Magazine article American Libraries

Sexual Harassment by Patrons

Magazine article American Libraries

Sexual Harassment by Patrons

Article excerpt

By far the most depressing aspect of tabulating the early responses to my survey on sexual harassment of library employees by patrons (the results were reported in the July/Aug. AL, p. 652) was reading the critical comments that many working librarians made about the resistance of their supervisors, administrators, and directors to even acknowledge the problem, let alone do something about it.

However, just when I was beginning to despair that the problem was going to be one more important issue that would get stuck in the management/labor gridlock that exists in too many libraries, I began to get a series of long and thoughtful letters from responsible and concerned administrators who recognized the seriousness of the problem and who were working productively toward solutions. These responses not only served as a welcome counterbalance to all the management-bashing, but they also suggested effective ways to go about dealing with the problem. Here are some excerpts:

* "After reading of the tragic murder of a librarian in Arizona, my next staff meeting addressed this issue as presented in American Libraries. Our staff received your survey before that meeting so they could have some considered comments. As usual some of the best ideas came from the staff. For instance, we found out that staff whose job takes them into the stacks to help patrons feel more vulnerable and threatened. They get more physical and sexual threats ."

* "I asked my entire public services staff to fill out your questionnaire and I was surprised to see the concern here in our nice, safe suburban community. As a result, we have improved our security procedures and increased our practice of watching out for one another."

* "I took the occasion of your article to poll all of my staff to find out just how vulnerable they felt working in our building. While I was aware of the few serious incidents that have taken place, I regret the apparent climate in which any of my staff should be made to feel uncomfortable in their work situation. The results of the survey indicate that my student aides feel particularly vulnerable, especially when closing for the evening. I have taken the results of the survey as the reason to purchase several portable phones with the base unit in our circulation department. In the relatively secure confines of a suburban academic library serving 4,000 students, I am sorry to report that we are not immune from the widespread problem of harassment by our patrons."

* "Attached is the result of your survey in my library. I believe a lot of the insecurity felt by our staff is the result of increasing numbers of street people. Since our local police have closed rest rooms in city parks, we have also begun to observe occasional drug deals being carried out in our rest rooms. We are working closely with our police department and local social services agencies to deal with the new reality."

* "I distributed your questionnaire to my employees and was shocked by the response. As a follow-up I appointed an employee task force to study the problem and devise a strategy to deal with it. Last week the committee presented me with a report that made the following recommendations: Reserve the parking places closest to the library building for employees who work at night, urge the library board to pass a strict patron behavior policy and post this policy throughout the library, increase the lighting at the staff entrance, invite the police department to give self-defense and rape prevention training at library staff meetings, provide all public services employees with personal attack alarms that will help repel abusers and harassers, and begin compiling a 'most wanted' list of patrons who chronically harass library employees. …

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