented or supported, are simply soul-sucking because of their regularity.

    It is not pleasant to go to a job where you are harassed regularly. I can understand the desire to shield oneself as much as possible from such scenerios. Can you not empathize, though your personal choices may be different?

  9. So basically, “Let us violate your privacy or you’re FIRED!” ?

    I see some Library management is enjoying taking advantage of the poor job market to bully librarians to follow the PRECIOUS procedure! I sure would appreciate working for a library that values unessential procedure over the safety of it’s employees. Everything about David Lee King’s last few blogs have enraged me. I look forward to avoiding any future talks he gives.

  10. The staff at the Topeka Library do not wear badges with first and last names because of the concerns being expressed here and elsewhere. Badges only have their first name on them. Members of the management staff do use first and last names. Similarly, if you take a look at the library website ( , only a few people chose to use their last name on their blog posts. Also I personally know of two people who work the library desks in Topeka who were stalked by patrons. I haven’t talked to every person at the library and asked them, have you been stalked by a patron? Or, I suspect, the number would be higher. After all one in every 12 women in America have been stalked.

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