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

Reference Question of the Week – 5/3/15

   May 9th, 2015

Hitler in Indiana JonesA patron came up to the Reference Desk with a book tucked under his arm. This was odd because usually when someone has a book question, they hold the book up, or out, so I can see what it is - but this time, the patron was definitely guarding it. After I greeted him, he said,

This may sound silly, but I'm serious - if I check this out, I'm not going to get put on some kind of watch list or anything am I?

And as he said it, he revealed to me the book under his arm: Mein Kampf.

I kind of laughed and said, "no; at least, not as far as I know."

I then explained how our catalog is managed by the MVLC network, and what data it tracks. The patron said he'd heard the urban legends of books being tracked - like in the movies Se7en and Conspiracy Theory (two movies I thoroughly enjoyed, so this is clearly my kind of patron).

Then the patron explained why he wanted it: he was working on a project about the holocaust, researching whether a case could be made that it actually started when that book was published, rather than later when the deaths and atrocities of the concentration camps began. I don't think I've really heard anyone talk about the holocaust in terms of prejudice and discrimination, but it certainly makes sense and it was interesting to listen to him.

And I think me listening to him kind of humanized the library a bit too, and comforted him enough to know that he could safely check that book out without fear of No Such Agency taking an interest in him.

But again - that is true only as far as I know. But what I do know, specifically because of things like this, is that it is important to support the EFF, or at least read the information they put out - such as What Every Librarian Needs to Know About HTTPS. Because even if we're not monitoring our patrons, we could still be inadvertently allowing it to happen.

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3 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 5/3/15”

  1. Brandy Stillman Says:

    When I read survivor accounts like “The Kindness of the Hangman” by Henry Oster http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/902725591 I can’t help but agree with your patron’s position that it started with the prejudice and discrimination. The first chapter of this book talks about Jewish grade school children in 1934 being tormented by Hitler’s Nazi Youth. I am glad that there are people still researching and learning from it. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana. Access to information and our stance on intellectual freedom make me proud to be a librarian.

  2. Emma Says:

    I think it’s interesting that he trusted you as an individual to ask about what the system does; He wasn’t confident that the government wasn’t tracking him via the library, but he was confident that even if that were the case, the librarians themselves wouldn’t be in on it!

    That makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.

  3. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Emma: I know, right? Maybe I just have a very non-oppressive-tyrannical-regime type face, but I like to think it’s because people really trust librarians.