Stalking – is it really a huge problem for libraries?

I should state right up front that I know next to nothing about stalking or stalkers – never had it happen to me, never really thought much about it. But I said I’d write about it, so I am.

And I do know this: some librarians are really, really worried that putting themselves “out there” by listing their full names and sharing a picture of themselves on a library website, or even by including their full name on a name badge, will somehow point them out as victims-in-waiting. You told me so.

Here’s an example of that worry, from Nathan, who left a comment on my post about anonymity. Nathan says: “I won’t be pushing for them to have last names, because I know it won’t be accepted and it shouldn’t be. Stalking isn’t a ‘worst-case scenario’ here; it’s an everyday concern. We have a fairly large population of homeless people & mental patients in the city, & multiple stalking or harassment events each year.”

So – the issue is this: some librarians think that by giving out their last names, they’ll be set upon by stalkers. I certainly hear the concern, but before you get all up in my grill about this, let’s take a peek at some statistics, from Stalking Victimization in the United States – a national survey done in 2006.

What are the facts associated with stalking?

  • 14 in every 1000 people were victims of stalking – 3.4 million in 2006.
  • People who are divorced or separated are at the highest risk (34 out of 1000).
  • 3 out of 4 people already knew their stalker (i.e., it was a friend, acquaintance, ex-spouse or ex-boy/girlfriend – 30% were known intimate partners, 45% were acquaintances. Under 10% were strangers).
  • women age 34 and younger are the most at-risk group

So, perhaps a little perspective is needed on this whole stalking thing. Again, I’m certain that it’s a scary thing when it happens, and I’m really not trying to make light of the issue. I’ve known two three  people who have experienced it, and yep – freaked both of them out.

But – statistically speaking, stalkers aren’t going to the web to get your last name. They’re not eying your name badge in hopes of catching that last name either … because your stalker already knows who you are (creepy though that sounds).

So sure, stalking is a nasty problem. Sure, it’s probably not a good thing to publish your home address or cell phone number for the masses to find. Here’s a great resource for figuring out how to remove some of your personal information from public view.

But – most librarians simply don’t fit into the “most likely to be stalked” category. I’m not a female younger than 35. No one in my department is either. And librarians in general? Look around ALA Midwinter in a few weeks … again, not trying to come off as flippant (though some of you will no doubt suggest that I am) … most of us simply don’t fit that profile.

[edit – yep. This was a bad argument]

So – posting your last name on a library website or on a name badge? We ask much more than that of our patrons (first and last names, addresses, home phone numbers, proof of residence, etc). Yes, some of you have pointed out that waitresses, clerks, etc in other businesses don’t do this. Do you really want to compare our profession to part-time sales associate jobs?

I think not.

  • Pingback: Privacy, Stalking and Harassment « Dog Ear()

  • kate

    Ideally, we’d all feel safe enough at work to use our last names and post our pictures. That would be great. But it’s not how it is.

    First of all, while women under 35 are more likely to be stalked or harassed, I would like to see statistics on pink-collar and public service professions. I would hope that all library employees, regardless of age or gender (attractiveness is irrelevant), are careful about giving out personal information and mindful of their colleagues’ sense of safety.

    Like many of the other commenters, I’ve had my share of scary patron interactions. Some when I worked at a library without nametags, but walked to work, and some when I worked at a library with nametags where my full name was on the website (I was a supervisor). For me, having my last name available wasn’t any less scary than being followed down the street by a patron in his car, but that doesn’t mean that everyone should be okay with having their last name on the library website.

    As several people have mentioned, the reported-to-the-police stalker scenario isn’t the only one to consider. There are certainly a huge number of unreported stalkings, as well as the types of not-quite-stalking problems people have recounted here. Several people have mentioned staff members with scary ex-spouses or stalkers that didn’t come from the library. Personally, I am not comfortable with the idea that in order to opt out of a name/picture policy, a staff member must confide her personal woes to her supervisor.

