Library Leadership

63. Preventing Harassment and Bullying in Libraries with Dr. Steve Albrecht

Do you know what to do if you are faced with harassment or bullying in your library? According to Dr. Steve Albrecht, one of the nation’s leading experts on library safety and security, many of us do not. Because of this, cases often go unreported, which can lead to unfortunate consequences.

On this podcast you’ll learn about the importance of having policies in place to deal with bullying and harassment, how this is a training matter, and what the intervention processes should look like in libraries. I hope you’ll tune in for this important conversation. https://drstevealbrecht.com/

Transcript

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Adriane:

This is Adriane Herrick Juarez. You’re listening to Library Leadership Podcast where we talk about libraries and leadership, and speak with guests who share their ideas, innovations, and strategic insights into the profession.

Do you know what to do if you’re faced with harassment, or bullying in your library? According to Dr. Steve Albrecht, one of the nation’s leading experts on library safety and security, many of us do not. Because of this, cases often go unreported which can lead to unfortunate consequences. On this podcast you’ll learn about the importance of having policies in place to deal with bullying and harassment, how this is a training matter, and what the intervention process should look like in libraries. I hope you’ll tune into this important conversation. Enjoy the show.

Question #1: Steve, welcome to the show. Thank you for talking with me today about preventing harassment and bullying in libraries. First off, will you share with our listeners what this is all about and how it can affect libraries? 01:36 

Dr. Steve Albrecht: 

Back in 2000 I started working with libraries. I had originally been the Workplace Violence Prevention Specialist, and some libraries in California got a hold of me about safety and security. One of the discussion points that came up with library staff, oftentimes on the breaks, when I was doing the training programs was, Can I tell you about this guy who’s been bothering me? And it turns out to be a patron issue where there was sexual or racial harassment. It was really kind of a shadow concern where oftentimes managers and supervisors were not aware of it. The employee was kind of embarrassed by the behavior. They weren’t sure if they were saying the wrong thing to this person and they really didn’t know where to turn to.

So I started, even twenty years ago, before the #MetToo movement, to get a sense that it is kind of a shadow concern in libraries. We have a lot of women working in libraries. I think the breakdown is like 70/30 female to male, or 80/20, using some ALA library statistics, in terms of gender. As a man, I oftentimes don’t see this same behavior. A lot of women were coming to me on my training programs, and talking to me off-line, or sending me emails with fairly long stories about how they’d been harassed by patrons.

Sometimes we think about sexual harassment as kind of employee-to-employee issue, but that was not the case.

Adriane: 

Question #2: Sure, sure. It can be patrons. It can be within the workplace itself. So, what are the types of harassment that can take place in a working environment? 03:02 

Dr. Steve Albrecht: 

Most people think of sexual harassment as the primary issue that could take place between a boss and an employee. It could be a dating type of relationship, if they asked for a dating relationship. Probably the one that’s the most common is the Harvey Weinstein/Hollywood/quid pro quo, which is latin for ‘this for that’, Give me a sexual relationship and I’ll allow you to continue to work here, or I’ll hire you, or I’ll make your path easier or more difficult. 

That’s fairly rare in the libraries that I’ve worked with, I’ve not seen any of those types of cases. What I typically see is not employee-to-employee, or boss-to-employee, but patrons who harass. It could be same-sex sexual orientation, or male/female. They will harass the library employee. It oftentimes starts out as flirting type of behavior, questions like, Are you dating, are you married, and it continues. 

Then the harassment has a racial connection to it or a same-sex sexual orientation connection to it. So, there’s lots of possibilities. Then if you think of the end-stage, or the worse-case scenario, sometimes the harassment leads into stalking behaviors. 

I worked for the police department in San Diego for fifteen years. I was a sergeant and a domestic violence investigator. I worked on a lot of stalking cases involving people in dating relationships. It was more unusual to see stalking taking place as a behavior in the workplace where someone says, If you’re not going to go out with me I’m going to make it my life’s mission to make your life miserable. Or, I’m going to show up in places where you don’t expect me to be. 

