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.

  • Bobbi Newman

    David the concern about stalkers is an emotional reaction and one you won’t overcome with statistics. And frankly as a man, you have to worry about it less and you do seem unsympathetic whether you mean to be or not. Just by those two things alone it’s unlikely you’ll ever persuade me you fully comprehend the fear involved or that you are right.

    Think of it this way. This is a REAL concern by your employees for their safety. Libraries do a lot to ensure the safety of employees (and patrons) you wouldn’t stop lighting the parking lot at night to save a few dollars would you? I mean the changes are slim that anyone will actually get mugged or raped and times are tight. Let’s cut costs! But libraries do this because they care about their employees and it makes them feel safe. I know many libraries that require two people to close and leave together so no one leaves alone late at night. So why are you so cavalier about this safety concern?

    Or think of it this way – when you talk to libraries about encouraging staff to learn new technology or online resources you talk about creating a safe comfortable environment to explore, play and sometimes make mistakes. Why are you insisting on something that immediately creates an uncomfortable environment for staff?

    The goal you are trying to achieve with full names can be reached with first name last initial or first name and department. There is no need to make your staff feel that you don’t hear them, don’t care about them and that their concerns are silly. You’ve just undone all the good you’ve tried to accomplish with your other efforts.

    For the record my most recent stalker did not know me and he did discover me in the library.

  • JS

    GREAT response Bobbi! I agree whole-heartedly!

  • jtfburgess

    Thank you for following up in the concerns of many of your commenters. If truth arises through discourse, it is good that we get to talk through hard issues like this. That said, if I’m reading it right, your argument is that since you are not at risk of being stalked you don’t think it’s a problem. That’s not a very persuasive argument. That’s not all the different from saying, since you’ve never been discriminated against, you are not that concerned about discrimination. No one in your library fits the profile of a person likely to be stalked, that’s all well and good. But I guess you aren’t planning to hire any women under 34 either, right? It’s not that you’re coming across as flippant, you’re coming across as surprisingly inflexible. In this and your previous posts, I get the impression that you think it’s a forced choice situation, either be open and friendly to your clients, or consider the safety of your staff. It seems to me that there are ways to accomplish both. Instead of defending a policy which does only one of those two things, would it not be a better use of your time work on ones which might accomplish both?

  • First names only

    So, what about those of us who do fit the profile — female, 34 and under. There are several of us at my workplace. This has happened in my library, and the stalker, a total stranger, went to great lengths to try to discover his target’s real name. That’s what tipped us off to the seriousness of the problem. What would have happened if she were easy to find?

  • Former Library Director

    You go! The perception of personal safety can over-rule everything else!

  • Guest

    I would like to respond to your earlier post where you said that most libraries as public employees have there personal information available as public records anyway.

    If you have ever made a public records request you know that to get the information you generally have to fill out a form, pay for the copies, etc. So even though my voter registration is public record, someone has to make some effort to get it. This is different than my wearing my voter registration information on a badge on my shirt, and there is ususally no requirement to post public records, only to makethem available upon request.

  • Andy Woodworth

    I don’t think this is perhaps the best way to persuade people on this topic. While I qualify as part of the 986 people who aren’t stalked, I’d still hate to be one of the 14 who is. Bobbi is right; a statistical argument will not overcome an emotional reaction. And telling people they are being emotional and irrational isn’t going to bolster your case.

    “So – the issue is this: some librarians think that by giving out their last names, they’ll be set upon by stalkers.”

    That’s missing the mark. The way I read it, your commenters want to put out the least amount of information as an additional barrier against potential stalkers. 45% of stalkers are acquaintances? I make acquaintances everyday when I meet and greet people at the library. That’s the definition of an acquaintance. And that’s how it starts because people who are going to stalk someone do not wear a sign. If I am concerned about a potential risk, then I’m going to take some preventive measures against it. If it means I can have a name tag with just my first name, then that works. People know who they are talking to without me giving away everything.

    Insofar as comparing ourselves to a part time sales associate job, that’s an unnecessary cheap shot.

  • davidleeking

    I would hope your library dealt with the issue, and helped the target in any way they could, of course.

  • Lesliekahn

    Yesterday was the last (in municipal court) in a grueling stalking case at my library. I felt at risk of losing one of our most talented and productive librarians. As one who endured stalking and sexual harrassment at a time when they weren’t taken seriously, I know how damaging incidents can be. Libraries buy insurance; similarly necessary are other precautions against this these threats.

