06_Barr-Walker_etal

Sexual Harassment at University of California Libraries: Understanding the Experiences of Library Staff Members

In the first study measuring sexual harassment experiences of academic library employees at a single institution, we conducted a census of 1,610 nonstudent employees at the 10-campus University of California Libraries system. This anonymous online survey measured how sexual harassment was experienced and observed in terms of behaviors, exhibitors, reporting and disclosure, institutional support and betrayal, and recommendations for future actions. Out of 579 respondents, 54% experienced and/or observed sexual harassment at work. Respondents recommended training, workplace culture change, support from leadership, and clear reporting processes in order to address sexual harassment at University of California Libraries.

Introduction

“Men on my staff are allowed to express strong opinions, even if they are counter to the opinions of our administration. When women have done this, they are shut down immediately and written off. People perpetuate rumors that women are difficult to work with while men are just being who they are.”
(Note: The quotes at the beginning of each section are a selection of survey responses from our study.)

In a 2018 pilot study that surveyed library employees at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) campus about sexual harassment experiences, 48 percent of respondents indicated that they had experienced sexual harassment at work.1 These findings provided the impetus for the current study and correspond to results of a 2018 report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), which noted that, within academia, more than 50 percent of women faculty and staff and 20 to 50 percent of women students encounter or experience sexual harassment.2 Despite NASEM’s findings about the prevalence of this issue in academia, sexual harassment of academic library employees has not been comprehensively studied.

The University of California (UC) system comprises 10 campuses within the state of California. Campuses are located in Berkeley, Davis, Irvine, Los Angeles, Merced, Riverside, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, San Diego, and San Francisco, locations that are physically and culturally removed from each other. In addition to disparate locations, campuses are different sizes and face different challenges; for example, Berkeley, Los Angeles, and San Diego have large enrollments between 35,000 and 44,000 students, whereas Merced and San Francisco are smaller (between 3,100 and 8,000 students) and are located in rural and urban settings, respectively. Though each UC campus library is a part of the larger UC Libraries system, which has a long tradition of collaboration and sharing, they also operate autonomously in many ways. We wondered if the results of the UCSF pilot study would be similar if extrapolated to the other campuses.

Building on the results of the UCSF pilot, we conducted a research study to understand the scope of this issue across the UC Libraries system. The aim of our study was to explore sexual harassment experiences of nonstudent employees at University of California Libraries. Our research questions included:

  • What types of sexual harassment behaviors have UC Libraries employees experienced?
  • Who exhibits sexual harassment behaviors to UC Libraries employees?
  • What associations exist between sexual harassment experiences and intersectional identities such as race or gender?
  • Are there differences in sexual harassment experiences across UC campuses?
  • How do UC Libraries employees view their institutions’ actions around sexual harassment?

As we explored these questions, our objectives were to:

  • Measure sexual harassment experiences qualitatively and quantitatively, including types of behaviors experienced and user categories of those who exhibit behaviors
  • Measure opinions of library staff regarding institutional support around sexual harassment
  • Produce policy and training recommendations for UC Libraries based on our findings

We hoped that by sharing the results of our study, we could begin systemwide conversations about how to address sexual harassment of UC Libraries staff members. While our study design and resulting recommendations were specific to UC Libraries, it is our hope that sharing these results widely will inspire others to begin similar conversations on their campuses.

Literature Review

“I have felt coerced into giving hugs initiated by a superior.”

Despite increased attention worldwide in workplaces, the media, and everyday life, sexual harassment remains a major problem in academia. Headlines, op-ed pieces, social media, and anecdotal conversations underscore both the impact and prevalence of unwanted harassment in multiple spaces, including the workplace. The 2018 NASEM report lists lowered job satisfaction and mental and physical withdrawal from work responsibilities as possible outcomes for employees.3 People who experience sexual harassment can lose trust in their institutions, especially if they do not perceive that these institutions have done enough to prevent it. In a study using the Institutional Betrayal and Support Questionnaire, graduate students who experienced sexual harassment from faculty or staff members were more likely to report “institutional betrayal” or a lack of support from their institution following their experiences.4 Within the library setting, there is some evidence that a certain amount of sexual harassment is normalized. In a 2018 study of academic librarians, 77.4 percent of respondents indicated that they had experienced at least one of the sexual harassment behaviors listed in the survey.5 Two anecdotal surveys of librarians showed similar results. In the first survey, 63 percent of public library respondents encountered sexual harassment at work, and the second survey received more than 250 responses to a call asking for librarians to submit stories about sexual harassment experiences.6 In the latter survey, story after story of sexual harassment in libraries were provided, which paints a disturbing picture of the types of harassment that library workers experience day in and day out.7 Library workers who have made efforts to address sexual harassment of employees at their organizations have suggested the importance of culture change, including actions like developing clear policies and procedures around this issue, organizing bystander training and role-playing exercises for staff to help them feel calm and in control during an experience of harassment, and opening up dialogue between administrators and employees to encourage library workers to speak about this issue.8

Methods

“It hasn’t happened in a while but I can say that it has happened a handful of times—always uncalled for and always from people I thought were being friendly at first.”

