or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk



Reference Question of the Week – 3/23/08

   March 29th, 2008

Seal of the Commonwealth of MassachusettsWorking with the public has good and bad aspects. Some of the best times I've had with patrons is when they take time out of their information seeking to just be a normal person. This is one of those times.

An obviously distressed woman approaches me at the desk. She says her son is a special-needs student at a school in a nearby community (she didn't feel comfortable going to her hometown library with this), but she doesn't feel like he's getting the attention he requires. She has been going around and around with various school administrators, but they haven't been cooperating with her efforts to find out just what is being provided for her son on a daily basis.

Someone told her that Chapter 766 of the State Laws addressed the public school system paying to send a special-needs kid to a private school, and she wanted me to help her find the actual text of this law.

Alright, that's pretty straight-forward.

The General Laws of Massachusetts are online, so I went to this on the desk computer. We tried searching for "chapter 766," but nothing came up. Then we tried a keyword search for "special education," and that lead us to Chapter 71b - Children with Special Needs.

After a quick skim of the table of contents, the patron felt that what she needed must be here. She jotted down the URL and went to one of the public computers to continue her search for the chapter section that addresses private special education.

About a half an hour later, I stopped by her computer to see how she was doing. She was smiling as she read, but when I asked her if she was finding what she needed, she looked at me as if I had just caught her with her hand in the cookie jar.

Apparently, she sat down at the computer and typed in the address for the laws search, but instead of searching for "special education," started searching for other things - like "blasphemy," "exhibition" and others - just to see what funny laws Massachusetts had on the books.

And it has many. She and I clicked through and read quite a few, and a had a good time speculating what the origins of the laws were, the seemingly arbitrary penalties, and what kind of news it would make if they were enforced today. Our favorites were all under Chapter 272 - Crimes against Chastity, Morality, Decency and Good Order, and here are some highlights:

It was fun to just spontaneously enjoy something with a patron, rather than seeing her as someone to help and move on. And she seemed to really enjoy the diversion, too, as what she came in to research was fairly serious. So, yay for a good library experience.




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3 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 3/23/08”

  1. Meg Says:

    There’s nothing better than a spontaneous exchange with a customer! Next time you have a Mass. law question, check out the “Law About” pages of the Mass. Trial Court Law Libraries (http://www.lawlib.state.ma.us/lawabout.html). Our “Law About Special Ed” page at http://www.lawlib.state.ma.us/speced.html includes links to the law, regs, and a bunch of web sources on special education in Massachusetts. We put them together, in part, because of how hard it can be to find things like Chapter 766. We also have a table of Mass. General Laws by Popular Name at http://www.lawlib.state.ma.us/popname.html which lists things like Chapter 766, Lemon Law, Melanie’s Law, etc.

  2. Brian Herzog Says:

    Thanks Meg – those are both great resources, and I will definitely be using them at the desk.

  3. Carleen Says:

    What fun. We’ve come across some pretty strange laws in Oklahoma too when doing reference questions like this.