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

Reference Question of the Week – 3/25/12

   April 1st, 2012

No PornThis isn't exactly a reference question, but it is something reference staff deal with all the time. A patron came up to the desk and said,

That man on the last computer over there is looking at porn.

This seems to go in waves for us, but we probably average three or four porn complaints a month. The way we handle this in my library is to print out our Appropriate Library Behavior policy, and highlight the line that says,

The library is a public building and objectionable or pornographic images that can be seen by others (either intentionally or accidentally, and either on screen on in print) are not permissible.

I then give it to the patron in question, while at the same time saying something like, "another patron complained about something they saw on your screen. Since this is a public building, you must make sure that anything on your screen is appropriate for all ages."

At least, this is how we handle first-time offenders - we don't accuse them of anything, we don't kick them out, we just make it clear that anything they do must be clean enough for kids and the general public. We approach it this way because porn isn't illegal, but very subjective, and just not something we can allow at the library.

But it got me thinking: there are other things the library can't accommodate, for one reason or another: color photocopying, notary service, etc. In these cases, we have little handouts at the reference desk that list other locations in town that can accommodate those needs.

So, I thought, why don't we also make a handout for the porn people, listing other places in the area that cater to Adult Services? Here's what I came up with:

Adult Services bookmark

From now on, whenever a patron complains about someone looking at porn, in addition to giving them a copy of the official library policy, I'm also going to give them one of these handouts - that way, we're maintaining our yes-based policy and fulfilling a core library function by referring them to the most appropriate resource.

It's formatted to print three per page - feel free to download and edit one for your library [ppt], or check out the PDF version.

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14 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 3/25/12”

  1. Jpetroroy Says:

    Ha! You gave me pause there for a second!

  2. Katrina Says:

    Hmmm… I like the idea, but I wonder how Panera (and others) will feel when people are watching porn at their location and saying the library said it was okay.

  3. Katrina Says:

    Oh. Duh. I get it. :-)

  4. Kate Says:

    Nice. :D

  5. Helen Says:

    Interesting that you consider a lingerie shop to be in line with suggestions on adult reading material and prostitute meeting spots. Personally don’t think a person buying nice (and possibly suggestive) lingerie is in the same league with porn or which toilet block to meet a man in. And I would assume that McDonalds would have trouble with anyone accessing porn in their “family restaurants”. Interesting idea, not sure you have the answer right yet.

  6. Helen Says:

    Damn – just looked at the date – it is now April 2nd in Australia and I had moved on from yesterday! Nice one

  7. sharon Says:

    Actually had me going there for a minute, until I got to the “Local Informal Hotspots.” Otherwise… It’s not a bad idea at all. I have a similar response when confronted with requests for software or some function that the library didn’t offer on the public computers, and after a few of those, I’ll tell the customer-patron two things: websites for inexpensive computers, and the local Internet service providers.

  8. Sean Thibodeau Says:

    Ha Ha. April fools. Sad thing is your prank is perpetuating a false and damaging slander that I find objectionable and so would the decent citizens of Lowell’s Acre neighborhood (the Pollard Library and the Coalition for a Better Acre included). You’re better than this.

  9. Kim Says:

    Actually, Panera uses filters. I was trying to get to a website on my phone, and it wouldn’t open there, and a message/page came up (don’t remember which now), about non-approved sites. It wasn’t porn, it was strong language.

  10. Mark Says:

    Question – Do you really give first time offenders a copy of the policy with the referenced statement? It doesn’t sound too outrageous, and if you do, I’m wondering how patrons tend to respond…

  11. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Sean: the handout is a joke from start to finish, which is the only reason why the Acre made the cut (although, when I asked staff here for applicable places, a few that live in Lowell did suggest it). Just like @Helen pointed out, a lingerie store certainly isn’t appropriate either. It was just a convenient local characterization, but I am sorry if it offended.

    @Kim: interesting – now I’m curious if the other free wi-fi spots have filters. I’ve never hit one in a coffee shop or anywhere else before. Hmm.

    @Mark: that part wasn’t a joke – that really is how we handle these situations. Most of the time, it ends right there (often, the person is so embarrassed that they leave immediately – that isn’t our goal, but it probably happens most of the time). For the patrons who weren’t looking at porn, which also happens, they sometimes are shocked or indignant and usually want to show me what they were looking at (Brittney Spears videos on YouTube or whatever). I never ask them to and never accuse them of anything, and after I explain the “a young child might see it” policy, they generally understand.

  12. Angie Says:

    I’d hand that out.

  13. Alyssa Says:

    While I was in library school I worked at a small independent bookstore. A man came in and wondered if we sold “that” kind of material. He seemed pretty innocuous, as well as surprised and almost puzzled that he had ended up in a paperback shop with a lot of Westerns rather than his preferred destination. Reference help is for everyone, so I got the Yellow Pages, looked up the adult bookshop just down the street, and put the address and phone on a sticky note. He thanked me politely and made ready to leave, so the whole thing ended just perfectly . . . until he propositioned me, at which point I threw him out of the store and asked the owner to install a panic button, but up to that point it was really great, exactly how a “real” ref librarian would have handled it.

  14. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Angie: I was going for a joke here, but really, I agree – cleaned up a little, I think this might be useful. Of course, I’d also be interested in the response from people, too.

    @Alyssa: nice introduction to the library world – and if it makes you feel better (although I don’t imagine it would), librarians get propositioned too. And our reference desk does have a panic button.