  • davidleeking

    “your argument is that since you are not at risk of being stalked you don’t think it’s a problem” – not where I’m coming from at all. I think MOST OF US aren’t at risk, and are worrying way too much about a problem that happens to a very small group of us.

    Again, when it does happen – that’s HUGE, it’s scary, and a library needs to deal with the issue in a very confrontative, up-front way.

  • westmichiganlibrarian

    I’m a librarian who is female and under 35 (in fact I’m under 25 – call me precocious). I wear a name badge with my full name (first and last) – which is very unusual and will allow anyone who knows it to find out a LOT of personal information. Luckily, I work at an academic library on a rural campus where I feel a bit safer than the urban campuses I used to work at, but I can tell you I have had several patrons in the past who have sent off warning bells.

    And that 1 in 4 who doesn’t know their stalker? 850,000 people according to your numbers. How many people work in libraries across the country? What’s the statistical likelihood that there is overlap?

    I agree with several other posters. Just because you aren’t statistically likely to be a victim doesn’t mean that stalking isn’t a problem.

  • A Male Librarian

    Stalking is not always about misdirected admiration, sometimes it is about intimidation. I had a homeless patron figure out where I lived. My home at the time was only a half mile from the library; I walked or rode my bike to work and he must have followed me. Several times this patron, who took issue with my enforcement of rules, would be standing on my block during my day off. This lasted for a year. The rules never changed for him and luckily nothing really came from it.

    Males can also me the victim of admiration as well. A female patron started showing up at my second job. She then used an “I saw you” personal add in the local paper to “reach out to me.” Once I showed no interest she became somewhat aggressive. This also died off; when I mentioned what was going on to senior staff member they laughed and told me I should take it as a compliment. I had a similar issue with a male patron who assumed that I was gay because I was a librarian. This lasted for a few weeks until he was informed by a coworker that I was heterosexual. I did my best to show disinterest without coming across as homophobic.

    Working with youth adds some major complications; I have had several kids find a social media profile of mine. I really enjoy separating my personal life from my professional, and a few times I have had kids angry with me for not being their “friend” online. That is a boundary I do not think we should ever cross.

    I am customer service driven, and I would never change that. The issue is then not confusing the patron into thinking there is something more, this is especially difficult with youth and the homeless. I loved living in the community I served, but once I had a family I realized that may not be the best thing for those I care about. I no longer live where I work.

  • First names only

    Library administration did a great job, but not without some tense weeks, which could have been much worse if the stalker new how to find her outside the library. Stalking isn’t simple to prove and not quickly solved. (Someone is asking too many questions… in the library, oh my.)

    I am a big fan of name tags (first names) and photos and work contact info on library web sites, but sharing last names should be at the discretion of individual staff members. Sure, someone could find our names through public records, but not without leaving a paper trail that might reveal their identity as well.

    I’m happy to share my full name with most patrons after I have had a chance to talk with them. I have learned from personal experience to trust my gut when it tells me someone is untrustworthy. I prefer that administration allow me to make that judgment for myself.

  • Jen

    Dealing with the issue effectively includes prevention. For many of us in the “women under 34” group, taking safeguards for our safety is something we have to think about often. If someone encounters a patron who makes them uncomfortable, knowing the library will deal with the situation effectively once the stalking starts is not much comfort when you’re walking to the parking lot. A larger group may not need to worry about it but that shouldn’t minimize how big of a concern it is for those in the small group.

  • jtfburgess

    You are probably right that a relatively small population of library workers are stalked. But just because a minority is small doesn’t mean it should be disregarded, especially for what seems like negligible PR gains. We agree on the library’s obligation to confront stalkers after incidents have occurred, but don’t we have an imperative to make minimal, low-cost policy changes to head off something huge and scary before it happens? The library’s real power to control the situation pretty much ends at the edges of its parking lot, right? I’m pretty sure the distress a stalked person feels won’t go away when they are alone at home. It’s good that you offer suggestions on how to minimize ways the public can access your personal information, but minimizing is not eliminating. It seems so much harder to stalk (beyond the confines of the library) Fran S. [Reference Librarian] than it would be to stalk Fran M. Surname.

