It’s the year in review! Below are my favorites from 2011, just because:
• Book – Public Parts by Jeff Jarvis
• Movie – Melancholia
• Band – Austra
• Song – “Need You Now” by Cut Copy
• Serious Technology – Google+
• Fun Technology – Sonos system at my place
• Conference (for conference reasons) – Internet Librarian in Monterey
• Conference (for non-conference reasons) – American Library Association Annual Conference in New Orleans – (holy mother of ceiling cat, holding a conference here invites all kinds of vice)
• Fan Girl Squee Moment – appearing on TWIT’s Tech News Today
• New Service for Libraries – Open Library from the Internet Archive
• Library Innovation – Hackerspaces
• Indoor Event – An Evening with Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer
• Outdoor Event – Folsom Street Fair
• Play – Steampunk/Tesla themed “Tempest” from the Marin Shakespeare Company
• Concert – Ladytron with Polaris and Sonoio
• Movement – Occupy (that one was obvious)
• Support for a DRM-free Future – Louis CK’s DRM-free $5 “Live at the Beacon Theater” download
• Club – Cat Club (San Francisco)
• Bar – Bourbon and Branch (San Francisco)
• Treat – gourmet vegan cinnamon rolls from Cinnaholic (Berkeley)
• Meme – honey badger don’t care
It’s the year in review! Below are my favorites from 2011, just because:
Introducing the first episode of What Sarah Said, my new videocast/podcast/video-thingie where I answer your questions about libraries, technology, privacy, intellectual freedom, etc. One episode, one question (or multi-part related questions).
Text Transcription (courtesy of Ms. Andromeda)
Hi, welcome to Episode 1 of What Sarah Said, a brand-new podcast with me, Sarah Houghton, author of Librarian in Black, and a librarian in…black. This is a podcast where I will answer questions from my readers and viewers and do my best to help out.
And today’s first question comes from Suzanne, and she says: OK. So what exactly do the copyright laws say about making one coy of a magazine article for personal use, burning a CD for personal use — I know you’re not supposed to but every laptop does this — so is it really truly illegal, and finally, showing a DVD at a school as a fundraiser.
Alright, so three possible parts, three separate questions, and the answer to all three is, yes, that is a violation of copyright. So let’s take these one by one.
So, first off. Making a copy of a magazine article for personal use. If you’re not making a copy of a subscription that you already paid for yourself — for instance, if you’re making a copy of a subscription that your local library paid for, or a friend paid for, that’s a violation of copyright, because you’re making an unauthorized copy of an entire work, and in this case the work is the article.
The second question, burning a CD for personal use. You’re entitled to make a backup copy of CDs that you’ve already purchased. So, in case they get damaged or something, you can make a backup copy. Kind of an archival copy, if you will. Can’t share that copy, but you can make that copy, and keep it in case the first one gets damaged. But if you’re making a burned CD, let’s say, again, from a library copy, or a friend’s copy, that is a violation of copyright.
And then lastly, showing a DVD at a school as a fundraiser. The movie companies require that you pay them a screening fee, a broadcast fee, a display fee, they call it different things, in order to make some money back on that movie. So even if you’re not showing it at the movie theater, if you’re just showing it to a room of 25-year-olds, doesn’t matter. They still require you to pay that fee in order to, to screen that film that they paid to make. And so showing it at the school as a fundraiser — or even not — even if there’s no money involved at all and you’re just showing it for free, that is still a violation of copyright, because you haven’t paid the rightsholders what they legally require you to pay in order to use their product.
So the short answer is, basically, none of those things is OK, and the lesson is that just because it’s easy to do, technically, doesn’t mean that it’s not a violation of the law. Doesn’t mean that it’s not a violation of copyright. So we all have to be very careful in both what we do as library professionals but also what we tell other people they can and can’t do. We need to be comfortable with the law, we need to understand what’s admissible and what isn’t. Otherwise we’re going to give people bad advice, and as information professionals, we don’t like that. So thanks for your question Suzanne, and congratulations on being our inaugural question for the first podcast, and I hope I’ll see everyone else for episode 2.
