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It’s Halloween, so I’m going to post about something that’s scary. Harassment and stalking.  This post is stimulated by a recent event, at a recent speaking engagement, where I dealt with a particularly aggressive person…and fought back.  This is another form of fighting back.  Words are my strength, so here you go.

There is a bit of a pestilence on female public figures, including those of us in the library world.  Certain men, and on occasion women, behave rather inappropriately toward us.  For years I thought it was something that only I was experiencing. Then I started talking with my female colleagues—others who speak, write, or are otherwise in the bibliosphere’s public eye.  I have been surprised to learn how many women experience this inappropriate craziness from fellow librarians.

I Don’t Want Your Underwear

The following are all examples of things that have happened to me, and in every case the perpetrator is another librarian.  I know—hard to believe.  But a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science does not necessarily mean that you are sane.

I provide these examples in the hopes that others experiencing similar situations will speak up in the comments about what’s happened to them, and that potential future idiots will take this as a big “NO” sign:

  1. Small inappropriate touches (e.g. sliding your hand around my waist and squeezing, kissing me on the lips to say hello instead of shaking my hand like a normal person, caressing my cheek during a conversation, etc.).
  2. Going home after a long day at work and finding a stranger on my doorstep with flowers and a box with lingerie, blocking access to my front door and asking me to marry him.  I beat a hasty retreat to my car, locked it, and called the police.
  3. Receiving notes at the hotel desk during a conference with sexual propositions, questions about what I was wearing under my dress that day, etc.
  4. Getting my ass grabbed during a hug.  First time that happened, I was so shocked I just walked away.  Second, third, and fourth times the guys got slapped.
  5. Standing in line for the open bar at an exhibits opening gala and having someone recite chapter and verse what I did the previous weekend, my cat’s name, my latest project at work, and my hometown’s recent stormy weather.
  6. Gifts of various kinds…from benign (coffee) to extra creepy (fuzzy handcuffs and a whip).  General rule: If I don’t know you, don’t send me presents.  Period.
  7. Having someone favorite just about every photo I’ve posted of me on Flickr.  We do get notifications when that happens, guys…instant stalker indicator.
  8. Having someone come up behind me, press some choice bits into my body, and put his arms around my waist. This was just offstage after I spoke—dozens of other people around.  This guy got cold-cocked in the face by yours truly and walked away bloody, escorted by security.  There is only one person I will let touch me in that manner. And guess what?  It’s not you.
  9. Hearing a whisper in my ear at a speaker’s reception: “I want to **** you until you cry.”  My response included another few choice **** words.
  10. Receiving a marriage proposal as a series of poster-boards displayed from the audience to me while I was speaking.  Points for cleverness, but disruptive to my talk…and if we’ve never been on a date, I can offer a 100% guarantee that I will turn your proposal down.
  11. Receiving a package in the mail sent to my library containing a pair of men’s underwear with a note reading “You can put these on me and then take them off the next time I see you” (from someone I did not know at all).  I have been sent two pairs of men’s underwear from strangers. Note to guys: not sexy.

I have heard of many other similar experiences from many other female speakers.  Touching, come-ons, proposals…we’ve had it all.  It’s almost all harassment and some is actual stalking.

The Effect of Being Accosted by Creepy Dudes

These experiences used to create a great deal of fear for me.  Several years ago, I became afraid of these individuals, but also afraid to go out in public without a friend or family member present.  I would (sometimes literally) cling to guybrarian friends at conferences…hoping to keep the creeps at bay.  Big thanks go out to those guybrarian saviors—you know who you are.

Now the fear is gone and has been replaced with disgust and irritation.  And anger…let’s not forget the anger.  Now if you mess with me, I will mess with you right back—either through the law enforcement system, punching or kicking you, or by informing your employer.  If you’re on work time and harassing a fellow librarian, guess what buster?  You just risked a lawsuit for your city/county/company/university.

If you want to brand yourself as a creep forever in my mind, by all means be a jackass and do one of the above.  You may even get touched by me for your trouble—of course that touch will take the form of an uppercut to your chin (a move which my massage therapist, of all people, recently taught me to perform quite well…thanks Adam).