    I am all for nametags, I like the idea of a staff directory with pictures. But not at the expense of a coworker’s sense of security. It doesn’t matter why someone is uncomfortable with having her last name available or her picture online. We shouldn’t be asking our colleagues to prove that they have a “good” reason with their traumatic stories.

    Public library workers interact with a lot of people – most of them are fine. Some of them are not. The trouble with dealing with someone unstable is that we don’t know how he is going to react or what he’s going to do. So, yeah, knowing someone’s last name might not make it that much easier to stalk her, but when you’re talking about a patron who *might* stalk a librarian (because she was the only person that week to be nice to him, or she was wearing a color that was a sign from an alien civilization that she is this person’s destiny), it’s not unreasonable to be wary about handing out ANY personal information.

    Most librarians I’ve worked with are very conscientious about this – keeping overly personal chit chat at the desk to a minimum and paying for unlisted numbers is par for the course. It’s part of the job and I would hope that most libraries would be supportive of their staff’s efforts to do it well.

  • SafeLibraries

    Stalking was a problem in the Minneapolis Public Library, as I recall, and library management did nothing to control it — until a huge out-of-court settlement, that is. See

  • davidleeking

    That’s terrible! I certainly hope it’s been clear throughout this part the
    the discussion that I very strongly feel it’s the library’s responsibility
    to deal with issues head-on – not only when they’re taken to court.

    Wow – what was that library thinking?

  • Guest

    I think there are plenty of library staff who have weighed in that they are not willing to take the same risks that you are. And I still don’t see how a last name contributes anything to the community. You keep talking about the greater good and connecting, but the name itself doesn’t do that. So why make staff members who clearly are uncomfortable with it display their last name? Will it harm them to display it against their wishes? Maybe not but it’ll make them trust management more if they know their wishes are respected.

    I don’t know about other people here, but I am not “out in the community” and I’m perfectly fine with that. I don’t want all the attention that comes with something like that. And as a patron, I couldn’t care less about the last names or personal information of any of the librarians at my home library.

  • davidleeking

    One of our strategic goals is to get more front-line staff away from
    traditional desks and out into the community, and part of that would include
    sharing their name. In that setting, it’d just be weird to say “I’m David,
    and I’m from the library.” Same thing with our Outreach services staff –
    they’re already going into homes (it’s part of their job).

    And online – a blog-based website is treated a bit more like a news service.
    When people in other industries write something, they are credited for it
    with a byline.

    Etc, etc – there are some valid reasons behind the idea.

  • Anne

    Ditto the perception idea. If it happens just once in a system, the fear is contagious. My department: 3 times. One of our staff members had to have her name in the phone book and it is unusual, one stalker did show up on her doorstep. Thankfully, with just a list of demands about the library. The other two did things like give the person books on wedding planning because they were going to get married. Another left mash notes.

    We have, of course, had many a time when a former spouse/boyfriend had to be tresspassed.

    I should also say that we are a large urban public library and do have security guards on duty.

    Formerly, our rules of behavior did not include harassing staff. They do now. Our security staff was not trained in how to effectively remove the offender. They are now. We were told that we could not have the offender trespassed because it was a public building. That foul interpretation of public building has since been reversed. That one was insane.

    All that being said…
    All of these things happened BEFORE we had our names on badges.

    Just food for thought.

  • Lacey Earl

    Here’s the thing, though. The information that we ask for from our patrons is not available for public consumption. And while I agree that a stalker probably already knows that stuff about you, maybe they aren’t a stalker until they meet you at the library and read your personal information on your website. Also, most of my library’s staff are female and under the age of 34. Pages, Library Assistants, etc. This may not be a problem for the majority of librarians, but it is an issue that requires some focus. I bet if you were a woman you’d probably feel a lot differently. And isn’t it better to be safe than sorry?

  • davidleeking

    I have no idea how I’d feel if I were a woman, since I’m not one. But I can
    tell you that our 12 female managers have no problem with the concept.