We developed a research protocol that included information about our study design, data analysis techniques, and project plan (see appendix A). To raise awareness of our study and solicit feedback, we shared our protocol with several administrative groups, including: 1) Council of University Librarians (includes the university librarian from each UC campus and the executive director of the California Digital Library); 2) Administrative Services Advisory Group (reports to the Council of University Librarians and advises on matters related to human resources); 3) Librarians Association of the University of California (a statewide organization of all UC librarians); and 4) the CARE Directors Group (sexual violence prevention advocates located on each UC campus). To ensure that we considered the unique needs of each UC campus, we created an Advisory Team, made up of employee representatives from each campus library, to advise on study aims, survey content, dissemination plans, and future actions. Our study was approved by the University of California, San Francisco Institutional Review Board in accordance with the UC Multi-Campus Human Subject Research MOU as exempt research for multi-campus distribution (#18-25552).9

Survey Creation and Distribution

“I had a supervisor who would direct suggestive comments and jokes toward me, and make comments of a sexual nature concerning my marriage.”

We used REDCap, a secure, web-based survey application, to create and distribute an anonymous online survey to all eligible employees who worked in University of California Libraries (n = 1,610) during 6 weeks in November and December 2018. Eligible participants were either 1) a nonstudent employee working in a UC Library that reported to the University Librarian or 2) a member of the Librarians Association of the University of California; other affiliate library employees were not eligible. Because of UC guidelines around mandated reporting, which state that all employees with supervisory responsibilities must report incidents of sexual harassment among UC employees, it was necessary to ensure anonymity of the survey.10 We shared the survey via an anonymous link and instructed participants not to share any potentially identifying information, such as names or departments, in write-in questions. To provide further support, we shared contact information for the sexual violence prevention offices (CARE) on each campus within the informed consent form and throughout the survey. All survey questions were optional, and participants were invited to skip questions or stop the survey at any time if they did not feel comfortable.

The survey included six parts: 1) which sexual harassment behaviors participants experienced at UC Libraries; 2) from whom participants experienced sexual harassment behaviors (measured in user categories, such as UC staff, library staff, members of the public); 3) how participants felt their UC campus library and the University of California has supported them with regard to their experience of sexual harassment, using the Institutional Betrayal and Support Questionnaire11 and questions about the importance of addressing sexual harassment; 4) how UC Libraries can address sexual harassment in the future; 5) demographic information, including gender and campus; and 6) how participants felt their intersectional identities affect their experiences of sexual harassment (see appendix B).

Sexual harassment behaviors listed in the survey were developed through an iterative process involving feedback from our Advisory team, CARE advocates, and use of an existing scale.12 We also included the Institutional Betrayal and Support Questionnaire version 1 (IBSQ.1), which measures feelings around “wrongdoings perpetrated by an institution upon individuals dependent on that institution, including failure to prevent or respond supportively to wrongdoings by individuals (e.g. sexual harassment) committed within the context of the institution.”13

Because of the lack of diversity within libraries,14 which is reflected in the population of UC Libraries employees, and the need for maintaining anonymity of participants, we were unable to collect specific demographic information including racial identity and sexual orientation. We believe this information is important to understand the intersectional experiences of library staff members, especially those in underrepresented groups; therefore, we included a question about how participants felt their intersectional identities affect experiences of sexual harassment.

Data Analysis

“Comments on my appearance have happened from colleagues and from users. It always makes me uncomfortable.”

Data cleaning, codebook creation, and quantitative analysis were completed by one author in Microsoft Excel, Google Docs, and Stata (JBW). We assigned each of the four questions with write-in responses to a team of two authors to conduct thematic analysis, with each team responsible for two questions. Participant responses were reviewed independently by authors in each team who then shared their ideas about emerging themes, came to consensus on thematic codes, and independently assigned codes to each response. Interrater reliability was conducted, with both authors checking each response and resolving any discrepancies between code assignments via deliberation until resolution. To protect the anonymity of participants, no data beyond aggregate results will be shared.

Results

We created visual representations of our study results on a website to share with our colleagues, which can be found at https://uclibraries.wixsite.com/shstudy.15

Participant Demographics

“I would share, but I worry that my colleague might see my response in the survey results.”

