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Waukegan Public Library Employees Confront Sexual Harassment of Librarians

8 July 2017

From Illinois Leaks:

During the American Library Association’s (ALA) latest conference (held in Chicago in June 2017), two Waukegan Public Library employees delivered a standing-room-only presentation on sexual harassment experienced regularly by public librarians.

Amanda Civitello (Waukegan’s Marketing and Communications Manager) and Katie McLain (Reference Assistant) opened their remarks to the packed room with the story of what it’s like to be a public librarian and having to tell friends and family about working in a sexually hostile work environment (when no one in America, under the EEOC Act, has to suffer like that).

Civitello talked about being out to dinner with friends and sharing stories about male library patrons sexually harassing her and feeling like she was required to take that abuse as part of her job. Her friends — all people employed at private companies or in other lines of work besides librarianship — were gobsmacked that Civitello felt that she had no recourse and had to just put up with sexual harassment on the job because it was coming from the public. “Haven’t you heard of the EEOC? You don’t have to take that abuse, Amanda,” she reported her friends repeating over and over again. But the two presenters confronted the ugly truth about public libraries: for whatever reason, employees are still being told by management or otherwise pressured to feel that they do have to take that abuse or lose their jobs.

. . . .

The overwhelmingly positive response that Amanda Civitello and Katie McLain received for their presentation was followed by an extended question and comment session that could have run all night but was limited for time. Dozens of library employees from around Illinois and across the nation jockeyed for time at the microphone to tell their horror stories about encountering sexual harassment from library patrons…and often having to later deal with Baby Boomer library management that wanted to downplay the events, hide them from the record, and tell the employees that taking such abuse is just part of their jobs. In addition to library employees being made to feel uncomfortable by male patrons openly viewing pornography on library computers (a problem that plagued Orland Park for many years), the female employees told stories about being stalked by members of the public who would continuously ask them out on dates or comment suggestively on their appearance and make them feel unsafe in the workplace by following them around the stacks or lurking around corners. Some male library employees also reported instances of themselves (or other male coworkers) being stalked and sexually harassed by members of the public as well.

Link to the rest at Illinois Leaks and thanks to Lucy for the tip.


16 Comments to “Waukegan Public Library Employees Confront Sexual Harassment of Librarians”

  1. An armed society is a polite society. Just saying…

    Look at the turn of the century posters of mashers faced with umbrellas and heavy handbags.

    • Ashe Elton Parker

      1: Not everybody wants to carry a firearm.

      2: A firearm should not be required in order for someone who who works for the public to receive such things as courtesy and respect.

      3: It is NOT the victim’s fault for the sexual harrassment they have been treated with. By stating that “An armed society is a polite society,” you’re putting the onus on the victim to ensure they are treated with courtesy and respect, when the mistreatment is the PERPETRATORS’ fault.

      • And yet, there remain umbrellas and heavy handbags. Doesn’t have to be firearms. It’s more about attitude.

        When the cops are 10 minutes away, it’s important to remember that all the rules on paper and all the after action punishments for crimes will not keep you alive or out of trouble if you don’t take some action yourself.

        It’s not very different from forbidding cliffs to let you fall off of them or fire to burn. You have to take some responsibility for situational awareness — the world can be a dangerous place, and people are at least as dangerous as any physical world risk.

        • It’s like leaving the doors of your house open when you go on holiday, certainly is the robbers fault for stealing, but if you had taken the preventative measure of locking the door, is the thief would’ve found it harder to get in.
          The line of thinking displayed above only creates victims.

      • it doesn’t take everyone carrying a firearm, just eliminating the knowledge that everyone in an area will be disarmed and therefor some percentage of people will be armed (not necessarily with firearms, see the above comment about umbrellas and heavy handbags) to make people think twice and be more polite.

        • Yep. Everyone doesn’t have to carry some kind of weapon, but if everyone (particularly those with a mind to cause trouble) knew that in any given place it was likely that just 10% of people carried a weapon and knew how to use it, they’d be far less inclined to start trouble (and if they did start trouble, they’d be stopped sooner). No one’s saying that we should force people who aren’t comfortable with it to carry weapons. Nothing near a 100% saturation rate is necessary to be effective.