I’m getting ready to record some “What Sarah Said” videos, but if you just crave your daily dose of Sarah’s voice and face* before then, try these two on for size:
- Interview on NCompass Live: Tech Talk with Michael Sauers (video, but I’m just audio)
- Interview on Social Jumpstart with Mike Wolpert (video of a local cable TV show on social media and technology)
* In no way do I wish to compare myself to a drug, although if you were to compare me to a drug, feel free to comment below with which drug I’d be. Because I’d love to get a t-shirt that says something like “My readers say I’m like Acetaminophen!”
I’m going to start a new feature on this site, an “ask Sarah anything” offer of sorts.
I’m calling it “What Sarah Said” (stealing the title from that soul-crushing Death Cab for Cutie song).
Ask me your library/technology/education/intellectual freedom related questions by emailing me at email@example.com with the subject line “Question for Sarah” or some such thing. I will provide answers in either video or text format, depending on what will help answer the question best. I will happily keep your identity out of the picture, so feel free to send me emails from anonymous/junk email accounts or ask me to keep your name out of it. If you want to give me a pseudonym to use for you, that’s even better. Extra credit for cleverness.
Why am I doing this? I find that I am spending about an hour a day answering questions from people via email–library school students, patrons, futurists, library staff, educators, technologists, journalists, etc. A lot of these questions and my attempt at answers could probably benefit many others… And honestly, I’m spending so much time typing up one-to-one emails that the blogging is suffering. So why not combine the two?
So bring it on–whaddya wanna know?
A couple of weeks ago I got an email from Ryan Claringbole, the Digital Branch Librarian at the Chesapeake Public Library in Virginia. He asked if I’d ever heard about OverDrive restricting certain libraries’ access to specific publishers’ materials, or, in other words, different libraries seeing different catalogs of eBooks available in the OverDrive Marketplace.
I said “no,” and furrowed my little investigative brow, thinking something glitchy was probably happening with the OverDrive Marketplace. I asked him to give me specifics and Ryan came through in spades–comparing the limited results found in his Marketplace to titles perfectly publicly visible in other libraries’ online collections, which I then compared to my library’s Marketplace and holdings. I then called several other libraries and confirmed the weirdness and differences that Ryan and I were seeing. Ryan discovered something that I have never heard discussed by OverDrive or by participating OverDrive libraries.
OverDrive has different catalogs of eBooks in the OverDrive Marketplace for different libraries. We’re not all seeing the same title or author selections.
How many OverDrive customers knew that? How many libraries who have been given the restricted catalogs were ever informed that this is what was happening, or why? How many of you are right this second logging into your OverDrive Marketplace to check?
This is completely indefensible bullshit. I am not easily shocked by corporate greed and unethical behavior, but this business practice shocked me. Shame on you OverDrive.
Instead of trying to explain all of this second-hand, I invited Ryan to tell his story directly. Below is what he sent me, followed by screenshots from his library’s Marketplace and my library’s Marketplace for three different popular authors. Hint: They’re not the same.
The Chesapeake Public Library partnered with OverDrive in the summer of 2011. We were very excited about increasing our eBook access with the largest provider of eBooks for public libraries. We had been in partnership with NetLibrary/EBSCO eBooks for a couple years, but the selection they had was geared more towards technical non-fiction eBooks. OverDrive was touting the best selection of fiction and popular non-fiction eBooks.
We decided to divide up the selection process by Fiction, Non-Fiction, Teens and Children. The selectors began placing orders immediately with the $9,000 collection credit that OverDrive gave if we signed up. The selectors came to me stating that they were surprised that there wasn’t a better selection of items. We at first thought that this was more of an eBook/publisher issue, that the items, specifically newer ones, were not available in digital format right away. But then the selectors started checking out our neighboring city, Virginia Beach, OverDrive site. The selectors contacted me saying that Virginia Beach had items available to checkout and download on their OverDrive site that was not showing up in our OverDrive Marketplace.
