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


LISNews Series on IT Security in Libraries

   August 30th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Everybody Cooperate for Safety First signOver on LISNews, Blake has a series of posts on IT security in libraries, and it's absolutely worth checking out. So far there are five parts:

  1. IT Security For Libraries
  2. Practical Tips For Online Privacy
  3. Practical Advice On Choosing Good Passwords
  4. Staying Safe Online
  5. 20 Common Security Myths

It's good for library staff to know and abide by this information, but it is also very useful material for building a online safety program for the public.

Another of my favorite security-related posts is the Email Scam Competency Test, to see if you can tell legitimate email messages from scams. At the end of the test, click the "why" links to see the clues for telling the difference.



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Reference Question of the Week – 11/30/08

   December 6th, 2008 Brian Herzog

toy gunThis week's reference question is a series of interactions over the course of about twenty minutes. To get the full impact, I need to give some basic background on the patron.

This patron is one of our regulars at the library. He is a special needs patron, and often asks for help with spelling and things like that. However, he is a savant when it comes to anything having to do with horror films/actors, superheros and comics. Also, every so often, he lets us know he's looking for someone to hangout with, by which he means a girlfriend.

One day, he comes to the desk and asks,

How do you spell white?

I write it on a slip of paper for him, and he goes back to his computer. A few minutes later, he comes back and asks,

How do you spell girlfriend?

A few minutes after that, it's

How far away is Florida?

I try to describe it to him, and then show him on a map. Basically, the bottom line is that it's too far away to walk to, which disappoints him. He then tells me this:

I met a girl on the internet, and she's nice. She lives in Florida, and she's a sheriff. She said she wants me to get a fake gun and handcuffs and come to her house and pretend to kidnap her, and then she'll go out with me. Isn't that cool?

I was kind of stunned. Professionally of course, I can't tell him what he can and can't do. But I did give him a lecture about being careful about who he meets online and what he tells them. I also told him that showing up anywhere with a toy gun is dangerous, but he kept telling me it would be a fake gun.

Thank goodness Florida is too far to walk. I honestly don't know what I would have done if he told me this and the person was close enough for him to walk to. It feels wrong to call someone, but he could get shot or who knows what doing this.

Librarians can't monitor patrons' lives, but when a special needs person volunteers this kind of information, I do think it is our place to intervene to keep him safe. With this particular patron, I usually just need to remind him that his mom would be angry with him is she found out, and that's a good deterrent. Otherwise, I'm not sure what I could do.



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