          • just moving the needle off of zero (where only lawbreakers are armed) would make a difference.

            and as I noted, it doesn’t need to be a matter of having firearms (although they are the great equalizer, a 90 pound woman can handle a 250 pound athlete with one)

  2. The thing is, you cannot control the perp’s actions. At least, I know of no option to force people not to be evil, absent an external threat. I don’t see the point of saying that people shouldn’t do bad things. Of course they shouldn’t. You’re basically asking for people to stop sinning, and God knows that’s not really a thing 🙂

    I like policies that are oriented around the reality that people will do evil. Ergo, limit the range of evil they can do, by empowering other people to defend themselves against it. Librarians should be permitted to use whatever option they’re comfortable with, from bear spray to tasers or whatever else.

    Librarians should not be instructed to enable their abusers. I don’t understand the mentality of their employers, who are telling them this.

    What value is there in encouraging perverts to come to the library? It’s odd, because it’s not as if the public would be outraged if people couldn’t watch porn at the library, especially near children. Or, speaking for myself, I wouldn’t be mad.

    So what is the incentive to subject the librarians and their patrons to this behavior? Who are library bosses trying to curry favor with? Why did they decide to look after the best interests of these freaks at the expense of the librarians and the patrons? I’d love it if someone put that question to them.

  3. Why did they decide to look after the best interests of these freaks at the expense of the librarians and the patrons? I’d love it if someone put that question to them.

    Okay, I read the whole article. It looks like another case of Baby Boomers Be Bad. No really, that’s the tone of the article. Quote:

    The Baby Boomer generation appears to be stuck on the idea that to prove some nebulous ideological point everyone must suffer — including and most especially female library employees — because the Boomers want to be “sex-positive” and not tell anyone in a library that they can’t use those public resources for sex.

    Don’t worry though, because the GenXers and the Millennials are the heroes here — which is new and unusual in articles about them! See:

    Libraries where the management is part of the Gen-X or Millennial generations seem to have a more sensible and pragmatic approach to the sexual harassment problem and do not allow members of the public to harass librarians.


    Sanity appears to be making a comeback with younger generations, however, who appear to believe that sex belongs in a private home and not a public building and that no person in America should be forced to work in a building where members of the public are allowed to be openly masturbating just a few feet away.

    Yay. This is neutral praise, for I belong to a nebulous, nameless generation in between the Xers and the Millennials. No one has ginned up any propaganda about us, so I don’t know if we’re supposed to be What’s Wrong With America 🙂

    Anyway, I do hope the towns where these problems are happening can come up with a solution other than just waiting for the evil Baby Boomers to die (I get the impression the writer would welcome that way, anyway).

  4. This is an example of the dilemma of public libraries. Librarians acquire and circulate books all the time that they personally consider despicable because they value freedom of speech over their personal beliefs and morality.
    Harassment by patrons is similar. The harassers are despicable, yet they are members of the public and libraries serve the public, all the public, not just the public librarians personally like. Public libraries are public institutions, not private businesses and many librarians take that as an obligation to serve everyone, not just the “nice” people.
    Still, lines must be drawn. Public libraries do not circulate pirated material, classified documents, and other stuff that is deemed illegal, even though arguments are sometimes made that they should. Often, decisions are fraught with misgiving because the arguments are not conclusive.
    Harassment, sexual or otherwise, is similarly difficult to deal with. Our library system has fairly stringent rules regarding disruptive behavior, which we define as “any activity which endangers the perpetrator or others, interferes with the library activity of other patrons or staff, or is illegal.” Harassment is one example of disruptive behavior that our policy highlights with these words “Harassment or threats to library patrons or staff,including but not limited to stalking, intimidating, prolonged staring, and harassing behavior related to use of the Internet.”
    Our policy ought be adequate to handle sexual harassment, but it is still subjective and involves some soul searching. We have a handful of incidents every quarter in which patrons are “trespassed” (prohibited from entering library premises for some period) usually with the help of law enforcement. We don’t like to take those steps, but sometimes they are necessary. There are dangers both in being too lenient and in being too strict.

    • In the interest of full disclosure, I am a dyed-in-wool card-carrying baby-boomer and chairman of our library board of trustees. Our current director is, I believe, Gen-X, but our conduct policy was authored by the previous director who is as much a baby-boomer as I am. I resent blanket aspersions on my generation.