I contacted our liaison at OverDrive to inquire why certain items were showing up on other library’s OverDrive sites, but not showing up in our Marketplace. OverDrive wasn’t sure at first, but then informed me it had to do with our non-resident cards. Since the Chesapeake Public Library System allows reciprocal cards and purchased full service cards for patrons outside of the City, certain publishers won’t allow access to their eBooks at all, according to OverDrive. And by “no access” it means that those items won’t show up in our Marketplace.
I asked a legal representative for OverDrive about the full service cards, as they are purchased by patrons for an annual non-refundable fee of $35.00. The legal rep. said that, unfortunately, even the paid full service cards violate this restriction and they would be blocked as well.
Basically the Chesapeake Public Library System has two options when using OverDrive:
- We can keep everything as it is and have access to a limited amount of items. The cost of the product does not accurately reflect what we have access to.
- We can ask OverDrive to restrict access to the OverDrive site by a specific field in the accounts. This would mean that patrons that live outside the City do not have access. The Chesapeake area is part of Hampton Roads, a large metropolitan area that has many commuters, and it is also on the North Carolina border, meaning we get many patrons from NC. I’m not sure of the statistic, but a large slice of our patron pie comes from outside the City.
Since I was not originally on the committee that went through and signed the contract with OverDrive I asked to see a copy of our contract to see where it specifically is stated that we cannot give access to OverDrive to patrons that are outside the City. I did not find anything until near the very end:
Access to the Application Services shall be limited to those patrons of the Library that have the required relation to the Library to receive a library card (“Authorized Patrons”). Library shall not provide access to the Application Services to any end users who are not Authorized Patrons. Authorized Patrons shall be defined as individuals who can provide proof of residency, employment, or enrollment in school or similar institution in the Library’s service area. Online library card applications and issuance, with or without any fees, that provide access to the Application Services without proof of the required library relation (as referenced in the foregoing sentence) shall not be permitted. OverDrive reserves the right to immediately terminate this Agreement if Library provides access to the Application Services to end users who are not Authorized Patrons.
In discussing this with other librarians within the system, one pointed out that technically the “library service area” is not defined in the contract, and we don’t define it as within the City limits. By definition, the library service area could be anywhere in the country if they decide to purchase a full service card. Our Director asked the OverDrive legal representative about this and he said that they (OverDrive) define it as the area that provides the majority of funding to the library system. In our case, it’s the City.
I have asked many librarians if they know if their systems are under the same restrictions with OverDrive. I have yet to find one that has even heard of such a restriction. I find this restriction misleading and poorly worded in the contract, and I find it baffling that the items that are restricted won’t even show up in the Marketplace.
But even if the restriction is poorly worded and not pointed out, even if the items are completely hidden in the Marketplace, why this library system has been singled out is the one question I’d like answered. And are any more libraries going to be victims of this restriction?
Sample of Authors Affected with Screenshots
[Update: Commenter Doug pointed out that Ryan had limited his results to eBooks only while I had not, which was a good point. I have updated the screenshots as a result. The differences in availability still apply, but the screenshots are more comparable now. Thanks Doug!]
1) Results for Kathryn Stockett
2) Results for Stieg Larsson
3) Results for Janet Evanovich
What is happening?
In short, depending on the library card policies of your library and how you’ve set up authentication (e.g. do you somehow limit either cards or authentication to only people in “your jurisdiction”) you will see different publishers and titles available in your OverDrive Marketplace. I’ll tell you one thing…this limitation is definitely not specifically mentioned in your contracts. The closest you’ll get is the section Ryan quoted above. There is pretty much zero information in the standard OverDrive contract about the content itself–it’s all about the platform. There are no publisher guarantees, or guarantees of availability. In fact, the contracts (depending on which version your library signed) say something along the lines of “OverDrive can add and remove content at will.”