    This is almost a Pascal’s wager scenario. If you bet that stalking will never happen and you’re right, your gains are minimal. If you bet that stalking will never happen and you’re wrong, and through minimal action you could have done something to keep someone in your employ from being terrorized, well your library might lose more than an employee.

    Ultimately, I agree with your sentiment that we should not be ruled by fear. I just disagree that being cautious is the same thing as being a coward.

  • Marleah

    We recently got name tags at our library and many employees expressed this fear. The compromise we came to is that full-time employees could choose whether or not to have their last names on their tags, and department heads HAD to put their first and last names (and I am a department head, female, under 30, but I have my last name too). Part-time staff have first names only on their name tags, and half of my staff (and even more in other departments) are female under 30 as well.

    We do monitor any situations where it appears that an employee is being targeted by any stalking-type behavior. Interestingly, the one major stalking concern was a male patron who was targeting a late-20’s male employee, so maybe our experience with stalking is not the norm. The point is, it can happen to anyone, but that’s no reason to just eliminate name tags and the like. Employees should be careful (within reason), and administration should keep an eye out for anything going on that shouldn’t be and then deal with that situation.

  • Guest

    I hope this is not your meaning, but when you say “most of us don’t fit that profile,” it’s very easy to hear that as “I’m not concerned about those of us who do fit that profile.” There are quite a few female librarians under the age of 35 in my system, and I know that I am not the only one who has found herself in situations where she feels unsafe. This post seems to come from a position of privilege – while I’m glad that you feel safe in your job, why dismiss the concerns of people who do not?

    Yes, we ask our patrons for information about themselves. We also have been hired by government or academic institutions that have policies and laws concerning patron privacy, and if we misuse personal patron information in some way we know that there are serious repercussions.

  • Vera

    I found this article a little disturbing and at first couldn’t pinpoint why. I am in the demographic mentioned, female and under 35. I do put my last name out there as I do a lot of trainings and my students often wish to be speak to me again. So at first, I was in agreement.

    But the bottom line on my disturbance relates pretty closely to Bobbi’s comment. As young women we are trained from a young age to avoid dangerous situations that would leave us along with a predator. Just watch most Disney Princess movies, the programming is built right in.

    The message I grew up with is ‘if I don’t feel safe then I won’t do it’. Telling employees that they have to expose themselves in a way that feels uncomfortable to them is wrong. I don’t care about the numbers.

    Secondarily, statistics rely on accurate reporting. A lot of people don’t report more minor incidents though they are frightening. A colleague of mine, over fifty by the the way, was followed home by a patron one night after work. He lingered in her driveway for only a few seconds then left. She never reported it to the police. How many incidents like that occur, undocumented, but undermining to a person’s feeling of safety?

  • Hypothetical

    I think you can make a case for considering both the emotional and statistical arguments. First-name-only nametags and photos on the web site are (IMHO) perfectly acceptable, and even including a surname initial isn’t too far. At the same time it should be stressed that although there are measures in place to protect privacy, the likelihood of any individual being stalked is still pretty low.

    Institutions should take the privacy of their employees seriously, but at the same time the employees have to realize that if they choose a profession that involves interaction with the public, they will necessarily be more exposed to a risk of being stalked than someone who (say) works in industry. If some librarians think that having their first name available to patrons is too much of a privacy violation then, frankly, they need to re-think their choice of profession.

  • Hypothetical

    Actually, I mis-spoke. Not “..choice of profession”, but perhaps “..choice of position”. I’m aware that there are librarians working in non-public settings.

    Mea Culpa.


  • davidleeking

    Not my meaning at all – very concerned about those staff who do fit the
    profile. I just think it’s sorta blown out of proportion.

  • davidleeking

    Hypothetical – thanks! That’s pretty much what I’m trying to say.

  • JS

    I don’t know how many more of us it takes to say this in a variety of different ways in order to make David bend or see our point.