I’m Available, But Not to You

Let’s be clear.  Just because I am a single woman under 40, a public figure, kind to strangers, and dress a little differently, does not give you permission, nor is it an invitation, to touch me, send me innuendo-laden Twitter messages, or say inappropriate things in my ear.  Don’t be overly familiar with me.  And if you touch me, you just invited a motherfucking throwdown.  I’m little but I’m scrappy.  I will hurt you.

I unfortunately have more than my fair share of bona fide stalkers.  I’d categorize four different “problem people” as stalkers at present.  Two stalker-types from past years have gone incommunicado after being slapped with restraining orders (thankfully).  And really, guys, something in your brain has to click and tell you you’ve gone too far if a woman even threatens a restraining order.  That should be enough.  But, yes, I know…we’re not dealing with logical thought here.

Is It Librarians?

We are a somewhat more socially inept group than you average population.  I know, I’m generalizing.  But you know it’s true.  It’s also true of other fields, like the tech world – another place where publicly-visible women get an especially lovely sampling of crazy stalker dudes.  Is it that we are just so shy, so inexperienced in the romantic world, that some of us just don’t know where the “appropriate line” is?  Maybe.  Is it a higher incidence of mental illness, especially Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?  Maybe.  I don’t know.  Most of us are sane and nice, and I try to remember that when stuff like this happens.

Is It Me?

I’ve been writing and speaking for libraries and non-profits for close to a decade now.  I put myself out there – personally and professionally – and I don’t try to delineate between the two whatsoever.  My “librarian self” is so interwoven with my “writer/hiking/neo-goth/everything-else self” that I can’t draw some neat line down the middle of my consciousness.

I also consciously “live out loud” by posting copiously to social networks, sometimes with stuff that would make me unelectable if I were ever crazy enough to want to run for political office.  Things like photos of me in a Catwoman costume, about drinking absinthe at 2am, which songs I find romantic, etc.  I get it—I’m not conservative in the sharing of my brain’s inner workings or what my life is like.  However, that is absolutely not an invitation to tell me what you want to do to me when I’m out of my Catwoman costume, or what beverages you want to drink off of my stomach, or to tell me what song you listen to when you think about me and…err…find pleasure in your own company.

I’ve been told by friends and family members concerned for my safety to just start wear longer skirts (and no stiletto heels), not smile as much, stop posting to Twitter and Facebook, and even to bring a policeman as my bodyguard to future events (I kinda like that last idea, actually…but only if he’ll have a nice glass of Zinfandel with me afterward).  But in general, I refuse to give in to fear.  The idiots will keep coming.  Now I just know how to deal with them better.

Tips for the (Would-Be) Accosters

Just don’t do it.  Simple.  If you have a crush on someone, recognize it for what it is—a crush.  You can tell the person how smart you think (s)he is, how cool you think (s)he is, and then invite the person out for coffee.  That’s the appropriate social action…nothing involving flowers, underwear, or marriage proposals.  And you know…you are a librarian.  You do know how to do research.  So research social mores and figure out some appropriate ways to show someone you like her or him.

Tips for the Accosted

  • Don’t be quiet.  Tell the offender immediately what (s)he did wrong.
  • Tell the person what the consequences will be the next time something similar happens.
  • Keep records of who did what when.
  • Block offenders on the social networks if necessary and don’t feel bad for a second for doing so.
  • Inform the police if things even begin to bleed over into stalker territory.  If it even occurs to you that maybe it’s stalking, it probably is.  Act immediately.

If you have had similar bad “creepy person” experiences, or success with coping with these experiences, please comment.  Share your story.  Tell it loud.

“The Creepy Librarian Stalker Hypothesis”

  1. Eli Edwards Says:

    Frell. Sarah, I had no idea that some of our “professional” colleagues could be so … icky. I’m glad you have not withdrawn from the public space, and that you’ve publicized this. Thank you.

