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


Reference Question of the Week – 6/3/12

   June 9th, 2012 Brian Herzog

shredded paperOne afternoon, an older female patron called the reference desk and asked:

Do you have a shredder there that I can use?

This has always been kind of a gray area for us. Yes, we do have a shredder in the office for library staff. We have no official policy on the public using it, other than our general yes-based policy. And in the past, if a patron had just a few sheets that needed to be shredded, I would take the pages and do the shredding for the patron. So, I asked:

Me: How many pages do you have to shred?
Patron: Oh, I'd say hundreds.

Arrgh - "hundreds" sounded like more than we could accommodate* (besides, we have just a standard office shredder, not a heavy-duty one). So, reluctantly, all I could suggest to this patron is to contact her bank, as I know a few local banks will shred their customers' documents for free.

I get asked this a few times a year, but the more I thought about it this time, the more I thought this is a perfect service for libraries to offer. A heavy-duty shredder is something not everyone can afford, but something the community could purchase and share (just like other library materials). Plus, with libraries' strong commitment to protecting patron privacy, this seems like a nice way to promote "privacy literacy."

There are questions though - in fact, to find out if there are already best-practices for public shredding, I posted this question on the library stack exchange:

  1. how heavy-duty of a shredder is necessary?
  2. should it be a free-access shredder in a public area, or staff-mediated behind a desk or in an office?
  3. would noise or safety a factor?
  4. should patrons need to sign a waiver since they're probably leaving personal/private data behind? (shredded, but still, there's always potential)
  5. should there be a limit on how much patrons can shred? (since it all becomes waste the library needs to pay to remove)

If you've got any suggestions, please feel free to answer on stack exchange or in the comments below - thanks.

 


*There are a few off-the-books things in the library people can do, if they don't it too much. Shredding is one, using a desk phone to make a call is another.

The most common is probably bringing in magazines - we have a basket into which we put our weeded magazines for people to take (and keep), and patrons always ask if they can bring in their own magazines to leave there for others. Officially the basket is just for library magazines (because we don't want to deal with someone dumping a load of junk there for us to deal with), but we routinely tell patrons that if they just have a few magazines, it's okay.

So far, everyone has been totally fine with this, and no one abuses it. I like these sort of open-ended practices, where you trust people not to be idiots, and it works.



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