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

Reference Question of the Week – 6/13/10

   June 19th, 2010

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.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

2 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 6/13/10”

  1. Andromeda Says:

    Re the hotline: the Bentley library has a “help keep the library quiet” link on its front page (http://library.bentley.edu/) which pops up various ways to notify librarians, including a Meebo chat box. (Of course, I guess in a university library most of the patrons will have laptops, which isn’t generally true elsewhere.)

  2. Tina Lymath Says:

    Looking up porn in libraries is very brave. I believe that computers should be in a location where reference librarians, or a computer librarian can see what is going on an all screens. At the Springfield public library there is a reference librarian who is seated where the computers are so they CAN view what is going on around them. All libraries are not set up this way but I feel that it is a good idea! I think some folks will try to get away with whatever they can!