  2. Gail Says:

    Great post, Sarah. And you’re absolutely right that the way to deal with these harassers is loudly and directly. This kind of behavior flourishes when the perps think their targets will be too embarrassed to say or do anything to expose them. Andromeda is exactly right that it’s about power, not sex. It has nothing to do with age, attractiveness, sexual orientation, how we dress, or whether we’re single. It has to do with being women. Yes, I know, it sometimes happens to men, too, but (1) that’s not the norm, and (2) the effect on men is different because their social position is different. Women live with this stuff so constantly it’s sometimes hard to remember that it’s not “just life,” it’s actually wrong.

    Men, however, do have a part to play in stopping this: speak up when you hear other men speak disrespectfully about women or behave in ways that disrespect women — not to “protect” women, which is just as disempowering as that harassing behavior, but to take responsibility for getting other men to stop. You guys know when other guys are saying or doing things that demean women, and your silence let’s them think it’s okay. So let them know it’s not okay, and maybe someday harassment of women will truly be socially unacceptable.

  3. What I’m Reading 11-3-11 | Says:

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  4. Marsha Says:

    Sarah~ Thanks so much for writing this! It made me tear up at my desk when I read it. I am a MLIS student currently and do not work in the library. However, for some reason, I have noticed many male creepers hitting on me in the most inappropriate ways at the yoga studio (of all places!!!). It is really horrible when you are just trying to do something you love, and some creep has to get all inappropriate. As a result, I have been cyberstalked in the most odd ways…I mean, one creep tracked me down on Yelp for God’s sake! Thanks again for posting. Regards, Marsha

  5. Steve Lawson Says:

    This post is another great reminder of how much I admire you for your strength and courage.

    Also, may I please have my underwear back?

  6. Sarah Says:

    Nice, Steve. 🙂 If you ever sent underwear in the mail, I think the post office gremlins ate it. Hungry buggers.

  7. anonymous Says:

    Funny, I’ve experienced almost all of those things from female librarians (I’m male). My supervisor (female) did nothing about them. I’m saddened by the poor management in this profession.

  8. Jenny Says:

    Wow, this is super unacceptable, but sadly, not unexpected. In addition to dealing with some of the more obviously inappropriate maneuvers you describe here, it can also be REALLY challenging to deal with behavior that straddles the line of inappropriateness – you know, interactions that just feel odd or a little bit icky, but make you feel silly for wanting to speak up about them. What I’ve found in those cases is that communication with coworkers is key to discovering you’re not alone and diagnosing the depth of a problem.
    We had an issue in the library where I work with a security guard of all people. Several of us had unsettling experiences with him, but it wasn’t until we all talked to each other about it that we realized the problem with him was much worse than initially thought. He got fired.

    I haven’t had many issues with harassment/stalking in the library world, but in earlier jobs I’ve had, I definitely have. I had one coworker who kept asking me out and would not take no for an answer. He then resorted to commenting publicly about what I was wearing, and finally, telling everyone in our workplace that I was a racist for not agreeing to go out with him. He would follow me from work to my bus stop and make comments like “I’m not stalking you.” But I was young and unsure of myself. I should have spoken up far sooner. It finally took yelling at him at work in front of many coworkers and our boss before action was taken.

    The worst part about all of these incidents is that it can make the victim feel badly about him/herself. It can make you feel dirty or that you did something wrong. That’s not the case, and standing up for yourself sooner rather than later can make all the difference.

  9. Jane Says:

    Sarah, for the things that happened where you have witnesses, e.g. calling the police to your home, or things that happened at conferences, did you get a police report and/or witness report as well? If your concern is about being harassed or stalked in a professional capacity, then having documentation to report to the person’s employer would be appropriate.

  10. Sarah Houghton Says:

    You’re right–documentation is critical. I have documentation for many incidents. Unfortunately, for some of the earlier ones I was so in a rush to get away or get out of the situation that I was not self-possessed enough to document or get names of witnesses. I’ve learned my lesson though.

  11. girlbrarian Says:

    I agree that these things that have happened to you are terrible, but I am disappointed that you used the term “guybrarian.” It is sexist to refer to men in a field that is primarily populated by women by their sex. I would be offended if a woman software developer was referred to as a girl-developer.