    Maybe I need to be crass and call out the elephant in the room. It’s evident to me, through David’s posts that his patron population is generally middle class, involved, productive, caring citizens. If that were MY patron base, I would have no trouble with the patrons knowing my identity (and I am under 35, female, and somewhere above-or at least average-in appearance). But that is NOT my patron base! I work downtown in a large city that is within the top 5 poorest cities in the nation. My patron base is homeless, mentally ill, and of the disenfranchised angry retaliatory ghetto mindset. Our patrons do not come in understanding boundaries – we need to set them for them. We are not talking about sweet soccer moms who need to be reminded they can call me by “first name” instead of “ms. surname.” Many of our patrons don’t understand basic library rules, or often common courtesy and manners. Everyday, a few times a day, someone in my building is writing a security incident report; it’s all-too-often the police are called.

    It’s not “stalking” per se, that I’m taking issue with, but everything that crosses boundries that I see everyday: patrons personally threatening staff for inforcing library rules, patrons gloming onto a “favorite” librarian and talking so much or so long that the librarian can’t help anyone else, patrons asking librarians on dates, patrons asking personal or sexual questions / discussions, patrons playing manipulative games to trap a librarian into saying something which they can construe as discriminatory (or whatever) and then complain to in an attempt to get that librarian fired, etc, etc, etc. These things happen everyday here. We are working on building UP boundries – not breaking them down. I think we’re coming from 2 completely different worlds, David.

  • davidleeking

    JS – Topeka has a pretty standard patrons base – all types. Not just soccer moms. And I’ve worked in larger more urban libraries, too – we did the same thing there.

    Really, all I’m doing is responding to a few people – people who, when I said we share first/last names, they said “we’re worried about stalkers.” So I’m just trying to show that posting your name online isn’t really the issue at all.

    And sure – each library is different, and should most definitely assess it’s own unique situation and customer base.

    But setting staff guidelines because of one instance of something bad happening? I really don’t think that’s good business practice.

  • Anonymous

    I understand your point, David, as well Bobbi’s. In addition, I agree on some level with many of your commenters in that stalking is scary and there’s no reason to make staff uncomfortable. I am also seeing two different topics here: personal identification and stalking. I don’t think the two are actually related though it seems the danger of being stalked is being used as a bridge to argue over nametags and pictures.

    I have been a victim of two different stalkers. Each time, it was one of the most terrifying situations I had experienced and I know why women, as well as men, fear being stalked. Neither of my stalkers knew me via my nametag nor because of my presence on a website. One had been an acquaintance, the other had lived in my neighborhood; he didn’t even know my name.

    I do not feel name badges or pictures on websites encourage stalking. Because of that, don’t think the fear of being stalked is a valid reason to eliminate last names on nametags or to not post staff pictures to the company website. I even agree the idea of potential stalkers is blown out of proportion. I think it is used as a crutch when it ought not to be.

    At the same time, I do not understand the need for full names on all name badges nor for all staff to be featured on the library website, regardless of personal safety concerns. As many have already suggested, head staff (directors, associate directors, branch managers, and the like), staff who will be working mainly beyond the confines of the library, and any other staff who need to be recognized outside of the library setting should have their full names on the name badge. Everyone else is recognizable within the library with a first name and department and maybe a last initial if there are multiple staff with the same name. I cannot think of any reason staff who work inside the library need to be identified by their last names.

    Furthermore, while I may not think “I’m afraid my name will get me stalked” is a valid concern (mainly because your last name is not what will get you stalked. It might encourage identity theft, but not stalking), I do feel “I’m uncomfortable” is an incredibly relevant reason to vote against the use of surnames and photos. The source of discomfort does not matter; it is the preference not to share personal information that matters.

    My full name is too long to fit on our name tags, so mine merely says Erica O. to differentiate me from Erica S. If the district were to feel my nametag showcasing my surname were vital to my role in the library, I would have my last name emblazoned across my little badge. If I am ever stalked because I am an employee of a library, it will not be because I am on the website or because of my nametag. It will be because that person will see or interact with me and something will click in that person’s head. It will be that person following me to my car and possibly following me home that will endanger me, not my name or my picture.

  • JS

    It’s not just one instance of something bad happening. That’s what I was attempting to get across – unpleasent things happen at my library with great frequency.

    I was in the webinar which began this conversation, and I was the first person, who in the webinar chat, uttered the word “stalker” as a reason why giving out your personal information might be a bad idea. It is not the only reason – it was the first thing that came off my fingers onto the keyboard, as an extreme example. For a myriad of reasons, I don’t think sharing personal information with patrons is a good idea (stalking being only one such example).