Out of a possible 1,610 respondents, 579 individuals completed the survey (36% response rate), including 349 women (60%), 142 men (25%), 4 of another gender identity (1%), and 84 people (14%) who preferred not to state their gender or left the question blank. Participants represented all UC campuses, with the highest number of respondents from the two largest campuses, UCLA and UC Berkeley (see figure 1). Response rates were highest at campuses with smaller populations, with UC Merced (68%), UC Santa Cruz (45%), and UC San Francisco (45%) representing the top three. Seventy-five participants (13%) preferred not to list their campus.

FIGURE 1

Survey Respondents by UC Campus (n = 579)

Survey Respondents by UC Campus (n = 579)

Experiences and Behaviors

“The behaviors happen while at service desks, when you are exposed to the public and feel like you cannot leave your post.”

Fifty-four percent of UC Libraries employees (n = 313) who responded to our survey had experienced and/or observed sexual harassment at work. Of these, 63 percent were women, 20 percent were men, 15 percent preferred not to list their gender, and 2 percent represented an additional gender.

Every behavior we asked about in our survey was experienced and observed by library employees, with 313 respondents providing 1,016 responses (more than one behavior could be selected by each participant). Behaviors ranged from 9 to 225 individual responses, with 3 percent of participants having experienced and/or observed physical violence and 50 percent of respondents having experienced and/or observed gender harassment, defined as frequently treating you differently because of your gender. We asked participants how they experienced harassment: by experiencing it themselves, observing it directed at others, or both. Gender harassment and commenting on appearance were experienced much more than they were observed directed at others, while making sexual comments, staring or leering, and spreading sexual rumors were observed more than they were experienced (see figure 2).

FIGURE 2

Sexual Harassment Behaviors Grouped by Experience Only, Observation Only, or Both Experience and Observation

Sexual Harassment Behaviors Grouped by Experience Only, Observation Only, or Both Experience and Observation

n = 313 respondents, with 1,016 total responses

Of the 313 participants who reported experiencing sexual harassment, more observed it directed at others than experiencing it themselves (see figure 3). Men were far more likely to observe harassment than experience it, while women experienced it more than they observed it.

FIGURE 3

Respondents Who Experienced and/or Observed Sexual Harassment at Work, Overall, and by Gender

Respondents Who Experienced and/or Observed Sexual Harassment at 
Work, Overall, and by Gender

n = Overall (313 respondents, 1,016 responses),* Women (198 respondents, 646 responses), Men (63 respondents, 205 responses)*

*Overall total includes responses from participants who selected Additional Gender or Prefer not to say.

Figure 4 demonstrates the range of sexual harassment behaviors experienced and/or observed by UC Libraries employees by gender. Overall, there were no behaviors for which women experienced sexual harassment less than men. For each behavior, men observed harassment more than they experienced or experienced and observed it, and the reverse was true for women.

FIGURE 4

Sexual Harassment Behaviors Experienced and/or Observedby UC Libraries Employees by Gender

Sexual Harassment Behaviors Experienced and/or Observed
by UC Libraries Employees by Gender

n = 313 respondents, with 1,016 total responses

The free-text responses to the question demonstrated the variety of ways these types of behaviors can be exhibited and interpreted:

“I have experienced frequent comments on my appearance and unwanted hugs by UC Library staff. These actions were not at all malicious in nature but for me they went beyond professional boundaries and made me uncomfortable.”
“Once a librarian had [sexually explicit material] on the shared computer at the front, [sic] circulation desk. He not only watched it, he insisted that I watch it, and anyone who walked by, including student employees, he did the same by pressuring all of [sic] to see it.”
“Have been told repeatedly by co-workers and supervisors that the choice to be a mom and work part time during their childhood is damaging to my career and I should rethink.”
“I was intimidated and assaulted by a patron.”

Three-hundred thirteen participants representing 651 total responses (more than one option could be selected) demonstrated the range of exhibitors of sexual harassment of UC Libraries employees. The most common exhibitors were other UC Libraries staff, with 63 percent of respondents selecting this category, followed by members of the public (45%) and students (26%) (see figure 5). Corresponding with the overall results, women experienced sexual harassment from all exhibitors more than men. For example, of the participants who experienced and/or observed sexual harassment from UC Libraries staff, 61 percent were women and 20 percent were men; this trend was reflected for all categories of exhibitors.

FIGURE 5

Exhibitors of Sexual Harassment Behaviors toward UC Libraries Staff Members

Exhibitors of Sexual Harassment Behaviors toward UC Libraries Staff Members

n = 313 respondents, with 651 total responses

Reporting

“A colleague had a donor make inappropriate comments at a fundraising event. The colleague told her supervisor and the response was ‘leave well enough alone’ due to the donor’s importance to the library.”

