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


Reference Question of the Week – 7/21/14

   July 26th, 2014 Brian Herzog

legalpadA patron asked for help using our public scanner. She had forms from a court in Rhode Island that she needed to scan, fill in the information, and then print to bring to court. No problem, right?

We scanned it, OCR'd to Word, and she spent time filling them in. I then showed her how to save a copy by sending it to herself in email. She said she knew how to print, so I went back to the desk.

A few minutes later she came over and said her document wasn't printing. I walked over and saw the printer was asking for legal paper in tray 1. Since the forms we scanned were legal size, I should have anticipated this, but I got some legal paper for her, put it in the tray, and waited with her to make sure it printed okay.

When it came out, I picked it up off the printer and was happy to see everything was formatted correctly on the legal paper and the print job looked fine. Except, the patron was not happy - when she saw how long her document was on legal size paper, she said,

That's no good; the court will never accept that weird long paper.

I honestly didn't know if it would or not, but since it is legal paper, and the same size as the forms they gave her, I thought it was a pretty safe bet that they would. But she insisted on reformatting the document to print on 8.5x11 paper.

Luckily she had sent it to herself in email, because she had already deleted the new Word file. So we downloaded and opened it, I showed her to how change the page size, and then she went through comparing the text to make sure everything was there before printing on regular paper.

She asked me to shred the legal size copy - which I did, but not until after asking her if she was sure she didn't want to take both to court just in case. She did not.



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Reference Question of the Week – 5/15/11

   May 21st, 2011 Brian Herzog

Giant checkOne of our regulars is a patron with special needs who is in all the time - so much so that I think he considers library staff some of his closest friends.

As a result, he is totally comfortable telling us things that many of us would rather not hear - and in this case, he told me something I wasn't sure what to do with.

Just before closing one night, he comes in and walks right up to the desk, happy as can be. He pulls out a crumpled and dirty check, shows it to me, and asks me if I think the bank will cash it.

It's made out in his name, for $300, and when I ask him where he got it (occasionally he'll get checks for his birthday or things, and always tells us about how much money he has), he says:

I found it blank in the street, so I put my name on it and $300. Do you think the bank will give me the money? If not it's okay, I just want to see if they will*.

I fairly emphatically told him he should absolutely not try to cash that check, that it's illegal, it's stealing, and if he tries it, the bank won't just tell him no, they will call the police and he'll go to jail.

With this negative response, he quickly puts the check away (I also noticed it was already endorsed), and said he wasn't trying to steal, he just wanted to see if they'd cash it. And he didn't care about the police or going to jail, because he's been to jail before, and anyway his apartment was messy and he was out of food (which actually made me laugh, even though I was trying to be serious).

He went to the computers until we closed, and as he was leaving I again told him not to take it to the bank, and he said it was okay if they didn't give him the money, he just wanted to try and see if they would.

All of this happened between 8:50-9:00 PM, so there wasn't much I could do. But when I thought about it on my way home, what could I do? Call the police? The bank? Which bank? His case worker? His mom?

Instead, I emailed my Director, knowing that she has a good relationship with the Police Chief, and I had no idea what legal requirements town employees have when it comes to knowledge of intent to break a law. The next morning, she did call his case worker, who I think has some legal responsibility for him. We also have worked with this case worker in the past, on other issues relating to this patron, so it wasn't exactly a call out of the blue.

I opened that next morning, and within about fifteen minutes of opening the doors, this special needs patron came in to use the computers. I asked him if he had gone to the bank, and he said,

Yeah, they took my check away and tore it up and told me never to come back.

So, good on the bank for that reaction. I know this patron understands that what he was doing was wrong, but I think ending things by just ripping up the check was the right response, given the circumstances. I'm still not sure there is a clear role for the library in a precrime situation like this, but I am happy it resolved more or less correctly - and at least the poor guy who lost the check in the first place isn't out $300.

 


*Also keep in mind that this patron never speaks softly, so when he said this, very loudly in a quiet library, the other ten patrons in the area heard him.



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Copyright Warning Bookmark

   June 17th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Copying a DVDWe had sort of an odd situation in my library a little while ago - the story is a bit long, so please bear with me:

As circ staff were checking returned items back in, they found a DVD case with no disc in it (not unusual). They called and left a message for the patron to check their DVD player and please return the missing disc.

The patron called back after we were closed, left a message that she returned the wrong case, and asked we call her at work the next day.

What? Wrong case?

When our Head of Circulation called her the next day, the work number the patron gave was for a video reproduction company(!). When she finally spoke with the patron, the patron told her that she had the disc and the library's case, and the one she returned (accidentally) was a color photocopy she'd made of the DVD jacket (which it was, and confirmed in that the barcode and other stickers were no longer stickers).

This set off debate amongst the department heads in my library. It seems, clearly, that this patron worked at a video reproduction company that was checking out DVDs from the library and not just ripping the DVDs, but creating reproductions of the cases too - to who knows what end. Even if they're not mass reproducing them for sale, this activity is still illegal.

But, we have no actual proof of DVD copying, just speculation (maybe she just liked the DVD jacket?), and it'd be a major step to accuse a patron of this or to notify the police (or FBI?). So after some debate, we decided the library's role is to:

  • make information and materials available to the public, and
  • make the public aware of the copyright limitations of library materials

Our logic is that we can't police patrons and force them to follow intellectual property laws, but it is our responsibility to make sure they are informed of those laws.