    I will not bend on this issue either – I’ve seen too much and experienced too much in this library system. Evidently, you will not bend either. So let’s agree to disagree and end the entire conversation with the person (me) who first uttered the s-word.

  • davidleeking

    That works for me – and I really DO appreciate you chiming in and sharing
    your viewpoints. It’s obviously not a cut-and-dried issue, so at the least
    my post (and all the great comments, including yours) will bring it a little
    more out in the open so individual libraries can have a springboard for


  • Guest

    As part of the population that does “fit the profile” I feel marginalized when you agree that this potential problem does affect a part of the population of library staff, but go on to say that we don’t need to address it in our libraries. Why would you ignore the safety and comfort of any population in your staff? And I’m saying this as someone who is comfortable sharing her full name with patrons – I just feel like an employer should respect the needs of people who feel unsafe in these situations. I honestly can’t understand why a library would ask an employee to do something that makes them feel unsafe and seems to have very little gain in terms of service.

    When you say it’s blown out of proportion, that trivializes something that genuinely concerns many people, especially women. I understand that you’re not trivializing incidents where stalking has already happened, but why not consider prevention a part of that? Personal safety is an issue that most women consider much more frequently than most men do – and not because we want to, but because of a whole mess of cultural expectations and internalized fears. Even if you can’t or don’t understand why this makes so many women so uncomfortable, I think it’s important to listen to the many responses you’re hearing and accept that it does. Until there are some major changes in what is usually called the “culture of violence” against women, this is a real issue – even in cases where nothing actually happens.

    Fear for your personal safety can affect you even when no stalking has actually happened, and it can affect your job performance.

  • Shelly S

    My concern has never been just about stalking. About 20 years ago, an older librarian and colleague of mine got woken after 1:00 a.m. by a patron who’d found her phone number. The woman wanted to know about a reserve book. I was once accosted on the street by an older patron who also wanted to know about her reserves. She grabbed my arm and gripped it so tightly, she left bruises.

    As for stalking, I shudder what would have happened to the library staff member we had to transfer back in the mid-’90s, before the internet was the “hot new thing.” She was going through a terrible divorce and her husband had attacked her on a subway platform. She’d moved, but he’d followed her from work. If her info had been made public online, he could’ve found her again after her transfer.

    I think the public has the right to know we work for the library. Have us wear an anonymous badge, but they don’t have the right to know my name unless I choose to tell them. My library system does require supervisors to give their names when asked, but other staff may decline.

    And I hate when patrons get a staff member’s name. If they like that staffer, they won’t let anyone else help them because only so-and-so knows what she’s doing. It ends up slowing down their service.

    There are so many other issues involved besides stalking. And yes, the fear of stalking is real, even if statistically unlikely. Dying in a plane crash or an act of terror is slim, too, but the fear is all too real.

    Why do library patrons need to know my name, anyway? How does that affect the service they receive? If they have a complaint, there are usually policies and procedures to deal with that, including ways to identify the staff member, by who was scheduled at the public service station at any given time.

  • davidleeking

    “Why would you ignore the safety and comfort of any population in your
    staff?” and “but why not consider prevention a part of that?” We’re not
    ignoring anyone’s safety. I see the whole prevention/safety thing similar to
    this – we have bookmobiles. There’s a distinct possibility that a bookmobile
    driver will get hurt in a car accident. But we’re not going to stop the
    service – it’s a risk (albeit a very low risk) we’re willing to take to meet
    a greater good for our customers.

    The whole name/stalking thing – another risk (again, I see this as a very
    low-level one) we’re willing to take for the community’s greater good. Our
    customers like seeing our pic, knowing our names. We’re not just working
    behind the ref desk – we are out in the community, in businesses, in
    parades, in schools. We’re even on the news (and not just supervisory

    Sharing our names when we write an article is just a small part of that, and
    helps us connect to our community. So that’s where we’re coming from.

  • Anonymous

    Wait, what exactly is the benefit of including your last name on the website? I don’t see why this would be worth any risk. Why would anyone need to know that?

  • Guest

    You have said yourself that you are not part of the group that is most at risk. You are telling people who ARE at a higher risk where to draw the “acceptable risk” line. I’m getting angry, so I’m going to excuse myself from this conversation.