Seventy-four percent of respondents who experienced sexual harassment at work chose not to report or disclose their experiences, including 73 percent of women and 77 percent of men. Reasons why participants decided not to report or disclose their experiences or observances included feeling that the behaviors were not significant enough to report, believing that their experiences would not be taken seriously, fear of retaliation, and not knowing exactly where to report (see figure 6). The free-text responses demonstrated the variety of reasons why people chose not to report or disclose their experiences, as well as varying beliefs and attitudes about sexual harassment:

FIGURE 6

Reasons Why Respondents Chose Not to Report or Disclose Their Experiences of Sexual Harassment at UC Libraries (n = 260)

Reasons Why Respondents Chose Not to Report or Disclose Their Experiences of Sexual Harassment at UC Libraries (n = 260)

“The person worked here for a very long time and behavior was known and ignored.”
“Previous reports by other people resulted in punishment of the victim.”
“I was embarrassed and didn’t want to make a fuss.”
“If I were to report every time that I felt unfairly treated … I’d spend more time reporting than working.”
“The source of comments was an AUL [Associate University Librarian].”

Lack of knowledge of campus resources was a common theme for not reporting or disclosing sexual harassment. While 56 percent of respondents were aware of their Title IX office as a campus resource, far fewer were aware of other avenues to receive guidance, such as the UC’s confidential CARE offices (18%) or the Ombuds office (14%).

Among respondents who did report or disclose their sexual harassment experiences, 93 percent did so out of a feeling of responsibility. Some cited that they were mandatory reporters, as one respondent noted, “I am a supervisor: I was required by law.” Others noted a general concern for the safety of themselves and others in their libraries, such as, “I wanted to ensure this patron was not allowed in the library to repeat this behavior with other people.” Among participants who did report or disclose sexual harassment, 32 percent responded that it was not clear where to do this, and 55 percent of people reported or disclosed to more than one place. Overall, most respondents who reported or disclosed sexual harassment did so to a supervisor (51%), a colleague (47%), or to Human Resources (33%) (see figure 7).

FIGURE 7

Where Respondents Most Frequently Reported or Disclosed

Where Respondents Most Frequently Reported or Disclosed

n = 78 respondents, with 144 total responses

When asked if experiences of sexual harassment had impacted their work, the majority of participants said it had not (57%), while 19 percent said it had affected their work, 22 percent were not sure, and 2 percent preferred not to say. Among respondents who believed these experiences had affected their work, 67 percent identified as women.

Institutional Betrayal and Importance of Addressing Sexual Harassment

“A grad student was coming to the library to stare at women. The women would complain, often in tears.”

To get a sense of the relevance of this issue, we asked participants how important they considered addressing sexual harassment to be to themselves, to their UC campus library administration, and to their UC campus administration. While 66 percent of respondents felt that addressing sexual harassment at UC Libraries was very important to them, only 45 percent felt that their UC campus administration considered this issue to be very important, and fewer (43%) felt that their own campus library administration considered this issue very important. Overall, very few respondents (1%) felt that addressing sexual harassment was unimportant, 3 percent felt that their UC campus administration considered it unimportant, and a larger percentage (5%) believed that their UC campus library administration considered it unimportant.

A set of our survey questions measured how respondents felt their UC campus administration and/or their library administration supported them with regard to their experience of sexual harassment. These questions only appeared for respondents who reported or disclosed to their Title IX office or supervisor (49 eligible, between 36 and 42 completed each question) and were measured using the 26-question Institutional Betrayal and Support Questionnaire described previously.16 We divided the questionnaire into three sections (Support, Betrayal, and Discrimination) and averaged the responses for each section to report overall scores and trends. Figure 8 lists examples of questions that were identified by participants as areas where the institution was not supportive; for the first six example questions under Support and Betrayal sections in figure 8, participants experienced betrayal more than support. For example, for the question “Did the institution allow you to have a say in how your report was handled?” 41 percent of respondents said no, 36 percent said yes, and 23 percent said n/a. While the majority of participants who reported or disclosed sexual harassment experiences felt supported by the institution (45%, 52%, and 65% for Support, Betrayal, and Discrimination sections, respectively), some felt unsupported, betrayed, or discriminated against during this process (27%, 27%, 8%).

FIGURE 8

How Respondents Felt Supported, Betrayed, or Discriminated Against by Their Institution

Selected Questions

Average Responses

How Respondents Felt Supported, Betrayed, or Discriminated Against by Their Institution

n = between 36 and 42 for each question

Individual Campus Results

“I’m not comfortable doing so because I’m concerned that, even if I omit names, describing some of my experiences would make it possible for the people who have performed these acts to identify me.”

