Seriously, my eyes are up here

They are on my face – and yes, looking at people’s eyes or at least trying to make some semblance of looking at someone’s face is our culture’s way of showing you are listening – and not in the middle of my chest. That’s where my boobs live. Don’t look at my boobs for the entire time I’m trying to explain our library’s DVD policy to you. Don’t creepily look at my boobs at all. Plus, being a just over five feet tall person makes it really easy for me to notice when an over six feet tall person is looking at my boobs. Seriously, you’re going to break your neck from all the craning down to ogle.

Words to live by, thanks CTA. (Good for you, Chicago!)

Words to live by, thanks CTA. (Good for you, Chicago!)

Ah, sexual harassment! I don’t think that I have had a job where I have not been sexually harassed: I have had a lawyer (!) ask me in the office – while I’m wearing a knee-length skirt and knee-high boots, though it wouldn’t matter what I was wearing – if my legs go “all the way up”; I’ve had a coworker at a coffee shop text me the things he’d like to “do” to me if he could get me alone and when I told him that was really inappropriate and unwelcome follow me into the basement where we were alone to try to “explain” himself (my ex-boyfriend  kindly offered to beat him up, and while it was a nice offer, I definitely wanted to do it myself); I’ve had patrons follow me around the stacks while I’m shelving asking doggedly about my relationship status; continuously trying to get my number or ask me out even after repeated refusals; or tell me about three times in a row how much he really, really likes my haircut, leering the whole time. And more that I probably can’t remember because it makes me so angry that I can rattle off a list of the times I’ve felt the sexual harassment range of emotions that goes from uncomfortable to creeped out to unsafe.

It’s frustrating to me, too, that it took me working in libraries to realize that I needed to tell coworkers and supervisors about this. Sexual harassment does this weird thing where it makes you – the one being harassed, not the one harassing, feel weird or shameful about it. You don’t really want to tell anyone at work for a number of reasons: fear of retribution; fear that no one will believe you; fear that you will be blamed for doing x which means you were asking for it; and the list goes on. It was actually a wonderful and caring bartender – the amazing Faith from the now sadly closed Harry’s 240 – who made me tell people at work about it. It’s not okay when it happens and bosses and supervisors need to know about it. You need to tell people for your own safety and so others can help you. Once I did tell people other librarians at my old job would call over to the Reference desk when a patron appeared to be bothering me to make sure I was ok and other measures. It was nice to know they had my back, and we were all able to watch out for each other.

A few people sent me this “15 reasons to date a librarian” post recently and I get it: librarians are cool and some people have a thing for that hot librarian stereotype/fetish.* That’s great and good for you, but it doesn’t mean you get to try to play out your fantasies while I’m work doing my job. My job which is to help you find whatever information you need or want, not to be your sexual fantasy. This shouldn’t be that hard for people to understand. It’s fine if you like all the things most librarians are about: communities, intelligence, freedom to read, civil liberties, books, cats, tattoos, whatever the prevailing stereotype is, but remember that we’re still people who deserve the same modicum of respect as anyone else. It doesn’t help in a lot of ways that our profession is predominantly made up of women – this adds another whole dimension to the issues of librarians, harassment, and librarian fantasies that I may touch upon at another time.
Additionally, it’s a strange situation when this sexual harassment is coming from a patron, from the population that I’m trying to help. Definitely you should report it just as you should report harassment from coworkers, but it’s a some how different. You can’t fire a patron. You can write them up if you have a “bad patron log” or something like that. Obviously, if it gets really bad – and you are feeling unsafe – your library may removal policies in place to deal with patrons like this but we are often asked to walk a fine line. In some ways, we have to put up with a bit of everyday sexual harassment because of the nature of our job – being an institution that is open to everyone. Directors and trustees have to make decisions, too, about policies to deal with it. If a patron is being threatening and a staff person feels unsafe, that is one thing, but sometimes I feel there’s not a lot to do when a patron giving off low levels of creep. The haircut guy? Doesn’t make me feel unsafe, I just hate waiting on him because he’s creepy. Is this an ideal situation? No, but I’m not sure how else to deal with it.
Any library administrators, supervisors, or other library staff out there have ideas on how to deal with this? I’d love to hear some of your policies, or need for policies.

*I know some librarians and friends who have a really problem with this fetish/stereotype and I understand that. It doesn’t bother me as long as you are normal about it, and preferably, keep it to yourself. If I say I’m a librarian and you go, “Oh wow. You must be a secret nymphomaniac! HOT!” Then yeah, you crossed the line into weird. Don’t do that, please.
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3 thoughts on “Seriously, my eyes are up here

  1. Anna, folks at my library try to “cover” for each other. Sometimes there’s a patron that doesn’t click with one of us or is particularly creepy, and we know who they are. When the patron walks in, the librarian who has a hard time with them, totally hides in the back room and one of us takes over. BUT, our director is pretty great in telling people when they’re being offensive. If we have a hard time with someone and tell her, she confronts them.

    • Holly, that’s great. We try to do that when we can, but sometimes – as you know – it doesn’t always work. It’s hard when you get a new creepy person, because then you don’t know! I don’t know if this makes me feel better or worse that this happens to a lot of people…. 😦

      • Samantha says:

        At least you have a lot of people to get sympathy from? But I hear you on this whole post.

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