One author in our brief list of three samples is from Putnam, one from Random House, and one from Knopf (a Random House imprint). We were also able to track a few additional authors with problems. But I’m wondering now which publishers exactly are affected. Actually, I’m left wondering a lot of things because OverDrive hasn’t ever made this information available to its customer libraries.
Basically, OverDrive can and has created agreements with publishers that allow them to prohibit certain libraries’ ability to license their titles. Except OverDrive never tells libraries this is happening. The only way we’d know is by librarians like Ryan stumbling over inconsistencies in title availability and investigating.
And I hate to call attention to this, but nearly every library in California allows any California resident to get a library card–which means that unless every single California customer is authenticating based on zip code or another location-specific field in the patron record (which I know they’re not), then pretty much the whole state of California should be getting the limited catalog (according to what OverDrive’s legal representative told Ryan).
OverDrive has sold their “selection of digital titles” to libraries as though everyone is seeing the same thing, as though access is equitable across the board. Pieces started to fall together, though, as I remember some librarians complaining bitterly about how horrible the selection is in OverDrive and others looking at them incredulously and saying they thought it was fine. Now we know why different people had different impressions of the selection of materials–because the selection of materials was not the same from library to library.
Why would OverDrive do this?
Money. Why else? They’re a for-profit company. I’m guessing here, but I would venture that either OverDrive was told by publishers it had to agree to these limiting terms in order to get any of that publisher’s content for any of its customers and/or OverDrive got more money from these publishers if they put that limitation in place. Now here’s the danger–how many more publishers are going to follow suit?
Why wouldn’t they tell us? Because, as usual, companies make risk calculations and decide in favor of obscuring facts about their services rather than being open and transparent about them with their customers. The calculated risk here was whether anyone would figure out that there were differences in our catalogs of available eBooks, and if so, if we shushy-quiet-bound-librarians would be loud about it or do anything substantive that would cost them money. And just as with the Amazon and user privacy issue with OverDrive–we’re going to start getting loud, aren’t we?
As for doing something about it, if you take the Kindle privacy violations and combine them with this news–anybody tempted to cancel their library’s OverDrive contract? I know I am. And if you’re looking at renewing or signing a new contract with OverDrive, watch out. Look for the clause Ryan cited in your contract and be sure to ask your sales representative point blank whether or not your access to the catalog is a full or restricted version and get a response in writing.
Attempts to get OverDrive’s Comments
It is critical to note that I contacted three different OverDrive staff (Director of Marketing, our local collections rep, and our regional sales manager) and gave them ample time to respond to the issue, asking them specific questions to help sort the mess out in case something was just glitchy, or in case they wanted to comment on the reasons for these differences. I never received even an acknowledgement of my emails. Bad form, fellas.
[ADDED: THE QUESTIONS I SENT TO OVERDRIVE]
- How many different versions of your catalog of materials are there?
- Are some publishers not willing to license content to certain types/sizes of libraries?
- What is the limitation based on?
- Is this information shared with OverDrive clients during the contract negotiations?
- Is the limitation on selection noted in the contracts with affected libraries?
- What publishers/authors/titles does this apply to?
- Does OverDrive have a list of affected library clients?
I once more call on OverDrive for a formal statement. Your customers are impatiently tapping their feet, and that may lead to those feet moving from tapping to marching into an Occupy OverDrive movement if you’re not careful. Your corporate headquarters are in Suite N of the Valley Tech Center, at 8555 Sweet Valley Drive, in Cleveland, Ohio, right? I don’t particularly want to visit Cleveland in December, but hey…worthy causes and all that.
Ryan Claringbole is a rock star
I want to congratulate Ryan Claringbole on singlehandedly making a difference in libraries and revealing deceptive corporate practices for a company that has a virtual monopoly on popular eBook distribution in libraries. Ryan broke this story wide open and I want to commend him for being a stellar library professional and noticing something the rest of us did not, and for having the courage to come out publicly about what he found. Ryan, I salute you sir.