Overall, 13 percent of survey participants preferred not to state their campus, and 15 percent of people who experienced and/or observed harassment preferred not to do so. Among participants who selected their campus, results for each of the 10 UC campuses reflected the overall results, with individual campus comparisons showing minimal differences across variables. We performed descriptive statistics only; significance testing was not conducted, as our goal was not to compare campuses but to provide customized results to each campus for their own information. Overall, campus response rates ranged from 22 (UCLA) to 68 percent (UC Merced), with a range of 39 (UC Irvine) to 69 percent (UC Berkeley) of respondents experiencing and/or observing sexual harassment, reflecting the overall rate of 54 percent. Behaviors were similar across campuses, with comments on appearance listed as the first or second most common behavior at 10 campuses and gender harassment at eight campuses. At eight campuses, UC Library staff were the most frequently listed exhibitor of sexual harassment, followed by members of the public. Among respondents who experienced and/or observed sexual harassment, between 11 (UC Merced) and 33 percent (UCLA & UC Santa Cruz) reported or disclosed, most often to supervisors, Title IX offices, and Human Resources. Knowledge of the confidential CARE office as a resource varied by campus, ranging from 1 percent of participants (UC Irvine and UC Santa Cruz) to 23 percent (UC Berkeley). Additional details about specific campus results are listed in table 1.

TABLE 1

Detailed Results by Campus

Response Rate

Percent Who Have Experienced/Observed Sexual Harassment

Percent Who Have Reported Their Experiences

UC Berkeley

26%

69%

23%

UC Davis

27%

44%

27%

UC Irvine

20%

39%

25%

UCLA

22%

47%

33%

UC Merced

68%

43%

11%

UC Riverside

30%

56%

31%

UC San Diego

36%

47%

24%

UC San Francisco

42%

65%

26%

UC Santa Barbara

45%

56%

21%

UC Santa Cruz

45%

50%

33%

Preferred not to state campus

N/A

63%

32%

Intersectionality

“I am not sure if it is because I am a woman/female, but I get asked to do the cleaning up of space, or tidying up of space, more so than my male counterpart. I get that I am good at it, but it seemed like my boss picked on the women to do that sort of manual labor. Didn’t feel right.”

Fifty-nine participants wrote in responses that reflected on the parts of their identity (such as gender, race, sexual orientation, socioeconomic class) they felt affected their experiences of sexual harassment at UC Libraries. Because of the individual and heterogeneous nature of these experiences, we found it difficult to draw conclusions from this data; however, the number of responses suggests that this is an area where further study is warranted. Although we were unable to draw conclusions from these disparate findings, we have categorized responses by major themes, which indicate that many respondents found these aspects of their identities to be important and suggest that gender and race, in particular, are important in this discussion (see figure 9).

FIGURE 9

Word Cloud Representing Responses Regarding How Participants Felt Their Identities Affected Their Experience of Sexual Harassment

Word Cloud Representing Responses Regarding How Participants Felt Their Identities Affected Their Experience of Sexual Harassment

Recommendations

“Administration does not seem to treat complaints from staff as seriously as they do from students.”

We received 224 responses to this question: “What kinds of steps or actions would you like to see from UC Libraries or your campus library in addressing sexual harassment?” Although all University of California employees are required to complete mandatory sexual harassment training every two years,17 the most frequent recommendation from participants was around training and education, with specific requests that it be mandatory, in-person, and focused on bystander interventions, role-playing, and resources for reporting. Four additional themes emerged as recommendations: workplace culture change; consequences for harassers; support from leadership, including clear communication and regular statements on this issue; and clear, documented reporting guidelines and processes. Responses to this question highlighted disparities in experiences among UC Libraries staff members: while 20 percent of respondents believed additional actions were not needed, 13 percent reported that the current administration is not supportive around this issue.

Discussion

“When I told my supervisor the response was ‘Oh, that’s just how they act; no need to worry’ or ‘Okay, I will pass on the info’ with no follow-up.”

Sexual harassment clearly exists at UC campuses, and there is space for work to be done to combat it. Happily, at most UC campuses, there is a desire among staff and leadership to take action going forward. In the time since our study was completed, we visited 8 of 10 UC campuses to share overall and campus-specific results and facilitated discussions about our study’s recommendations. Two of the 10 campuses (UC Davis and UC Riverside) responded that they were not interested in a presentation by our study team and their campus CARE director to discuss campus-specific results. All UC Libraries employees were also invited to a webinar to discuss study findings. As a result of our work, several UC campus libraries have held brainstorming sessions on this topic, incorporated CARE representatives into training efforts, and folded efforts into larger diversity-focused initiatives. It has been heartening to see this progress being made in so many different places, even though there is clearly much work to be done. During campus visits, we invited CARE and Title IX representatives to co-present our sessions to provide additional information, answer questions from library staff in the context of our study results, and facilitate a connection between these offices and each campus library. Although most survey participants were aware of their Title IX office as a resource, an overwhelming majority of library employees who completed the survey (99% on some campuses) were not aware of CARE’s confidential support services for sexual harassment. We recommend partnering with both of these groups (or their equivalents) to raise awareness of these services and use the expertise of those familiar with the campus landscape, policies, and resources in this area.

