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Thursday, October 26, 2017

The State of Sexual Harassment in the Library

RA Service is customer service. We are on the front lines dealing with patrons all day, every day. We are expected to be nothing but nice, friendly and helpful no matter how awfully a patron treats us or others.

I loved my 15 years on the front lines providing RA Service to patrons, and most of the patrons were great; however, some were not. Many outright made me uncomfortable. I had many comments about my looks, my body-- especially the two times I was pregnant, and was hit on more than once. I had a coworker who was stalked by a patron who wanted to date her despite the fact that she said no and was happily married. I had to protect my teenage female pages from leering and inappropriate patrons.  

This is just the tip of the iceberg.  

I like most of my colleagues, I thought I had to put up with it. I thought it was part of the job. I had to be nice, serve the patron, and then find someone to call me into a “meeting” if I needed to get away from someone who made me uncomfortable. As a supervisor, I protected my employees when they were being harassed by playing “bad cop” and intervening so the employee could escape. My Directors [men and women] did similar things for me. But rarely did we punish the patron for what was inappropriate behavior. 

I am ashamed to say now that none of us even thought it was an option.

Well, times are changing. 

Kelly Jensen, friend of the blog, librarian, author, and editor sent out a poll to library workers asking them about sexual harassment in their workplaces. Once she received the results, Kelly published this insightful and scathing report about the state of sexual harassment in the library and how little is done to curb it over on Book Riot.  She ends with a call to action for all of us to do better.

Kelly tackled this topic knowing she would get a lot of “shoot the messenger” hate for what she found. And many library workers bravely shared their very personal stories. Kelly only put some of them in her piece, but what is there will make you stop and take stock of your own experiences.

I had passed the survey on to others thinking I had nothing to report myself. After reading Kelly’s article I was shocked to realize that many of the experiences mentioned were not unfamiliar to me. In fact, I dare ever single one of you not to find a story in the article which either happened to you or you know it happened to one of your coworkers.

Today I want to take a break from helping you serve leisure readers better and be here to help you serve yourself better. I want all of you to read The State of Sexual Harassment in the Library from Book Riot, by Kelly because being treated badly, being sexually harassed doesn’t HAVE to be a part of our job as we work with leisure readers anymore. But it is up to us to put our feet down and say, “no more."

I hope you can use this article to start a conversation with your co-workers and supervisors about how we love helping readers find their next good read but that shouldn’t supersede our right to be treated properly. Harassment can no longer be the price of admission to a library job. We shouldn’t have to grin and bear it. [That was my strategy most days.] We can all do better.

Let’s treat ourselves as well as we treat our patrons. I know we have not been. I know because I am guilty of putting their bad behavior over my feelings and safety. And I know I am not alone.

Thank you Kelly for making us realize the scope of the problem. Now let’s do something. It starts with each of you being honest and talking about the problem at work. Use the article as your jumping off point.

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