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 Brian Herzog

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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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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Hidden Pleasures

   January 15th, 2009 Brian Herzog

food porn books in a corner of the librarySo one morning this week, before we opened to patrons, I was walking around the floor tidying up.

In the furthest back corner of the stacks, the one that is most secluded and is the only place in the library we find condoms et. al., I came upon the scene pictured here.

I'm used to this corner being the place where kids go to hide, so I kind of laughed when I came across this stack of dessert books. Not the reside of illicit sex, or Playboys, or drugs, or a pile of barcodes removed from books and DVDs. I could just visualize someone tucked away, hiding their guiltiest pleasure from the world: graphic books featuring cakes, pies, ice cream and cookies.

But it makes me sad they couldn't bring themselves to check them out. Maybe the temptation to prepare these recipes would be just too much if they took these books home. Good thing the library will always be around when this patron needs another fix.



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The Dangers of Secondhand Flash Drives

   October 4th, 2007 Brian Herzog

See No Evil monkeyHere's a humorous story from Ohio (in fact, one town over from where I grew up). It's short, so read it before continuing...

...Okay, so it's funny for a couple reasons:

  • It happened at all
  • It happened to a politician, in a high school*
  • It happened because of something given to him by a librarian
  • A very similar thing happened to me

People leave/lose a lot of stuff in the library. The valuable things we collect up and keep in a "lost and found" at the desk. A lot of it is reclaimed, but some things have been here for years.

One of these long-term items happened to be a flash drive.

One day, I was asked to join a meeting at the last minute. They wanted me to demonstrate uploading images to our web server. The computer they were using was not connected to our staff network, but was using our public wireless to ftp to our web server.

I wanted to come prepared with images to upload, so I grabbed that flash drive from the lost and found, transferred a few library images to it, and went into the meeting (this is before my library provided flash drives).

When it was my turn, I plugged the flash drive into the laptop. It turns out that the person who owned the laptop had it set so that, when Windows automatically detected a flash drive, it would launch a picture viewer and display the images on the flash drive.

Guess what happened next.

My co-workers got an eye-full. Luckily it was all staff in the meeting, and no one was offended or called the police.

Potential morals of the story:

  • Always run through your presentation on the equipment you will use for your presentation before you give your presentation
  • Don't use things from the lost and found
  • If you're going to reuse a strange disk, format it first
  • If you save porn on a disk, don't lose it
  • Never save your porn in a root directory

Take your pick.

*I vaguely remember a similar story from awhile ago, but it ended differently. I couldn't find it on the interweb, but it went something like this: a school librarian (or teacher) was showing her class something on the internet. She accidentally clicked a wrong link, and opened a website that had porn popup windows. It didn't phase the kids, but when the parents found out, they got this person fired. I wish I could find an update to this, to see why a librarian (or teacher) lost their job but a politician didn't.

libraries, library, porn, pornography, public libraries, public library



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