  12. Sarah Says:

    That’s a good point. The men I am referring to (all 3) call themselves guybrarians, which is why that term came to mind for me. But you are absolutely right – it is gendered as well. Thank you for keeping me honest.

  13. Robin Says:

    Yes, I’ve experienced the creepy librarian. I was at my first ALA conference, and mr. creepy tried to kiss me in the elevator going back to our rooms! I had a normal “guybrarian” help me out as well, but when creepy switched flights and managed to get the seat next to me on the flight home, I thought I was going to die! (He stared at me the whole flight) I got e-mails and postcards from him for a while, but they did stop.

    And this was nearly 15 years ago!

  14. Sarah Houghton shares her experiences on stalking in the library world, not from… | BLOG.CLNN.INFO Says:

    […] The Creepy Librarian Stalker Hypothesis | Librarian in Black Blog – Sarah Houghton It’s Halloween, so I’m going to post about something that’s scary. Harassment and stalking. There is a bit of a pestilence on female public figures, […]

  15. Lisa Says:

    Definitely….beyond creepy. I don’t have any such scary stories yet, although the career is still young. Eep! You are AWESOME though. Thanks for the tips.

  16. Mac Says:

    I heartily recommend Gavin de Becker’s book, The Gift of Fear. Read it. It will give you powerful insights and useful strategies for dealing with borderline or over-the-line stalkers.

  17. John Says:

    Thanks for such an honest post. I have been a fan of yours for a long time, but not the creepy kind. I’m sorry you’ve had so many problems. It’s eye opening, as a man, to read such things. I really thank you for that. While I never realized the extent of such crazy actions, it does not surprise me that they happen. It’s extremely unfair to you, and is all about these men’s issues. Hopefully, your post will wake some of them up. Good for you!

  18. What was interesting on Nov. 3 | Spinstah Says:

    […] in Black: The Creepy Librarian Stalker Hypothesis Librarians harassing other librarians. WTF?! Also, this cool project was mentioned in the comments: […]

  19. Women journalists confront harassment, sexism when using social media | My Blog Says:

    […] it’s some-more worldly than that, though not terribly much. we had a co-worker who recently made a post about a accurate kinds of stalking and nuisance she gets as an outspoken librarian who is on a harangue circuit, flattering many a same as me. And we have […]

  20. library_geek Says:

    ….this post left me shocked. Who would have thought this type of behaviour happened within our industry. There are no words to describe how entirely inappropriate peoples behaviour has been towards you. In your favour though you have spoken out, a small but worthy part of the battle won. Inspiring to many of us.

  21. gender rage, the Public Speaking edition at Attempting Elegance Says:

    […] My genderrage says yes. Yes, that is it. And when women do stand up and get noticed, they run the risk of having to endure harassment and assault. […]

  22. M Says:

    Good for you for standing up for librarians and more broadly for women’s rights in general. It’s important to know that issues such as this are not swept up under the rug, even in “professional” environments among educated people. The one thing I would caution you about, though, is publicizing violent responses. While I admire your spirit in defending yourself from these disgusting attacks you also want to be very careful about physically escalating a confrontation unless absolutely necessary. You don’t know what that could turn into and what the assailant is capable of. As brave as it sounds you might not win that “motherf*cking throwdown” and the consequences to that might be grave. Reporting such incidents to police, security, and involving the assailants employer are always preferable first responses if possible.

  23. kind of creepy, dude. at Attempting Elegance Says:

    […] See also: The Creepy Librarian Stalker Hypothesis. […]

  24. Michelle Young Says:

    I am still picking my jaw up off of the floor….OMG.