To do that, we wanted to make a small handout or bookmark that informed patrons of copyright restrictions, but I wasn't sure exactly where to begin. I had bookmarked a Columbus Dispatch article entitled "Copying library CD? You just broke the law" awhile ago because of something I'd heard of going on at another library* and that article mentioned Carrie Russell, a copyright specialist for the American Library Association.

I found her ALA contact information, sent her an email explaining our situation and asking if she had concise wording we could use for a short copyright handout. Her response was hands-down the quickest (next day!) and most helpful reply I've ever gotten from someone at the ALA:

Brian:

I usually suggest that the library suspend the patron's borrowing privileges when it is clear they are infringing.

You can use language from the CFR to craft a letter. This is the language that libraries should use when lending software, but you can use it for this situation too.

Notice: Warning of Copyright Restrictions The copyright law of the United States (title 17, United States Code) governs the reproduction, distribution, adaptation, public performance, and public display of copyrighted material. Under certain conditions specified in law, nonprofit libraries are authorized to lend, lease, or rent copies of computer programs to patrons on a nonprofit basis and for nonprofit purposes. Any person who makes an unauthorized copy or adaptation of the computer program, or redistributes the loan copy, or publicly performs or displays the computer program, except as permitted by title 17 of the United States Code, may be liable for copyright infringement. This institution reserves the right to refuse to fulfill a loan request if, in its judgment, fulfillment of the request would lead to violation of the copyright law. (37 C.F.R. 201.24)

Hope this helps.
-Carrie

Some of us liked the idea of suspending the patron's borrowing privileges (at least temporarily), but we decided against that as a first step. From the wording Carrie sent, I created the following copyright notice brochure (changing references to "computer programs" to be inclusive of all library material). These bookmarks are kept at the Circ Desk and given to those patrons we suspect need the information most.

Feel free to edit and use this for your own library, and let me know if you can recommend any improvements. I was going for "fewer words = more likely to be read" but didn't quite get there.

 


*Another long story, for another time. In the meantime, here's a Video Pirates clip that's worth watching.



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Reference Question of the Week – 8/10/08

   August 16th, 2008 Brian Herzog

One difficult question I get occasionally is "do you have rankings for doctor/lawyers?"

I think what people are expecting is a Consumer Reports-like ranking of these two professions, but unfortunately, we don't have anything exactly like that. We do have some resources for doctors, but lawyers are different.

Scales of JusticeA patron asked me to help her find lawyer rankings this past week. I did find a few websites showing some rankings, but I had no idea how reliable any of them were, and none of them got down to the local level needed by a patron in a small public library. Another thing I found were lots of articles talking about lawyers suing websites about their rankings, so that might explain the scarcity of resources.

In the end, two resources appeared promising, but only one ended up helping:

  • The American Bar Association has a Lawyer Locater, which is powered by martindale.com and LexisNexis. It does provide some information on a lawyer's background, including the Martindale-Hubbell peer review rating from their Law Directory. The amount of information varies by lawyer, but in this case, the lawyer my patron was looking for wasn't listed at all
  • The Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers provides an attorney status report which, while it doesn't rate lawyers, does indicate when the lawyer was admitted to the bar and if they've had any complaints against them (my patron was shocked to find out her lawyer was admitted to the bar just eight months ago)
  • A third resource the patron left with was the phone number of the Massachusetts Bar Association's Dial-A-Lawyer referral program, which assists private citizens in choosing legal council

The CaduceusFinding resources to research local doctors is slightly easier. This might be because the medical profession is more closely watched than the legal profession, or that people are more willing/able to travel for medical procedures than law suits.

One book I often turn to in our reference collection is America's Top Doctors, which lists doctors by region, specialty, hospital, and by name.

Another nice local resource is the Boston Consumers' Checkbook (which is also available for other cities). This magazine is similar to Consumer Reports, but instead of rating products, it rates services, including many medical services.

Part of the Mass.gov website reports on Health Care Quality and Cost Information. It includes lots of information for patients, but what I usually steer people towards are the "Volume by Surgeon and Hospital" reports - these aren't rankings exactly, but instead show how often a doctor or hospital performs a certain procedure. Other reports also list cost and mortality rates for doctors and hospitals.

Another state-level website is the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine's On-Line Physician Profile Site. Each profile includes general biographical information supplied by the doctor, and also has sections showing any malpractice payments made or any disciplinary and/or criminal actions taken against the doctor.

Additional web resources are:

  • The American Medical Association's doctor finder doesn't provide rankings, but it does show contact and biographical information for both AMA members and non-members (it gives priority to members, it does list non-members if you click the right buttons)
  • DrScore.com lets people score their own doctors and report on their experiences. Although the ratings are voluntary and anonymous, I did notice they indicate "Castle Connolly Top Doctors," which is the America's Top Doctor's resource I mentioned above. And in addition to the ratings, this website is also useful as doctor finder
  • RateMDs.com seems more commercial than DrScore.com, but it also seems to have more ratings and comments. This also has nice feature search for finding local doctors

I list these because they are free and useful, and accessible for my patrons. I'm sure there are many more not-free websites out there too, as well as additional good print resources. I'd appreciate hearing suggestions for more resources in the comments below - thanks.



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Reference Question of the Week – 3/23/08

   March 29th, 2008 Brian Herzog

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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