So, I would talk to library employees and they’d say, This guy follows me to the gym, or he keeps harassing me in the parking lot, or he showed up at the grocery store I go to. Those cases are really kind of disturbing.

Adriane: 

Question #3: Yeah. Absolutely. So, in your work you talk about the importance of having updated and accurate policies to address these behaviors. What do libraries need to have in place? 04:55 

Dr. Steve Albrecht:  

Well, the good news about the concept of harassment as a workplace issue is it’s fairly mature. There’s a lot of policy language that exists. It has a feel to it that it’s been around a long time, obviously. We have policy. There’s an investigative process for it. There is a discussion, especially as a new employee orientation piece, in which we talk about how important it is to report these things. And also that there are consequences for perpetrators and support for victims.

A lot of times when you look at libraries as being a connection to a city or county entity, as part of a city or part of a county, they can use the policies that exist—the written policies that exist in those city and county entities. Oftentimes those have been pretty well created and scrubbed down by the lawyers, city attorneys, county counsel, things like that to get the right kind of language. 

I oftentimes encourage library directors, supervisors, managers to look at their policy and say, Is it up-to-date? Are we connected now to where we are in the real-world in what’s happening today in terms of our policy? There’s sort of a Goldilocks and the Three Bears kind of feel for policies, too long, too short, just right. Twenty pages is probably too long, but one page is not enough. There’s kind of a sweet spot in the policies I’ve seen over the years that address what the concept of sexual harassment prevention is. 

Not only is there a city/county relationship there to the subject, it’s a federal law requirement that’s been around since the 1964 passage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act made sexual and racial harassment illegal behavior in the United States in the workplace.

So, the idea that managers, supervisors, and directors can look at their own policy and say, Can we borrow, steal, take from other policies that we’ve seen in other library districts that have good language in it, that have the kind of things that we need to be addressing? And, can we also remind our employees that they may have some knowledge of this issue or not very much at all.

One of the things that I typically see is, If we hire younger employees in the library that could be pages, stints, or part-time employees—they may be sixteen, seventeen, nineteen years old, this could be their ‘first real job’, they need just as much as an education about this as anybody else, and perhaps probably more so just to remind them of what the boundaries are in the workplace.

So, when I look at policies, and I do that as part of my consulting work—Let me go through this and kind of tighten it up and remove some of the language, and add some things in. I’m always looking for some key basics which are: does it address what sexual and racial harassment are, those types of behaviors; physical behaviors; verbal behaviors; things that we see—photographs, things like that. Do we address the investigative process? Do we address confidentiality?

One of the biggest pieces for me, especially with library staff, is this concept of multiple channels of reporting. You can go to your boss. You can go to your boss’s boss. You can go to the person in charge. You can go to a front-line supervisor who’s not necessarily your boss. You can speak to HR. You can speak to a city attorney, or a county attorney that works for your agency. So there’s multiple ways to report. 

From there we have an investigative process, and that leads to either consequences for the patron-perpetrators and also support for the victims.

Adriane: 

Question #4: How must employee training take place so that everyone is aware of the policies and how they are enforced? 08:23 

Dr. Steve Albrecht:  

I think there’s an expectation with some employees that they already know this subject. I teach webinars on this issue, a basic two-hour block. I do a lot of work in California libraries where there is a two-hour mandated requirement for training every two years for all supervisors and managers. It’s also a mandate for all elected officials, as well. Sometimes they get library boards in my programs. 

There’s kind of an expectation, Oh, I know this stuff already. So, I try to keep them on their toes in terms of the content and things that we talked about that they may not know about. Especially for the concepts, like multiple channels of reporting, and how as a supervisor we not only talk about enforcing the policies, but we create a channel for people to report. 

I always tell bosses, You can’t fix what you don’t know about. I always tell employees in the library environment, We can’t fix what you don’t tell us. One of the more heartbreaking things I see in this subject of harassment of library employees is—I will ask them, How long has this behavior been going on? And, they’ll tell me, Six months, or a year. 