  25. Move. Shake. Repeat. « Civil Civil Servant Says:

    […] is just a big, sometimes dysfunctional family.  JP is the fun Uncle.  There’s usually a creepy Uncle and the relatives who are always sticking their heads into the den and yelling, “C’mon […]

  26. Please Don’t Say This to a Librarian « The Magpie Librarian: A Librarian's Guide to Modern Life and Etiquette Says:

    […] pathetic timid but passionate librarian fantasy. (Librarians: please read Sarah Houghton’s The Creepy Librarian Stalker Hypothesis for tips on dealing with harassment in the workplace. It was a good refresher course in standing up […]

  27. Michelle Says:

    I have two chronic abusers right now. One is a man who seems grandfatherly but is way overly touchy feely. He’s tried everything from slapping my hand, massaging my neck, putting his arm around my shoulders or waist. The first time, it completely shocked me, and I didn’t react appropriately. Now when I see him coming, I keep him at arm’s length at all times. Maybe I seem rude, but I go home unviolated.

    The other is a potentially mentally disabled man. We’re not sure. He comes in alone and mutters a lot. He stares at the reference librarians. Once he asked me a question, but stared at my chest the whole time. Then one day he caught me in the stacks, and we played a dance around each other until I realized he had no purpose in being there other than to try and run up against me. I left the area quickly.

    I’ve reported these incidents to our guard staff. That’s all we can do unless they push it further. My boss recommends I go hide in the back whenever I see these two guys in the library, but that’s a pain. I want to do my job. It makes me angry.

  28. Your Questions About Sexual Tension Between Friends Boyfriend | Signs You Met the Right One Says:

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  29. Meg Says:

    Thank you for writing this. I am so sorry about all of the utter crap it sounds like you are dealing with. That you have still been willing to put yourself out there and be involved to the extent you have is a testament to newer librarians like me. One of the biggest problems with sexual harassment and assault is the degree to which it is simply shaken off as par for the course or simply not talked about. That you wrote the first post and then decided to revisit such a painful subject to underline how little things have changed is amazing. You should not be expected to trot out your unfortunate and painful experiences for the sake of others, but that you are willing to so eloquently describe these awful experiences as a female public figure is appreciated. I, perhaps naively, like to think that talking about the full extent of the problem is helpful in making change. It is despicable that you’ve had to go through this. Absolutely. But, it is touching that despite distancing yourself from blogging and public engagements, despite all of the incredibly awful things going wrong, you have taken out time to share that things did not magically get better after writing the first post. Unfortunately, they will likely not get magically better after this post. But, in my mind, it makes what you say no less important. I rarely comment directly on blogs, and even further, when I do it is rarely because I agree with the poster. But, I felt so strongly that I needed to let you know that this particular post is deeply appreciated. For what it is worth, you have my sincerest sympathy for all of this crap happening in your life right now.

  30. abdul rahimov Says:

    please delete post #77, its a commercial spam, thks, i cant abide spam comments.

  31. Sarah Says:

    Done! Thanks for catching that!

  32. Jill Brown Says:

    I am a newly minted librarian and am currently experiencing a stalker. Thank you very much for sharing this…

  33. Dear Book Nerd: "What's the Best Pick-Up Line to Use on a Librarian?" Says:

    […] gals around town (because a good librarian always provides further resources). In her post “The Creepy Librarian Stalker Hypothesis,” Sarah Houghton (a.k.a. The Librarian in Black), blogged about some harrowing sexual […]

  34. eddy bliss Says:

    hi,um sorry but theres a lot of female stalkers or harassing woman I mean too so stop being so discriminatory please ans youre one of those narrowminded for sure I take it folks as its obvious youre into this guys always the perps when alotta femaels do it too,.i speak from vast experiences ok!

  35. eddy bliss Says:

    one last thing please as I liked your article to a point but its the most aggravating pieve of writing ive probably barred none ever ever read.i never get this boisterous usually as to reply to things I just ran across but if you wanna help people out here as I believe its an ego thing more or less ive something to share then ill bid you leave.well ive been being stalked by a gorgeous female librarian but creepy and a degenerate into karate and all that jazz too for decades so when she gets people after me I can easily easily injure them and w/o problem.but I don’t act like im so tough Gods gift to women coz yes im very handsome and very smart too.theres a such thing as females at libraries beinfg complete sorry to says whores.i know from experiences I said plural there.yes youre right in a lot or most of what you say but some women are merely being wooed by admirers and at least theyre not old ugly fat ones nobody except complete and total utter losers want.i think its cute when women blow kisses at me or kiss me right on the cheek and im not so high and mighty like some out there to accept the compliment.yes they can go too far and us men are branded Frankenstein when we simply are independent and headstrong testosterone controlled enough to say bug off or scram creep and many many women are creepy not just the men.its time us really nice and really handsome men like me stood up to unfair predjuces from a hateful spiteful world.otherwise I liked your article except the aggravating and inciteful parts which is about 80 or more of it lol!