  • Marge

    If I don’t have to put staffers at risk, why would I chose to? For those staffers who are cautious and concerned about their safety, I am more than happy to accomodate. Stalking and creepy behavior towards staffers happen not just with one demographic (under 35 females) but across a broader spectrum. Managers here wear full names on tag because we are interacting at a whole different level than line staff. I get paid to go into difficult situations as well as navigate the interesting labyrinthes of out-front public behavior management and folks we work with get paid not to have to take guff.

  • Jen

    I don’t think that’s an effective analogy. People drive to work everyday. A bookmobile is an extension of that. Sharing your last name – which many equate with sharing your address, since it makes it that much easier – is not the same. When I think of all the various places where people provide a service to me, it’s hard to come up with a situation in which I’m better served by knowing someone’s last name, as long as I can identify that person later if I need to follow up.

  • Anonymous

    “How many incidents like that occur, undocumented, but undermining to a person’s feeling of safety?” EXACTLY! That stuff happens ALL. THE. TIME. and it often gets chalked up to “Well, get used to it.” or “We’ll just keep an eye out for him.” it doesn’t get reported to the police as a formal stalking charge.

    Women on the front desk are used to and expect these frightening encounters as part of the job, I really don’t think our male counterparts can fully relate. I REALLY don’t think they’re in any position to discount if a staff member says she’s uncomfortable. If they say they’re uncomfortable then you should respect them, not try and convince them they’re paranoid.

  • Anonymous

    Okay, I think I found your reasons on your previous post and in the comments:

    “we require our customers to give us first and last name, address, phone number, email, proof of residence … and we won’t give out our last names? Seems weird to me.”

    “Our customers like seeing our pic, knowing our names. We’re not just working behind the ref desk – we are out in the community, in businesses, in parades, in schools. We’re even on the news (and not just supervisory staff).”

    As others have pointed out, you don’t post customers’ personal information on a website or otherwise make it public, and while patrons like knowing their librarians’ first names, it’s unlikely that knowing their last names would add any benefit. Do you think these reasons are worth compromising the safety of people who work for you? Did you consider that if you post the librarian’s full name on the website, people who already know them (“3 out of 4 people already knew their stalker”) will find them through a search and then find out where they work? If someone has dealt with a stalker or domestic violence situation in the past, they have a very good reason to keep their personal information off the web (not that anyone should have to explain why they don’t want to post their last name). I don’t think it’s okay to dismiss those very real and very serious concerns.

  • Uk_Mrs

    This hit a nerve as being stalked was one of the reasons I moved from working in a public library to an academic one. When I started working in the library in question I was warned not to be too friendly to the readers but I naturally ignored this and was friendly and chatty as you would be. One guy, who it later turned out had major life issues, decided that me being interested in a book about a band we both liked which he was returning meant something much much bigger. It got bad but thankfully I lived on the other side of the City and I took to hiding in the library until my bus came then getting on it when he wasn’t looking (he used to wait around outside to watch where I was going). When I left I was so glad that he wasn’t computer literate (getting him online was one of the ways he used to get me to stand next to him- he’d ask for help, I’d go near and then he’s make very personal comments) as I really was very scared that he’d find out where I lived. Thankfully I have a very common surname and we didn’t have to wear name badges but I would never ever do so after my experiences. I could very easily have found me and my address online from just my name and the area of the city I live in and a general knowledge of the kind of things that might have been on my Amazon wishlist for example but then I guess I am pretty savy at online research as that’s my job! I am incredibly careful with all social media and now and then I check it all to make sure that I haven’t mentioned places etc and that my profile is properly locked down. The lady that replaced me was also stalked by the same guy and it ended up with the police getting involved. It was very scary and made me feel very vulnerable indeed. It’s really quite common in public libraries in particular, in the UK at least. This happened 10 years ago and I still feel shaky about it and I’m not a timid person. You’re so open and vulnerable when you’re giving service in a library, especially if you’re in a small branch library with maybe one other employee- you have to be nice to people and it’s unnatural to be guarded. I don’t think I’d ever feel happy working in a public library again after this experience.

  • Margaret H. S. W.

    I completely agree with the sentiment here– those statistics are very reassuring on the face of them, but how about we break them down a bit? What does the profile look like for members of other professions committed to working with marginalized populations? With nurses, counselors, and other members of “pink-collar” service professions? I would not be the least bit shocked to discover that the number of incidences of stalking go up, and that a wider range of victims appear.

