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!