One question raised by our study is the role of training in preventing and addressing sexual harassment at work. Interestingly, the most frequent recommendation from survey participants was training or education of some kind. With more university systems requiring regular training on this issue, it is worth investigating how training effectiveness is measured and tracked and how improvements might be made to current training efforts. The University of California requires all employees to participate in mandatory sexual harassment training every two years,18 yet sexual harassment is still happening. Perhaps implementing the recommendations of survey participants, including an in-person training that includes role-playing, bystander intervention scenarios, situations specific to libraries, and a focus on reporting guidelines would allow employees to feel more empowered; this remains to be seen.

Our study findings may also assist in developing training informed by the real-life experiences of library staff that meets their self-identified needs. As UC Library staff were the most frequent exhibitors of sexual harassment behaviors, training could first focus on this population. Additionally, we found that gender harassment and commenting on appearance were the most frequent types of behaviors experienced and/or observed by study participants, which is consistent with existing research on sexual harassment experiences in academia.19 Importantly, these two behaviors were experienced more often than observed, while making sexual comments, staring or leering, and spreading sexual rumors were observed more often than experienced. Thus, there may be opportunities for bystander training for certain types of behaviors, combined with education about what sexual and gender harassment can look like to address various behaviors according to how they’re actually experienced and observed by library staff. In addition to the fact that women experience harassment more than men, our findings showed that UC Libraries employees have different experiences of sexual harassment based on their individual identities and how these intersect. There is an opportunity to include these considerations in designing training efforts that highlight differences in the ways that people experience sexual harassment. Finally, our findings about the places participants report or disclose indicate a need for education about reporting resources, particularly regarding the fact that more than 30 percent of people did not know where to report on their campus, and 82 percent (between 77% and 99% on individual campuses) were not aware of CARE’s confidential support services. Supervisors, colleagues, and Human Resources, the top three places that participants identified as reporting or disclosing to, are all located in the library, indicating a need for library staff training that highlights available resources for employees interested in reporting or disclosing their experiences.

Moving Forward

“They weren’t acts of sexual harassment. They were part of normal daily interaction. If we are always looking for something wrong, you will find everything offensive.”

While most library employees were supportive of our study, we encountered pushback from some individuals and campus representatives. The fact that some respondents considered addressing sexual harassment to be unimportant and 5 percent believed their UC campus library considered this issue unimportant speaks to the different experiences and beliefs of library staff across the UC system. Similarly, the varied experiences of support, betrayal, and discrimination of those disclosing or reporting sexual harassment points to the fact that this process can be greatly improved. The 15 percent of participants who experienced and/or observed sexual harassment and did not feel comfortable listing their campus speaks to the complexity of this issue and the lack of support that some UC library employees have experienced. These findings, combined with the lack of interest of two UC campuses in a discussion of campus-specific results, suggests that there is still much work to be done to address sexual harassment at UC Libraries, and explicit support for this work needs to come from library leadership. The resistance to combating sexual harassment or even to discussing it strikes us as counterproductive, and we wonder about the viability of efforts to eliminate harassment without buy-in from important campus community members. As is reflected in the literature, our study found that experiences of sexual harassment can affect one’s work, and a lack of support from institutions can cause disruptions to work and sustainment of an unsupportive culture.20 In an academic library setting, this can affect quality of services and team morale. Additionally, if sexual harassment occurs within a library space, it is quite possible that, because they work where an incident occurred, UC Library employees can be triggered during other face-to-face interactions. While the goal of this study was to create recommendations for UC Libraries, our experiences conducting this research is an indication that taking action based upon this study will likely vary by campus across the UC Libraries system.

During one campus presentation, a library staff member asked how to foster cultural change, and the response we gave was to increase trust and accountability. This exchange reflects participant recommendations for support from leadership, consequences for harassers, and clearer reporting guidelines, though trust and accountability may be hard to measure and harder to instill. In the case of our study, if a UC campus does not recognize the importance and impact of sexual harassment, it can be difficult to foster trust and accountability throughout the system, requiring these qualities to stem from leadership beyond the library organization. Working within the organizational culture of the larger campus community may reveal benefits—or pose increased bureaucratic challenges. In one recent example, federal rules released in May 2020 that narrow definitions of sexual misconduct and limit rights of Title IX offices to conduct certain investigations were opposed by University of California president Janet Napolitano, particularly for the possibility that they “could deter already reluctant and sometimes traumatized complainants from coming forward.”21 Our study found that only 26 percent of participants who experienced sexual harassment reported their experiences; the further chilling effect of these new rules remains to be seen. Despite these external challenges, our study findings can provide a start for other libraries to think through the challenge of creating culture change within their environments, perhaps even starting with individual departments.

Limitations

“In a department which adheres to policy and has an Org Chart and clear approval routing, a co-worker said to me that our Director ‘lets me do whatever I want’ and suggested to others that I was having an affair w/ the Director.”