What you can do
Finally, I ask all of you library users and library staff to help us figure out what’s happening. You can do three things:
- Check your own OverDrive Marketplace and see what results you turn up for these three authors. What are you seeing? Then check your own contracts to see if this limitation is in your contract, and talk to whoever negotiated and signed it to see if they understood what it meant and/or were possibly told they were getting a limited catalog of materials to choose from.
- Post your findings in the comments section of this blog post.
- Tell your OverDrive rep what you think, whatever that may be. And just in case anyone wants to take that extra step to contact Corporate Headquarters, always a good thing to do when you feel strongly about something, here’s their phone number: (216) 573-6886. And why not go old school and also send a fax? (216) 573-6888. Who knows? Print might get their attention better. How ironic would that be?
This is the fourth post in my new Sarah’s Gadget Showcase series. #1: Audio Gadgets, #2: Cooking Gadgets, and #3: Reading Gadgets are also available.
This installment of the Gadget Showcase is a collection of random miscellaneous things I use…stuff that works well for me. This is truly a list of “a few of my favorite things.” Enjoy…and tell me what your favorite things are too in the comments section!
FreeLoader Pro Solar Charger ($79.99)
As I often travel and run out of power for my laptop or smart phone, a portable power supply is super useful. I have started using this great solar charger. It will charge up just about any device and has a dozen or so little adaptors so it will fit whatever weirdo power input your device has. And hey—it’s solar, so you can get your green on.
TIX LED Clock ($39.99)
I love this clock because it makes me think. Many people mistake it for a binary clock at first glance, but in fact you read the clock by counting the lighted boxes in each column…and that’s the time. I like that it’s colorful (the only colorful thing in my house). And I like that the lighted boxes rotate and move around.
iRobot Roomba 530 ($349.99)
Why have a vacuum when you can have a robot? It cleans the floors probably better than I would with a manual vacuum cleaner. I love just pushing the little button and letting it do its thing in the room. It handles hard floors and carpeting well. I also love that it doubles as a ride for my cats (little Fiona has figured out that pushing the button will start it up and she’ll ride it around). I have the basic level Roomba, but if you want to throw another $200 at a purchase you can get a super advanced Roomba instead with fancy scheduling features and what not. Yay for robots!
Dyson Air Multiplier ($299 and up)
Space age air circulation baby! I am very sound sensitive (and smell sensitive, light sensitive…I’m just a sensitive girl!). The sound of fan blades drives me nuts…that “whoomp whoomp” grates on my nerves. But when it’s hot and you’re lacking AC, you need a fan (and icy drinks, cold showers, and popsicles). The Dyson Air Multiplier works as well as a fan, is quieter, creates a more consistent white noise sound, and is much easier to clean since there are no blades. And it looks cool and space-agey. One problem: it’s crazy expensive. The one I have I got with a stockpile of Best Buy gift cards that I didn’t have anything else to spend them on. I don’t know that I’d buy another unless the price goes down.
Adaptive Sound+Sleep Therapy System ($99.99)
Insomnia, anyone? This is the best sleep machine, bar none, that I’ve ever heard. It has 10 different sounds to pick from (my favorites are rainfall, ocean, and white noise). The sounds are also all naturally recorded, so it’s not some stupid 60 second loop of mechanically-generated “rain noise” or something. The speaker system is of a totally decent quality. You can set it to a timer. But here are the two coolest features: 1) The Adaptive Setting will set the system to increase or decrease the volume as the ambient room volume goes up or down (read: neighbors upstairs stomping around = volume goes up to cover it); and 2) The Richness Setting will add more or less complexity to the sound you choose, e.g. thunder or bird noises to the rainfall sound. I want to offer up a huge thanks to Michael Porter for introducing me to this gem of a sleep-assisting gadget.