    Additionally, what of those unlucky enough to acquire a stalker outside of work, as a former spouse or partner? Is their very real and genuine need for safety truly less important than a patron’s imagined need to have someone’s last name without asking for it? I don’t think it is, nor would I ever want to work at a library that deemed otherwise. Service is important, but so is respecting your employees’ boundaries when they do not interfere with job performance.

  • lulu_bella

    Well, I’m sure someone has already mentioned this, but what do we consider stalking? I am not a librarian, but I worked closely with the public in various settings. We were not encouraged, or discouraged, from giving our information to those we worked with (teaching English classes), so I did. Because the majority of people I worked with were older women who expressed concern about going to the doctor. I offered my phone number to act as an impromptu interpreter in situations where they felt uncomfortable. I was subsequently stalked by a young man who wanted both to date me and to save my soul. He knew where I lived, he knew my phone number, he knew my information – because of the service I did for the public, much like a librarian.

    This is real. I would not call this a rarity. I never reported it, but maybe I should have. Why didn’t I? Because whenever I told someone, I was blamed. I was blamed for giving my phone number out. So now? Not only do I not want to give out my information because I could be stalked, but I don’t want to give out my information because I WILL BE BLAMED FOR THE STALKING. Do you see the problem there?

  • A E Puglisi

    Hi David:

    I read your blog quite often and usually I agree or take away a fresh perspective after your posts. This one, however, left me feeling a little frustrated. You do seem to write off a lot of concerns based upon your feeling that it won’t happen to us. While your stats are right, in the sense that a lot of this behavior results from personal issues rather than random strangers, there’s still a pretty high percentage of “random attacks” (if you will). 25% is a high number, and it is the job of the employer to protect the safety and privacy of their employees, not increase the risk. This is avoidable and a compromise can be reached, and I strongly feel that limiting name badges to a first name should be sufficient. Pictures should be posted at the discretion of the employee (not the employer), only with a first name. For an employer to expect anymore would be unnecessary and a violation of the individuals safety.

    Secondly, just because your library currently doesn’t employ women who are under 35, that doesn’t make this issue okay. You’re overlooking that a strong number of those who are pursuing an MLS are women, and a lot of them will graduate by the time they are 27. That puts them into this profile and it is completely mind boggling that you can write it off as a non-issue.

    Libraries have more or less ensured that the protection of their employees is a priority. Just because stalking and foul behavior doesn’t have a high stat rate (even though I am certain that there have been instances), it’s probably owing to the measures that are in place. You cannot predict the future no better than I can, but I would wonder if you’ve considered whether or not if the measures that are in place are part of the reason why librarians have not been targeted.

  • A E Puglisi

    Also, I’d also like to point out that the majority of retailers do not require that their employees wear name badges with the employees full-name, let alone post pictures of them on-line.

  • davidleeking

    Lulu – yes I see a huge problem there! You should have never been blamed for that – if your employer did that, then shame on them.

    That’s part of what I’m trying to say – it’s definitely up to the individual and the employer to deal appropriately with stuff like this.


  • Rob

    You seem to be conflating two issues here, with some justification, as those you are responding to are doing so as well. But that question is “Is stalking enough of a problem to justify withholding the last names of employees?” Instead, you pose the question “Stalking – is it really a huge problem for libraries?” and on your way to answer the former you are quite dismissive of the latter. Statistics for the nation are pretty irrelevant. What are the statistics for our profession? Our profession has us in contact with members of the general public from all walks of life, with more direct contact for longer periods of time than most professions. And we’re in more contact with more downtrodden walks of life than most, with exposure all the accompanying issues. Very few members of the general public are the victim of stalking from, say, a mentally ill homeless veteran. I’d wager many more librarians are, especially librarians in urban centers or, like my ex, a librarian who works near a veteran’s hospital. Even far away from those urban centers, it happens. My co-workers at a rural library of both genders and varying ages have been victims, including two (one male, one female) who were victims of unwanted physical contact inside the library. Balancing customer service and employee protection is a valid issue, but it’s not a question that can be answered with irrelevant statistics and vague calls for “perspective”.

  • davidleeking

    Fair enough, and you’re probably right. And honestly, I’d love to find stats on our profession specifically.