Our study has several limitations. While we made an effort to raise awareness about our study through the use of an Advisory Team, response rates varied widely across campuses, indicating that some campuses may have been underrepresented in our overall results. Because this study deals with a topic that can elicit varied reactions from participants, including survivors, those who experienced sexual harassment may be underrepresented. Similarly, those who have never experienced or observed sexual harassment may not have participated in the study. We attempted to counter this selection bias by working with CARE representatives to consider survey language from a survivor standpoint and by specifically stating in our survey invitation that those who have not experienced sexual harassment were encouraged to participate. We did not survey the experiences of student workers in our study; this remains an understudied area, as library student workers are often in forward-facing roles requiring them to interact with users. We were unable to collect demographic information including race and sexual orientation in our survey; this prevented us from making meaningful conclusions about the experiences of library employees from marginalized groups. Our results indicate that intersectionality affects experiences of sexual harassment, and we believe that more research is needed on this topic to understand these experiences. We used descriptive statistics, rather than significance testing of relationships, so we are unable to compare the experiences of employees from different campuses. This decision was made because we wanted to share results with each campus, rather than turn our findings into a competition between campuses or highlight results from any single institution; we believe this would be unproductive in starting conversations about addressing sexual harassment at individual UC campus libraries and across the UC Libraries system as a whole. Finally, we did not use an existing survey instrument like the Sexual Experiences Questionnaire;22 and our results may not be generalizable to other academic libraries, as we focused solely on the University of California system. However, because we were conducting action research with the goal of creating change at our institution, we believe our decision to measure behaviors and exhibitors that reflected individual experiences can better inform training efforts and other changes going forward.

Conclusion

“The comments I received and have observed others receiving are seemingly innocuous. However, I think this is part of the issue that something that seems not harmful still can be harmful.”

We measured sexual harassment experiences of 1,610 nonstudent employees at University of California Libraries, with 579 respondents (36%) participating in our study. Sexual harassment is happening at our libraries in various forms, is exhibited most often by UC Libraries staff members, and is not often being reported. UC Libraries employees feel supported by their institutions overall, but some have experienced institutional betrayal during the reporting process, and less than half of participants think their library considers addressing sexual harassment to be a very important issue. Culture change, support from leadership, consequences for harassers, and clear reporting processes are recommended by library employees to address sexual harassment. While training and education efforts were the most frequent recommendation, it remains to be seen if additional training will address sexual harassment at UC Libraries and beyond.

Acknowledgments

We would like to thank our Advisory Team: Jacqueline Bates, Allison R. Benedetti, Nicole E. Brown, Christy Brown Anderson, Heather K. Hughes, Jennifer Lee, Sarah Lindsey, Shu Liu, Jessica Pierucci, Philippe Robles-Fradet, Monalisa Ruiz, and Lynda Tolly; without their guidance and support, this study would not have been started, let alone completed. CARE and Title IX staff across the UC system graciously shared their expertise and time with us: the efforts of Karla Aguilar, Yesenia Curiel, Alison Hanson, Jared Jorde, Sarah Meredith, Mandy Mount, Julia Pennick, Elizabeth Rogers, and Liat Wexler are particularly appreciated. Special thanks to Denise Caramagno, LMFT, UCSF CARE, for coordinating connections to CARE directors and advocates, and for her continued guidance throughout the study. Thanks to our colleagues who provided feedback on this manuscript: Sara Davidson Squibb, Annie Pho, Micquel Little, and Chris Shaffer. Thank you to members of CoUL and ASAG who supported our study and those who shared their critiques with us openly. Finally, thank you to the 2018 LAUC Executive Board who helped us begin our study by sending out a call for advisory team members. We’ve been humbled by the outpouring of support across the UC system at every stage of this project and would like to thank our colleagues continuing this important work going forward.

APPENDIX A Study protocol

APPENDIX B. Survey instrument

Appendix B. Survey Instrument Page 1
Appendix B. Survey Instrument Page 2
Appendix B. Survey Instrument Page 3
Appendix B. Survey Instrument Page 4
Appendix B. Survey Instrument Page 5
Appendix B. Survey Instrument Page 6
Appendix B. Survey Instrument Page 7
Appendix B. Survey Instrument Page 8
Appendix B. Survey Instrument Page 9
Appendix B. Survey Instrument Page 10

Notes

1. Jill Barr-Walker et al., “Sexual Harassment in the Library: Understanding Experiences and Taking Action,” ACRL Proceedings (Apr. 2019): 421–27, www.ala.org/acrl/sites/ala.org.acrl/files/content/conferences/confsandpreconfs/2019/SexualHarassmentintheLibrary.pdf.

2. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), “Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine” (2018), https://doi.org/10.17226/24994.

