What is Patron-Perpetrated Sexual Harassment in Libraries?

Patron-perpetrated Sexual Harassment (PPSH) is the workplace sexual harassment of library workers by the very people they endeavor to support— library patrons. Despite growing calls within libraries and Library and Information Studies (LIS) to examine this issue, patron-perpetrated sexual harassment against library workers has been largely ignored and research on this topic is noticeably lacking. Under-reporting and normalizing of the issue has contributed to the lack of acknowledgement that this is a serious issue.

In 2021 we conducted an online survey of library workers across Canada about their workplace experiences of PPSH. Over 500 workers responded to the survey. The survey found that only 7% of library workers have never been sexually harassed at work while 20% have been harassed between 2-5 times. Most alarming, 33% of library workers have lost count or don’t know how many times they have been harassed. Library workers described experiencing a broad range of harassing experiences, from being called a pet name to being fondled or sexually assaulted

Frequency of PPSH in Libraries


Frequency of In-person Harassing Behaviours

Library workers have a lot to say about PPSH in the library:

“I love being a public librarian, but I believe the library profession does not take seriously the concerns of women regarding sexual harassment. We are almost constantly subjected to people making inappropriate comments and coming on to us without being empowered to handle it. The helpfulness ethic is so strong, and the fact that we are a profession traditionally filled with women, means that we are supposed to just smile and be nice.”

“It’s probably a water drop on a stone kind of effect. I would love to not have to deal with sexist BS every day of my life. It wears you out.”

“I appreciated that my manager took the time to talk to me. I felt strongly that my workplace had my back and respected my feelings.”

“It’s constant especially because its a female dominated industry for front line service”  

“I have yet to endure much myself, but colleagues have been assaulted, stalked and harassed for their sex, race, and orientation. It’s not fun.”

“The female librarian is a sexualized figure in many fantasies including pornography”

More information about our survey findings can be found here.

Our Research Project

The PPSH in libraries research project is being conducted by Dr. Danielle Allard, Dr. Tami Oliphant, and Angela Lieu at the School of Library and Information Studies, University of Alberta, in Edmonton, Alberta. We examine PPSH by hearing from library workers themselves, examining workplace policies and procedures, and applying intersectional feminist and anti-violence frameworks to our research. Our research project is in progress. Learn more about the project here.

This website will share information related to the PPSH in libraries project. Over the coming months we will add information and resources, building a hub for libraries, library workers, and interested students and scholars about PPSH in libraries and sexual harassment more broadly.