Hey, Book Nerders. I get up on my soapbox a bit in response to this week’s question, so please bear with me. It’s with (what I think is) good reason.
Dear Book Nerd:
What’s the best pick-up line to use on a book-nerd or librarian?
My initial response, without having any additional information from you, is this: NO. No, no, no. Don’t do it, Bruce. Don’t be that guy who uses a pick-up line. Especially don’t be that guy who uses a pick-up line on someone in her* place of work. MOST especially don’t be that guy who uses a pick-up line in a LIBRARIAN’S place of work. I might be showing some heavy bias with that last one, but the point remains: NO.
I realize that you were probably trying to be lighthearted and tongue-in-cheek, Bruce, so I’m sorry if my response seems harsh or lacks humor. But because I’ve been reading SO much lately (as in, forever) about problems women are having with unwanted attention/sexual harassment in professional contexts (not to mention the fact that I have experienced this myself), I’d like to use your question as a springboard to discuss these issues because 1) they illustrate a bigger societal problem, and 2) they don’t seem to be going away anytime soon.
*(Note: for the purposes of this column, I’ve made a lot of assumptions – for example, I’ve assumed that you, Bruce, requested a pick-up line for a librarian because you intend to try to pick him/her up IN the library. This may or may not be the case, but just go with me here. Also, in the interest of simplicity, I’m going to be using “her” instead of “him/her” where both can apply. Please keep in mind, though, readers, that these issues can and do apply to ALL gender identifications, and harassment happens in contexts other than just males harassing females.)
So, why am I getting all worked up over the idea of someone using a pick-up line in a library? It’s just a little harmless flirting, right? There is, of course, an appropriate time and a place for flirting, and it’s not that I think that men should NEVER EVER TALK TO WOMEN, EVER. But, first of all, there’s something about pick-up lines that is inherently creepy and off-putting. Can you seriously expect a librarian lady to start swooning after you approach her at the reference desk and say a line like this?
“Giiirrl, I’m glad I brought my library card, ’cause I’m checking you out!”
No, sir. No you cannot.
(And if you want to read some really bad librarian pick-up lines, LIS News made a compilation a few years ago: “20 Sure Fire Lines To Pickup A Librarian.” Just DON’T USE THEM ON REAL PEOPLE, WHATEVER YOU DO.)
Aside from the fact that it’s just really annoying to be hit on in your place of work (we’re professionals, dammit), it also has the potential to create an extremely uncomfortable situation for the person being hit on. It’s true that these would-be “Ref Desk Romeos,” as I like to call them, can provide good story fodder. This conversation took place between me and a rather rudely aggressive male patron sometime last year:
Man: “You married?”
Me: “I have a boyfriend.”
Man: “You cheat on him?”
Man: “Well if you ever break up, keep me in mind.”
Romantic, right? SO ROMANTIC. It’s also kind of funny in retrospect, and it’s definitely not the most serious form of harassment I or other women have experienced, whether within their place of work or not. In the moment, though, I was honestly a little freaked out. Worse, every time the guy returned to the library after that, I would feel vulnerable and on edge. Because the problem was, I didn’t know what might happen next. I didn’t know this guy’s personality (aside from the rude aggressiveness), I didn’t know how he might respond to anything I’d say, I didn’t know his capacity for violence or stalking, and I certainly didn’t feel like giving him any personal information about myself. Plus, the interaction interfered with my ability to properly do my job, and that’s not cool.
So, this is my general problem with pick-up lines and hitting on women and creepin’ on ladies at work (or on the street or wherever, really). The line between innocent flirting and predatory harassment is very thin and very easy to cross. And the worst part? At some point, women have just learned to expect it and tolerate it. We’re told we’re not being a good sport if we don’t play along. This is not okay. This is wrong.
Let me give you a few examples of this happening to other awesome book nerd gals around town (because a good librarian always provides further resources). In her post “The Creepy Librarian Stalker Hypothesis,” Sarah Houghton (a.k.a. The Librarian in Black), blogged about some harrowing sexual harassment she experienced at professional conferences and what to do if it happens to you. Writer Delilah S. Dawson’s post “On Sexism in Publishing” details her experiences as a female author and talks about how women should not be silent in the face of harassment. Aaaand here’s a post about harassment happening at fantasy conventions. Aaaand here’s a post about it happening at comic book conventions. (Don’t forget the twitter account Everyday Sexism, which is dedicated to documenting the ridiculous misogyny that people encounter on a daily basis. It’s disturbing, important stuff.) This discussion doesn’t even include street harassment, domestic abuse, rape culture. But it’s all connected, and it’s happening errrrverywhere. Women are getting harassed from all sides and it NEEDS. TO. STOP.
Whew. My soapbox is hurting.
Of course, poor Bruce, the burden is not entirely on your shoulders. We’re not going to solve the overarching issues of sexism and harassment in a single day, and the world won’t end if you use a cheesy pick-up line. However, if we as individuals make small changes in our lives and small changes in the way we treat other people and talk to each other, perhaps we can slowly chip away at the larger societal problems or, at the very least, make life more enjoyable and comfortable for those around us.
And if you seriously think that this book-nerd/librarian is your potential soul mate, don’t set out to be a pick-up artist. Take cues from that other person. Treat her/him like a human being. Get to know her/him at a distance. Don’t ask too many personal questions, don’t push, don’t assume or expect anything. Be friendly, be witty, be polite, be genuine, but above all, be respectful. In my experience, things have a funny way of working out if they are supposed to (but not if they are forced to). And you certainly don’t want to be banned from the library for being a creeper, right? Think of all the FREE BOOKS you’d miss out on!
Thank you for being my scapegoat today, Bruce. I’m sure you are a perfectly nice, non-creepy person and I appreciate you taking all of this in stride. And thank you for allowing me to use your question in a way that I hope maybe helps both prospective pick-up artists and their pickees. Because, hey, love makes the world go ’round, right? But healthy, happy love isn’t borne out of discomfort, unease, or pressure. We deserve better, and we can DO better.
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