  5. I really don’t understand why it’s allowed to use library resources (especially computers) for porn, particularly since a library is somewhere where a child might wander by at any point. I really just don’t get it. Why don’t they just block access to those sites like a lot of employers do? It’s not a civil right to view porn on the public’s dime. And I bet blocking access to that sort of stuff would keep a lot of the creeps from going into the library at all. I bet if they put that on the ballot and let voters just about anywhere vote on that for their local library system, it would pass.

    • Freedom of speech is what I’ve been told, and freedom of access to information. I asked at the university library when I was in grad school and their policy was, shortened for space, “If it is porn, ignore it. If you don’t like it, move to a different workstation (!). If it is kiddie porn, call security.”

      There was one exception and that was final exam period, when any non-academic use was off limits, so watching porn, playing video games, and Facebooking or other social media uses not directly tied to class work were to be reported to the staff and the person would be told to stop and release the computer for someone who needed it.

      • In our system, if a patron or staff is disrupted by anyone’s conduct, including what they choose to view on computers, staff will intervene to mitigate the disruption. Usually, that only means asking one party or the other to move. Staff on duty will call law enforcement if needed. Children’s areas are policed more stringently and parents can request several different levels of Internet blocking for their children. {Note, most clever 11-year-olds know ways around the blocks. The blocks are a poor replacement for parental supervision.)
        Our basic rule is that we don’t interfere with legal conduct that does not disturb others, but we will stop conduct that disturbs other patrons or staff. As an example, we will not interfere with a patron openly and legally carrying a legal weapon, but we will ask law enforcement to intervene if the carrying patron were to disturb other patrons or our staff by their conduct.

      • The Supreme Court ruled in the 2003 case US v. ALA that no public body has any requirement to provide pornography. People like to just shout “freedom of speech” or “freedom of access to information” without thinking critically. Let’s think critically for a moment, as the SCOTUS did. First, taxpayer money funds libraries and libraries are not required to have every book, magazine, or other document ever written available. There is not enough money and not enough room in a library to have everything; so libraries choose what to buy for their collections. The act of choosing NOT to include something is not censorship, but is instead an every day act made by libraries with limited budgets/storage space. Secondly, taxpayer money is not mandated to be used to provide sexual gratification and/or porn for anyone. People are free to buy their own porn or do whatever they want at home. The public library is not mandated to provide everything in life that a person could possibly want. The government not buying you porn does not mean the government is censoring porn. That porn still exists and you are free to buy it and watch it and do whatever you want with it outside the public building and in your own home. What the SCOTUS ruled almost 15 years ago at this point is that public libraries ARE NOT REQUIRED TO PROVIDE PORNOGRAPHY TO ANYONE and the act of NOT PROVIDING porn is not illegal and is not censorship. People who do not think critically enjoy shouting the word “censorship” without knowing what it means and fail to see the distinction between not purchasing or providing something and “censoring” it. What seems to happen is that the people who work in libraries who WANT TO HAVE PORN THERE deliberately misrepresent the facts in an attempt to get away with having it in the library, when in fact there is no legal requirement to have porn available. There are lewd behavior and indecency statutes on the books in every state, county, and locality. What needs to start happening is that anyone seeing someone watching porn in a public library needs to call the cops and have that person arrested for indecent behavior in public. You are not allowed to watch pornography in a public building per your locality’s lewd behavior/indecency statutes. Library employees seem to believe that the laws of their communities do not apply inside the library, but the library is not some magical place where lewd behavior/indecency laws stop and people are free to commit any crimes they choose and get away with it and have no fear of the police being called. The problem is that library employees too often seem to not want to call the police when they should and the public is very naive to trust librarians to do the right thing. Never, ever trust a public employee if you see a crime being committed. Call the police on your cell phone yourself and do not give the public employee the opportunity to cover up the incident, hide it from the police, or allow the criminal to get away. If a man is looking at pornography in a public library then he needs to go to jail for doing that because doing that out in a public building is at very least a misdemeanor offense subject to arrest. No matter what lies the library staff want to tell you about “free speech” or “free information.” That’s just bunk.

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