Program Flop: Blame it on the Sunshine

Last year, our Plot and Plan session that serves as a warm-up for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) had over 60 participants. I spent the whole time dragging extra chairs from every corner of the Library that I could get. This year, I spent 45 minutes setting up 50 chairs and tables. Total program turnout? 13.

As you can imagine, I was a bit put out. I talked to the head of readers’ advisory who spends way more time in the Library on the weekends. She pointed outside at the gorgeous autumn afternoon. Blue skies, warm with a cool breeze that makes you snuggle into a light scarf, and spectacular leaves. “Annnnnd, the temperature is going to drop 15 degrees tomorrow. Everyone is trying to get in the good weather while they can.”

Alas! However, the participants who came seemed to have a good time. I imagine the program was a success as far as that is concerned.

Regarding #teamharpy and sexual harassment

In the fall of 2011, I was at my second conference as a professional (read: paid) librarian. I had a small presence on Twitter which is where my sexual harasser knew me from and cited as he approached me.

What did he do?

In front of hundreds of other librarians, he cornered me and loomed into my physical space. I’m a petite person and he put his hand on the wall above my shoulder to box me in. I did not know what to do. Of course, I knew about this aggressive behavior trait which is straight out of an 80s movie, so I knew he was trying to intimidate me. I was also unsure what to do as it was the first time that someone had done this to me. So I stood frozen and wild-eyed as I waited for my colleague to finish her business and come find me. I reported his behavior immediately to several of my female colleagues.

Same conference later on:
I was being introduced to several big name librarians by a mentor of mine at a small-ish gathering. While following my mentor like a duckling, I ended up in a conversation with an author that I admired. The same guy from earlier butted into the conversation. He was minding his Qs at this point, so I politely conversed with him and the author. Eventually the author moved on and my mentor had gone to talk to a friend.

Now he made his move. He reached over and began running his fingers up and down my arm. And like many victims of sexual harassment before me, I didn’t know what to do. This was a year or so before I would learn about Codes of Conducts (COC) and two years before ALA would adopt a COC to report harassment. I did pull away from him but he stepped forward and continued the behavior all the while keeping up the chit chat.

At this point, my mentor and a big name female librarian caught my eye, saw the behavior, and immediately stepped in, pulling me out of the situation and to safety. Sure, I was in a room with dozens of other librarians, but my aggressor thought it was totally appropriate to touch me. He felt empowered to do so. It did not matter that there were dozens of witnesses. He felt that he had a right to my body and to lay his hands on me. I had never met him before the prior incident and I do not believe I had even spoken to him on Twitter before either, so he was a virtual stranger to me.

Who is my sexual harasser?

Thanks to the experience of #teamharpy, I’m reluctant to name him publicly. He is also very famous within the profession. Three years ago, I was fresh out of library school and this was my very first in-person interaction with ANY male librarian that I did not work with directly.

Since then, I try to avoid him like the plague when I see him at conferences. He has kept his hands and his comments away from me, but will sometimes try to sit as close to me as possible in a room full of empty seats. When I realize he’s in the same conference room as me, I latch onto other librarians and use them as physical barriers so he cannot sit right next to me.

Who have I told?

Immediately after every time my sexual harasser has tried to be close to me, I have reported him to other librarians that I trust so there is a verbal record of sorts. At the conferences where his continued behavior occurs, there was no COC in place. But then again, I, like many other victims before, ask myself — what proof do I have? In the worst incident where he touched me, others physically intervened. But he continues to be famous and I’m just a small fish in libraryland.

Who do I tell?

I’m sure that I’m not the first nor the last of his victims. But who do I tell? Where is a safe place for me financially and professionally to report him? Do I tell conference organizers? Since he’s famous, I’m sure he’s friends with them and it’ll come back to harm me in some way. I hope to have decades to work in this field while my sexual harasser is much older and could simply retire. If I named him publicly, it’d likely be me to suffer the judgment of people who do not believe victims of sexual harassment. Their judgment may cost me dearly in terms of professional opportunities. I have a family to support and while I fervently hope my harasser has not done something worse to another woman in the past three years, I do not feel safe in naming him.

Edit: I’m okay

I wanted to add that thank you all for your support and kind words. I’m doing okay. I hardly ever have to see this person, so this is not something that I have to be reminded of very often. I’m also very fortunate that I had witnesses who actively intervened. Not all victims of sexual harassment are as lucky.

I wrote this post because people online are demanding that victims stand up and expose themselves as having been made to feel vulnerable. I don’t like to think of myself as a victim — especially when no long-term injuries were done to me — but it’s important to stand forth and acknowledge that even “small” transgressions like stroking someone’s arm is sexual harassment.