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




An Anecdotal Experiment With Privacy

   March 15th, 2011 Brian Herzog

For the last few years at my library, our public computers all looked the same - Windows XP with a custom wallpaper displaying instructions on how to print. Our setup looked like this:

Wallpaper with printing instructions

A month or so ago, we upgraded to Windows 7, and thought we'd also change the wallpaper.

Our goal in this was to improve patron privacy. The timer software we use is Time Limit Manager (TLM), by Fortress Grand (the little "Time Remaining" clock at the top of the screen above). I like this software because it is very customer service oriented, and patrons don't need to log in with a barcode to start their session - they can just sit down, click "I Agree" to our policies, and go. The timer is basically a courtesy reminder, and for the most part we can get away with using the honor system (TLM does offer additional features for when push comes to shove).

But the main problem we were seeing wasn't that people wouldn't leave the computer - it was that patrons weren't ending their session when they left the computer. This set up the scenario where a second patron could come along and just continuing using the session of the previous patron.

This never caused a real problem in my library, but the potential was there, so we thought the upgrade would be a good time to address it.

With the Windows 7 rollout, we designed new wallpaper, hoping to prompt people end their session when they were finished with the computer. The new wallpaper looks like this:

Wallpaper with privacy reminder

The result? Absolutely no change whatsoever.

I didn't do a scientific survey, but just from the number of times staff has to end the session at an abandoned computer, the privacy reminder didn't seem to affect anyone at all.

I can't believe people aren't seeing this message, so it's tough not to conclude that, at least in my library, most patrons don't care much about their privacy.

So, I wanted to ask the question here - what do other libraries do to get patrons to end their session?



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Knowing What We Should Know

   February 17th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Computer with Question MarkJessamyn's observation on this USB keylogger thing got me thinking - without the context of that article, if I saw one of those in my library, I wouldn't have known what it was.

I would have known it shouldn't have been there, and maybe being plugged into the keyboard would have given me a clue, but I don't know.

This reminded me of a Technology Skills Library Staff Should Have list Sarah posted at ALA Learning (via). I wouldn't expect any staff to recognize a keylogger, but staff do need to be familiar enough with library equipment to recognize when something gets out of whack - printer not working right, copier making funny noises, website down, a monitor cable unplugged, or a foreign device plugged into a computer.

I like her list a lot, and am going to spend some time merging it with the idea from the Wilmington (MA) Library to break tech knowledge up into different levels to form a tech skills matrix.

Tech competencies is a topic I keep revisiting, because it is something that continually evolves - identifying keyloggers are just the latest addition.



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Spy-Tech Devices Found in Library

   February 15th, 2011 Brian Herzog

USB KeyloggerDid you read the story about a library in England that found two devices, designed to steal patron information, plugged into their computers?

It almost sounds like an urban legend, but even if it were it's still a good remind to all of us that this could happen anywhere.

The devices are USB keyloggers - someone would unplug the keyboard from the computer, plug the keyboard into this device, and then plug it back into the keyboard's USB port. With this device between the keyboard and computer, it can record every keystroke made on the computer - including websites visited, username/password combinations, credit information, etc.

The best defense against this is for library staff to check for these, or anything attached to a library computer that shouldn't be there. The article also suggest plugging keyboards into the front of computers, to make spotting them easier.

To notice something like this, of course, library staff must be familiar with what should and what shouldn't be there. I don't mean to be all preachy, but this is a good opportunity to familiarize staff who may not be really tech-savvy with library equipment. And another thing: take a few minutes today and check all of the computers in your library.

Thanks Dale for sending this to me, and it was also on LISNews.



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Reference Question of the Week – 6/13/10

   June 19th, 2010 Brian Herzog

pron computerOne of the complaints I have with my library are the questionable architectural decisions made when the building was designed - lots of glass, so even small sound echos a great deal, aisles that are blocked because fixtures stick out to far, not enough meeting space, etc.

Another quirk is our Quiet Study Room - it sits at the end of the Reference collection, next to one of our computer areas. Half the computers face it and half face away, and whoever is in the Quiet Study Room could look up and see a lot of computer screens (but so can anyone walking by).

One afternoon, the phone rings, and the patron says,

Hi, I'm in your study room right now. I can see the computer screen of the first guy right outside the room, and he's been looking at graphic porn for ten minutes.

Most of the time we get porn complaints, it's after the porn viewer has left, so there's not much we can do about it. When we're able to "catch someone in the act," I print our Computer Use Policy and hand it to them saying something like,

Another patron objected to something they saw on your screen. This is a public building, so please remember that anything appearing on your screen must be suitable for children who might accidentally see it walking by.

I did that in this case, and then went back to the Reference Desk. A few minutes later, the phone rang again:

Hi, this is me, in the study room. Thank you for talking to him - he stopped looking at porn.

Her calling back made me laugh, but I hope she wasn't continually monitoring what the guy was doing.

Lots of porn stuff recently - to read what other libraries do with porn offenders, check out Unshelved Answers (my answer is there, too), and of course the Foolproof Porn Filter from earlier this week. Also, check out the Blackbelt Librarian's tips for handling difficult patrons.

Hmm - maybe we should just install a hotline in the study room for people to report porn offenders.



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Foolproof Porn Filter

   June 15th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Instead of privacy screens, patrons could use these on library computers:

Foolproof Porn Filter

I like that this approaches the problem from the opposite direction: instead of filters that keep offensive images off computer screens, this filter keeps offendable eyes off computer screens. Brilliant.

Incidentally, it cracks me up they thought to make a zippered window for seeing the keyboard. I wonder if it also comes with built-in headphones.



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I Would Never Do This…

   March 23rd, 2010 Brian Herzog

...but now I totally want to:

Post Secret


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