  36. sobenyree Says:

    I had no idea! Thank you for sharing.

  37. Why ALA Needs a Code of Conduct | Backtalk Says:

    […] timeline, library conferences have not been safe spaces for everyone. Sarah Houghton has blogged about graphic verbal and physical harassment from other librarians. Nicholas Schiller wrote that, at a […]

  38. The ALA Statement of Appropriate Conduct: a FAQ Says:

    […] other library conferences. I had heard of some incidents of sexual harassment in the past (although Sarah Houghton is the only person I know of who has blogged about them). In the course of drafting this policy, I […]

  39. Frankenstein’s Monsters: Roundup of Responses to ALA’s Code of Conduct | Exit, Pursued By A Bear Says:

    […] to put in chronological order. But to set the mood, I’m kicking things off with a piece by Sarah Houghton from 2011 about her experiences with professional sexual harassment, and adding in my own piece when I got […]

  40. Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses) and #oclmooc: Communities Dealing With Violations   | Building Creative Bridges Says:

    […] shock we felt upon reading what she was describing—stood up and cheered (privately and publicly) when she first described the levels of harassment to which she had been subjected by members of her … we supported her because what was done to her hurt (and continues to hurt) all of us, and we wanted […]

  41. Lynn Says:

    #78 Um, if a patron is grabbing or inappropriately touching staff or other patrons, wouldn’t you ban them?

    I work in a public library myself. Yes, some crazies show up. I was told when I started there that “we all have our stalkers!” but in my experience as long as you feel confident, speak confidently, and are unafraid to look people in the eye, they generally back down. Don’t let anyone make you jittery.

    Having said that, I feel lucky the only “stalker” I have at this point is a relatively benign patron who just thinks I don’t weigh enough and constantly lectures me about gaining weight (ugh). He wears me out, but I try to be polite. He’s from another culture, so he doesn’t really understand American social mores (such as not constantly harassing women about their weight!). When he asks me out from time to time, I just demur. I might have to make up an imaginary boyfriend pretty soon, if I can’t find a reasonably decent one in real life.

    I’ve never been sexually harassed by a coworker, but as a single, childless woman in my 40s, I had a lot of coworkers ask me uncomfortable questions about why I don’t have kids, don’t I like kids, how come I don’t have any etc. etc. and that was really uncomfortable, when I first started this job. They’ve backed off since then. There are many amusing videos on Youtube you can share with people about being child-free, which enables them to comprehend your situation and be more accepting. It’s really still very hard in our culture to justify your existence after age 40 if you don’t have kids (and don’t want to have any). Librarians are generally very open, liberal and accepting, but they have a hard time with the concept of “child free.”

  42. Why I care about codes of conduct | Rob Allen Says:

    […] some real-world experiences, try My first OSCON, This is why we can't have nice things, The Creepy Librarian Stalker Hypothesis & Please do not pat me on my head. There are many many more examples out there; try asking any […]

  43. Library Intelligencer » LIbrarians and Sexual Harrassment Says:

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  44. La ética laboral en las bibliotecas - Infotecarios Says:

    […] Paralelo a esto, algunos colegas de la profesión se han sentido motivados en compartir sus experiencias, o han compartido entradas de sus blogs en sus entradas recientes donde muestran apoyo hacia Team […]

  45. Frankenstein's Monsters: Roundup of Responses to ALA's Code of Conduct | Lisa Rabey Says:

    […] to put in chronological order. But to set the mood, I’m kicking things off with a piece by Sarah Houghton from 2011 about her experiences with professional sexual harassment, and adding in my own piece when I got […]

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