TheraTherm Digital Moist Heating Pad ($74.95)
It’s a heating pad. How cool can it be? Answer: pretty freaking cool. This heating pad draws moisture from the air to provide a moist heat, which is better for your skin and is more penetrating as well. In addition, this bad boy has a programmable digital controller where you can set the exact temperature (I hover around 128 but it goes all the way up to 166) and the time duration (from 1-60 minutes). When my back is sore or even when I’m just a little chilly, I use this heating pad and can fall asleep without worrying about burning myself or setting fire to my bed. Avoidance of accidental fire and skin grafts is always a plus.
Dr. Riter’s Real Ease ($35.99)
Keeping on the pain relief theme, this neck support is the magic bullet that fixes most of my computer-use-induced neck problems. I’ve probably tried a dozen different neck stretchers, massagers, supporters, pillows, you name it. This is the only one that does a thing for me. It’s just some foam on top of a curvy piece of plastic—that’s it. But you lay down on the floor with this supporting your neck, and minutes later all that tension just flows out and those muscles reconfigure themselves into the spots they’re supposed to be—you know, supporting your spine instead of wrenching it out of place.
LitterMaid Elite Self-Cleaning Litter Box ($129.99)
I love cats. I hate cat litter. I think training your cat to use a human toilet is just weird. So, I deal with the litter. When I got my new kittens, I thought I’d try a self-cleaning litter box. This one has definite pros and cons. Pro: It scoops itself (most of the time). Con: It misses my kittens sometimes because they’re so small they still don’t trigger the sensors, so stuff builds up. Pro: You can set a sleep timer so it doesn’t go off in the middle of the night. Con: When it does go off it is crazy loud. I’m not sure if I’ll stick with this or go back to a normal box. But it’s interesting…and the principle of it is a good one—make a robot do something I’d rather not do. And let me offer advanced apologies to future sentient AI species reading this; I value your existence and worship my superior robot overlords.
I’ve appeared on three notable shows recently that I wanted to plug and mention because they’re great shows. So check out the other non-Sarah episodes–they’re stellar! Good shows to subscribe to, for sure.
Bibliotech (podcast hosted by Kayhan Boncoglu) – I appear on Episode 8 talking about my very angry reaction to the Amazon and Overdrive partnership to lend Kindle eBooks, and some other non-grumpy things as well.
And lastly I got to fulfill a longtime geek girl dream by appearing on the TWiT network on the Tech News Today show (w00t!) along with the amazing Tom Merritt, Sarah Lane, Iyaz Akhtar, and Jason Howell. I’m on Episode 367 where we talk about a whole bunch of stuff (including eBook reader market share). See below for video. I’ll also be appearing on TWiT again on Monday on the FourCast show (a future-prediction show with Tom Merritt and Scott Johnson). Watch live at 4pm PST Monday!
I’m excited to be teaching a set of two 90-minute workshops for ALA TechSource in December about eBooks. The title is E-Books and Access: Upholding Library Values, held the 7th and 14th of December.
So what am I going to talk about?
- Review of the various for-profit, non-profit, and free sources for e-books
- Critical licensing terms to consider when acquiring e-books
- The evolving notion of the e-book
- How library e-book services can be guided by library values
If you have things you want to make sure I cover, comment below or drop me an email or DM or Skype or chat or whatever
The world of eBooks is always changing and so much has happened just in the last couple of days with Amazon announcing their “lending library” (and I do put that in quotes for a reason), changes to eBrary and Gale eBooks, etc. I put together a reading list of a few key posts that I think help frame the discussion of digital content in libraries.
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:
- 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.).
- 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.
- Receiving notes at the hotel desk during a conference with sexual propositions, questions about what I was wearing under my dress that day, etc.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Below are my 3 slide decks from Internet Librarian 2011. Some of the slides formatted a little weird upon upload, but I have a severe cold and am too tired to try to fix it. Sorry.