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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Book Due Date Calendar

   April 20th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Overdue Book CalendarI feel a little sheepish whenever I talk about a product on here, because I don't want to come off sounding like a commercial. But I thought this Book Due Date Calendar was a good idea.

It's available on Etsy from a seller called Aunt June, and it's a fun and creative way for patrons to keep track of when their library books are due.

Paper for our receipt printers is expensive, so we ask people if they need a receipt instead of printing one automatically - which means many people leave the library without any tangible reminder of when their books are due back. I've seen libraries use due date bookmarks, which are also a good idea, but this calendar was colorful and definitely eye-catching enough to be a great reminder (especially for kids) - kind of like a real-world Library Elf.

Here's what it looks like in action:

Overdue Book Calendar

It looks like you download a pdf, which is nice because you can print out extras if you're a heavy library user. I wonder if you could print it onto some kind of glossy paper that might work like a dry erase board. I also wonder if the seller would be willing to work out some deal with libraries to let them sell these as fundraisers.

Thanks for the tip Lauren.



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