3. NASEM, “Sexual Harassment of Women.”

4. Marina N. Rosenthal, Alec M. Smidt, and Jennifer J. Freyd, “Still Second Class: Sexual Harassment of Graduate Students,” Psychology of Women Quarterly 40, no. 3 (2016): 364–77.

5. Candice Benjes-Small et al., “Quantifying the #MeToo Narrative: Incidence and Prevalence of Sexual Harassment in Academic Libraries,” ACRL Proceedings (Apr. 2019): 62–73, www.ala.org/acrl/sites/ala.org.acrl/files/content/conferences/confsandpreconfs/2019/QuantifyingthemetooNarrative.pdf.

6. Kelly Jensen, “The State of Sexual Harassment in the Library,” Book Riot (Oct. 2017). https://bookriot.com/2017/10/24/sexualharassment-library/; Amanda Civitello, “#MeToo: Confronting Sexual Harassment in the Public Library,” Public Libraries (Sept./Oct. 2017).

7. Jensen, “The State of Sexual Harassment in the Library.”

8. Amanda Civitello and Katie McLain, “It’s Not Just Part of the Job: Speaking Out about Sexual Harassment,” ILA Reporter 6 (Nov. 2017): 4–7; Kelly Jensen, “Sexual Harassment in Libraries, Post-#MeToo: What Has and Hasn’t Changed?” Book Riot (Apr. 2019), https://bookriot.com/2019/04/08/sexual-harassment-in-libraries/.

9. University of California Office of the President, “Reliance MOU for IRB Review of Multi-Campus Human Subject Research” (Jul. 2016), https://www.ucop.edu/research-policy-analysis-coordination/policies-guidance/human-subjects/multi-campus-human-subject-research-MOU.html.

10. University of California Office of the President Human Resources, “Policy on Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence” (Jul. 2019), http://policy.ucop.edu/doc/4000385/SHSV.

11. Rosenthal, Smidt, and Freyd, “Still Second Class,” 364–77.

12. Louise F. Fitzgerald et al., “The Incidence and Dimensions of Sexual Harassment in Academia and the Workplace,” Journal of Vocational Behavior 32, no. 2 (Apr. 1988): 152–75.

13. Rosenthal, Smidt, and Freyd, “Still Second Class,” 364–77.

14. April Hathcock, “White Librarianship in Blackface: Diversity Initiatives in LIS,” In the Library with the Lead Pipe (Oct. 2015); Jennifer Vinopal, “The Quest for Diversity in Library Staffing: From Awareness to Action,” In the Library with the Lead Pipe (Jan. 2016).

15. Jill Barr-Walker et al., “Sexual Harassment at University of California Libraries: Understanding the Experiences of Staff Members” (2019), https://uclibraries.wixsite.com/shstudy.

16. Rosenthal, Smidt, and Freyd, “Still Second Class,” 364–77.

17. University of California Sexual Violence Prevention and Response, “Education and Training” (April 7, 2020), https://sexualviolence.universityofcalifornia.edu/education-training/.

18. University of California Sexual Violence Prevention and Response, “Education and Training.”

19. NASEM, “Sexual Harassment of Women,” 23–50; Amir Karami et al., “Unwanted Advances in Higher Education: Uncovering Sexual Harassment Experiences in Academia with Text Mining,” Information Processing & Management 57, no. 2 (Mar. 2020): 102167.

20. NASEM, “Sexual Harassment of Women,” 23–50.

21. University of California Office of the President, “UC Undeterred Despite Harmful Federal Sexual Harassment Rules” (May 6, 2020), https://sexualviolence.universityofcalifornia.edu/education-training/.

22. Fitzgerald et al., “The Incidence and Dimensions of Sexual Harassment in Academia and the Workplace,” 152–75.

*Jill Barr-Walker is Clinical Librarian at San Francisco General Hospital at the University of California, San Francisco, email: jill.barr-walker@ucsf.edu; Courtney Hoffner is Librarian at the University of California Los Angeles, email: choffner@library.ucla.edu; Elizabeth McMunn-Tetangco is Instruction & Research Librarian at the University of California Merced Library, email: emcmunn@ucmerced.edu; and Nisha Mody is Associate Director at the Network of the National Library of Medicine, Pacific Southwest Region, based at UCLA, email: nmody@library.ucla.edu. ©2021 Jill Barr-Walker, Courtney Hoffner, Elizabeth McMunn-Tetangco, and Nisha Mody, Attribution-NonCommercial (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/) CC BY-NC.

Copyright Jill Barr-Walker, Courtney Hoffner, Elizabeth McMunn-Tetangco, Nisha Mody


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Article Views (Last 12 Months)

No data available

Contact ACRL for article usage statistics from 2010-April 2017.

Article Views (By Year/Month)

2021
January: 0
February: 4
March: 790
April: 159