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

Reference Question of the Week – 8/30/09

   September 5th, 2009

MySpace for smartttI hesitated to post this question, because I don't mean to be picking on this kid. But then I thought that if the kid involves reads this, it might help him.

So with that in mind, I present this week's reference question as yet another example of how personal flippancy on the internet can affect someone's professional life.

Here's the story: an elderly woman called the desk one day, asking me to look up a company for her. She lives alone and needed yard work done, so she called a company that a friend recommended to her. They arrived to give an estimate, but she wanted to know more about the company because:

  • the crew consisted of just two kids (no adults)
  • the kids didn't write anything down, and only provided a verbal estimate
  • there was no sign on their truck, but the company's logo was on their t-shirts
  • when she went in the house to answer the phone, she saw them through the window "goofing around in the street"

So, she wanted to know if it was a real business - she was partly worried about being scammed, but moreso was concerned about kids using power equipment on her property without them having insurance.

The company name she gave me was Smart Choice Landscaping. They weren't listed in the yellow pages, so I searched for "smart choice landscaping" chelmsford, and the results were promising. One was the company's website, one was a lawnmower forum posting, and a third was a 2007 article in the local paper about an ambitious high school kid starting his own landscaping business.

So far, so good, right? Everything supported what the patron said - it just seemed like a kid taking his summer job very seriously, and had been at it for two years.

But then I clicked on the final result - the kid's MySpace page. Which is a fine thing for a 20 year old to express himself with, but since he listed the company name, I could easily see that the owner of Smart Choice Landscaping, among other things, enjoys listening to "nigga beats."

I've certainly seen worse, but this might offend some people, or at least taint his professional image a bit.

I left this out when describing my findings to the patron on the phone. She said he was very nice, and was happy to hear he's been doing this for two years, even if he was young. I suggested she ask for proof of insurance, and also get the estimate and invoice in writing - she agreed and said she was going to hire them.

But if this hadn't been a mediated search, and the patron had seen his MySpace page, it very well could have cost him the job. Again, I've certainly seen more questionable MySpace pages, but this one does, probably without realizing it, cross the line between personal and professional.

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One Response to “Reference Question of the Week – 8/30/09”

  1. Liz Says:

    One of the first things they told us in business school was not to make a MySpace or Facebook page, and if we had them, to scrub them clean and check them regularly to make sure our friends hadn’t made inappropriate comments or tagged us in less-than-flattering pictures or something. I thought it was a bit extreme, but now I see their point.

    Social networking sites like that can actually be really useful in promoting yourself or your business, but as you pointed out, it’s important to present oneself at least somewhat professionally. His existing info might be fine for a DJ but might cost him a job in another field.

    Then again, maybe a high school-educated “lawn professional” making “$250,000 and higher” a year doesn’t need to worry about missing a job or two.

    PS – with all the use of the word “kid,” I was expecting him to be 12 or something (maybe 16 since there was a truck involved), but 20? If you’re going to start calling 20-year-olds kids maybe it’s time to hike your pants up to your armpits and begin all your sentences with “You know, in MY day…”