It’s painful for me to hear that these types of situations are not being addressed, oftentimes because the employee is fearful. They fear retaliation from the person who is doing the harassing, if it’s a patron. Sometimes the person who is doing the harassing is kind of a noted figure in the community, which is sort of an odd intervention there. 

And also the idea, Do we brush across this as an orientation subject or do we spend some time talking about it? I always encourage managers and supervisors to have a once a year training program on the issue. Just pull the policy and say in a staff meeting, We’re going to go over this and remind everybody what we’re supposed to do. Maybe we spend an hour on it and then head everybody back to work.

The other part is, Is there anything that we can learn from cases in the news media—things that have happened locally, or nationally, that may, or may not have a library connection to them around this issue of harassment, but we can learn from that.

Adriane: 

Question #5: You’ve been touching on this, but can you tell us about the employer reporting process and the supervisor intervention process? 10:21 

Dr. Steve Albrecht:  

One of the difficulties supervisors have is they’re not sure that there’s a policy violation. I talk to them about that and say, If somebody comes to you with a situation that involves a patron and a staff member, or more rare, an employee-to-employee situation of harassment. The first thing you have to think of as a boss is, Is there a policy violation? Is this a conflict between two employees that doesn’t have anything to do with sexual, racial harassment, or is this a clear violation of our policy?

I think sometimes supervisors get trapped into, Well, I’m not sure, I’m not a lawyer, I’m not an HR expert. I always say, Then get the story from the employee, put a place-holder in that situation. Say to the employee, Let me talk to some people in terms of our subject matter expertise about this and what we can figure out from here. So, stand by until I get back to you. Then talk to a Human Resource as a function of the organization. Talk to your boss, your boss’s boss, talk to the agency attorneys that handle these types of situations and say, Let me run this scenario by you, do we see a policy violation here. I’m on the fence as to whether or not there is one. Or, It seems pretty clear to me there is a policy violation.

From that point we go forward with an investigative approach which may involve looking at texts, or emails this patron may have sent to the staff member, including to their own personal cell phone. I encourage staff members to keep that stuff, to take screenshots of it so we can look at it.

Then we also look into who may have witnessed this behavior as other employees. Who may have seen this type of behavior happening to our employee by this patron, and can we talk to those people and figure out what’s going on? 

So we’re trying to look at the context, and look at the content and figure out, is it a physical nature? Is it a verbal nature? Is this person sending photographs, or asking for photographs, or asking this person out on a date, that type of thing, that we clearly want to stop. Then we have to come up with a response to the patron as to, This is a boundary that you cannot continue to cross if you want to come to our library.

Adriane: 

Question #6: What does it look like when harassment and bullying prevention work well in the workplace? 12:24 

Dr. Steve Albrecht: 

I think it’s a morale issue. I also think it’s a retention issue. We keep good people. We don’t drive away employees who are fearful about coming to work. I see this a lot in some of the work I do in bullying, which is kind of a tough subject to define. We know it when we see it. We certainly know it from our schoolyard experiences. But, when we have bullying happening in the workplace, whether it’s a patron or employee-to-employee, or worse-case scenario—a boss bullying employees, people tend to leave. It’s a retention issue. We lose good folks. There’s a morale concern. People are afraid to come to work, don’t want to come to work, don’t want to engage with certain patrons. 

And that’s something we look at as a success in the work culture we create in the library. This is a fun place to work, we enjoy each other’s company, we enjoy working for the patrons, but we have good boundaries. There’s good physical boundaries with us and the patrons. We don’t allow them to touch us in a harassing or sexual way. There’s good verbal boundaries between patrons. We don’t allow them to have certain kinds of conversations with our employees. 

And we really enforce those types of things with the idea that says, This is for the benefit of the staff and for the new people coming in saying, You don’t have to tolerate this as an employee in our environment. We’re after it. We address it when we see it. We have strong feelings about keeping folks from this type of behavior. And I think that’s how we prove success.