    I could only find general national stats, and for libraries i can only speak from my own experience working in 4 libraries over 15 years … One stalking problem that had nothing to do with the web.


  • lulu_bella

    I just think it should be a choice, especially for those of us who have been put in that situation. Another interesting point that I thought of – you have a fairly common name. It would be difficult, not impossible, but difficult, to find you. I have a very unique name. There are so few people with my full name that if you knew the city I lived in, it would make me very uncomfortable. None of that is to blame you, but just to point out another reason why you might not think this is such a statistical likelihood, and one that has nothing to do with gender.

    I also just wanted to say that I think your handling all of this well. A lot of people would get defensive, or offended, but this is a healthy discussion.

  • davidleeking

    Thanks! I appreciate you saying that. And your point is taken, too.


  • Brethlessm

    I’m another under 35 librarian, and while I always do my best to ensure that patrons receive excellent service from me, bottom line – I don’t really give a damn what they want. There’s a difference between being accommodating and professional, and being abused, and I’m sure I’m not the only person out there who sees this daily. Yes, we’re public servants, but that doesn’t mean we’re YOU’RE servant. You may want to have my first and last name and photo available for your perusal, but wanting isn’t getting, and with all the people I help every day, it IS a risk we take.

    I’ve worked at my location for three years now, and I have personally had two stalkers. One would try to chat, ask personal questions, invite you to church with him, stand at the counter and sharpen pencils for fifteen minutes straight so that he could stare at you, ask for your help with something idiotic just so he’d have your attention (“read this magazine article for me.” “Why?” “Just read it.” “Um… I don’t really have time to do that…”) He finally left me alone when I worked up the nerve to tell him he needed to back off.

    My other stalker found out my name. He followed my to my bank, and tried to figure out my schedule. He’d ask the other staff where I was and then comment on the fact that he loved redheads. He would touch my back, or arm, shout across the library whenever he saw me, tell me stories about his wife’s (yes, wife) goiter or gallstones, or whatever else was going on in his life that I didn’t need, nor want to know about.

    He never followed me home, but there were several times I was afraid to go into the parking lot after work (in the dark) because he’d just left minutes before. It never got violent, but it was disturbing, and I was tired of going to hide in the back when he came in. This same guy would call the library, ask for me personally, then have me look up all these sports scores for him on the internet – he was a sports newscaster, shouldn’t he be doing this himself?

    One of my co-worker’s is a 7 months pregnant, and a patron started following her around, even showing up in front of her house. Our branch is just in front of a bridge beneath which lives a large homeless community. They’re not only there when I arrive in the morning, and leave at night, they come into the library for various reasons, ranging from just using the bathroom to asking what he needs to do to get treatment for Agent Orange.

    We have masturbators, people – men and women – who are extremely angry and aggressive if they don’t like what you’re saying. We have pre-teen boys and girls who follow us around like ducks and want to know everything about us and more.

    I love my job, and by and large, I love our patrons. Most of them are polite, friendly, and level-headed. But it only takes one crazy person to cause harm, and so even for the sake of the 90% of our patrons I wouldn’t feel threatened by, I’m not willing to give out my information for the other 10% to exploit.

    Maybe you’re right – maybe librarians under the age of 35 (although this assumes that those over 35 don’t get harassed – they do) are such a small demographic that this discussion should be moot. Maybe incidents of stalking are even less common, and one obsessive patron in six months isn’t that big a deal for someone in that small demographic. But what if I was your mother? Your sister? Your daughter? Is that statistic negligible now?

    I may not be an older white male, and I may have chosen a fiend heavy in customer service. However, I don’t see why that means I have to put myself at risk for people who really aren’t that interesting in my last name, and if they are, should probably be watched. If pressed, I shall give my name as Raoul Duke and be done with it.

  • The Cougar Librarian


  • The Cougar Librarian

    “Look around ALA Midwinter in a few weeks…” – attendance at a Midwinter ALA conference is, in my opinion, not an accurate sampling of the profession. Conference attendance, especially at a midwinter, skews to older managerial staff – not women under 35.

    And I know you can always find a personal story to counter any statistic, but I recently had a staff member who had to take out a restraining order against a stalker who first approached her at the library. The staff member was a grandmother in her 60s.

  • davidleeking

    OK – good points about ALA conferences and personal stories that skew stats.
    I could be off there.