Magazine article American Libraries

Working Knowledge: Designing Dress Codes

Magazine article American Libraries

Working Knowledge: Designing Dress Codes

Article excerpt

Q I am a department head in a medium-sized public library. Recently, several staff members have commented negatively about one of their coworkers who has a very large tattoo extending down the length of her arm that is visible when she wears a sleeveless blouse. Our library has a very basic policy regarding dress codes, with no mention of tattoos or body piercings. I realize I probably shouldn't bring the issue up with the employee until it is outlined in detail in a policy. Should I ask management to consider revising the dress code to be more specific, or would I be opening a can of worms?

Puzzled about Policy

A Yes, the times have a-changed. Discussions over what is appropriate attire in the workplace has shifted from the length of a skirt or color of a dress shirt to whether body art is appropriate at a public desk. You are correct to refrain from discussing this with the employee if the dress code does not specifically address the issue of tattoos. Bringing the issue to management may be an inevitable step, as tattoos and body piercings aren't going away anytime soon.

Take a look at our changing workforce: One in 10 Americans has a tattoo, compared with one in 100 three decades ago, according to the Alliance of Professional Tattooists. Further, a Harris poll in 2003 found that more than one-third of Americans between ages 25 and 30 has a tattoo.

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But are employers ready to accept visible tattoos and non-ear piercings among employees? A recent survey by the employment website Vault.com revealed that "42% of managers said they would lower their opinions of someone based on his or her tattoos or body piercings.... And 58% said they'd be less likely to offer a job to a tattooed or pierced applicant." Even a company as progressive as Starbucks has a fairly strict dress code: Company policy requires that employees cover all tattoos and remove piercings.

For a view from the library world, I turned to the nexgenlib discussion list, surveying librarians about their feelings about body art and dress codes. Perhaps the sampling from their responses below can help start a conversation at your library.

* Michelle Caulk, a librarian in Illinois: "Personally, I don't consider tattoos or body piercing unprofessional. …

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