Adriane: 

Question #7: Anything else you’d like to share? 13:46 

Dr. Steve Albrecht: 

Well, I look at the landscape for the library and I think that sometimes the people I talk to as staff members in libraries, have kind of a difficult time with some of their frequent flyers. These are people who come in all the time. They may be a little eccentric in their behavior. They may be a little odd in their behavior. Sometimes the staff members have to tolerate certain kinds of language, or even touching or hugging, or things like that that they don’t want to have happen to them, because this person is a long-time resident, long-time community member, one of our frequent flyers who comes in all the time.

I think supervisors have to look at the impact on the business and say, I don’t care how long this person’s been coming into the library. I don’t care if they’re the richest person in town, we have a requirement to set boundaries about how they engage with our staff.

I’m always disappointed, I guess, not surprised sometimes, that staff members let stuff go on and they don’t report it because they feel like they won’t be heard or they feel like this person’s weight in the community may have more value than theirs as an employee. Which is wrong. Then the idea that we’ve created a culture where people can come to work and feel okay about not having to deal with the subject at all.

So if you look at places where you’ve worked in your own career you say, Wow this was never an issue in any place where I’ve ever worked, or it was an issue where I was and I knew how miserable it made me feel. I don’t ever want to feel that way again.

As supervisors, I think we have a duty to create the type of environment where this stuff just doesn’t happen.

Adriane: 

Question #8: Do you have a favorite management, or leadership book, and why? 15:11 

Dr. Steve Albrecht:  

I’m kind of old school. There’s a writer in San Diego, where I used to be, named Bob Nelson. Bob Nelson’s claim to fame—he’s really well known for writing books about motivation; and really well known for writing books about rewards. One of his big, best sellers back in the day was, 1001 Ways to Reward Employees. 

I thought it was really a cool book. It has literally 1001 ideas about how to do things for employees ranging from pizza day, to announcing their success at a City Council Meeting, or something like that. So, literally lots and lots of ways to catch people doing the right things in their jobs. I think in this day and age, sometimes it’s easy to take employees for granted and say, Oh, they know that they’re doing a good job. I tell them all the time, when in reality they don’t remember the last time they got a lot of praise from their bosses. I like that book a lot. 

There’s a book I use in my training all the time called, Verbal Judo, and it’s written by a guy named George Thompson. He passed away several years ago. He was a cop in Tampa, Florida, and he was also a professor of Rhetoric. So, he taught language and language skills. Verbal Judo is a really useful book for talking to people, especially under stress.

Adriane: 

Question #9: Thank you for sharing those. They sound like great resources. And, you’ve done a lot of work with libraries to help make them the best places possible. What do libraries mean to you, personally? 16:27 

Dr. Steve Albrecht:  

I’ve always been a book guy. I was an English major in college. I’ve written twenty-three books myself, so far. I’m always writing columns, or blogs, or books. Words have been a huge part of my life since I was a kid. I really put that on my parents. My parents took me to the library in San Diego, and this was back in the 70’s. They would drop me off all afternoon, and say, Come back with as many books as you want to check out. I think the limit was five back in those days. I would come in with my five books, and they’d check out the books for me, and I was in heaven until the next week when I would go back down again. They would drop me off at the library, and I would spend all day looking for stuff. 

So, I think as a writer, and Steven King has said this, That you have to be a good reader, first. Whether you read anything at all on any topic, makes you a better writer. So, my basis for being, I think, a fairly good writer is that I was a really good reader.

Adriane: 

…love that. Thank you so much for sharing that. It just warms my heart as a librarian. And Steve, thanks for sharing all this information too, about bullying and harassment, and how we can prevent this in libraries. It is really an important issue. And like you say, if don’t do this we will lose great people in libraries. So, this work really means a lot, and I really appreciate your work in it. Thank you for being here.

Dr. Steve Albrecht:  

Thanks very much for having me.

You’ve been listening to Library Leadership Podcast. I’m your host, Adriane Herrick Juarez. Our producer is Nate Vineyard. More episodes can be found at libraryleadershippodcast.com, where you can now subscribe to have new shows delivered right into your email inbox. You can also find the show on Apple iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. Thank you for listening. We’ll see you next time.

We would like to thank the Park City Library for their dedicated support of this show. The opinions expressed on this show are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect the views of Library Leadership Podcast or our sponsors. 

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