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

Reference Question of the Week – 10/3/10

   October 9th, 2010

PrivacyI think this is about the fourth time I've personally helped a patron with a request like this - the phone rings...

Patron: Hi, I live in [town next to where my library is], and I'd like to request some books sent to your library instead of my own.
Me: Sure, to do that you... [explain how to use the online catalog]
Patron: Thank you very much, I was afraid it wasn't possible. I need to get some books on getting a divorce, and was afraid my husband or kids - or even the library staff - would see what I was getting.

I know this is a privacy scenario we all heard about in library school, but they really do happen in real life.

And it's lucky for this patron that we're part of the same consortium - if this patron's home library wasn't part of a system and she didn't trust the staff to be discreet and professional, I'm not sure what the alternatives would be. I don't know if an out-of-towner walked into any random library if they would be willing to ILL sensitive books just to avoid the patron's home library getting them.

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7 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 10/3/10”

  1. Didi Says:

    III’s Millennium will allow you to give patrons an alias, so that on the hold-shelf the books can be held under a fake name.

  2. Kathy Lussier Says:

    And Evergreen supports a holds alias too, so you will soon be getting that functionality at your library Brian. But I expect in many cases family members pick up holds for each other and already would know what that patron’s alias is.

    But as long as the out-of-town patron is from a certified Massachusetts town and walks into a Massachusetts library, the library should be to provide that service for them.


  3. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Kathy: Thanks Kathy – I thought I remembered something like that. What I’d love is for each account to have some kind of setting that lets each card holder grant permission to other card holders to pick up their items for them – and this would be on a per-request basis. So if I had you has an “approved picker-upper,” when either of us came in and scanned our cards at the circ desk, my holds would show up. But if you hadn’t approved me, then if my card was scanned, only my holds would show, and not yours.

    And doing this on a per-request basis would also let me request something I didn’t want you to know I was getting, and just uncheck the “let Kathy pick this up” box, so it wouldn’t show up on your record when you came in.

    Can you work that into Evergreen?

    Of course, none of this would stop circ staff from accidentally grabbing everything that’s on hold for me off the shelf, whether I had you checked to pick up or not.

    Update: Kathy sent me this link – someone is way ahead of me: http://libmail.georgialibraries.org/pipermail/open-ils-dev/2010-October/006428.html

  4. Lichen Says:

    Polaris has the alias thing and the approved borrower thing. To them it’s association, though, so you can identify family members.

  5. Stephanie Willen Brown Says:

    Great illustration of how important it is for us to maintain & guard patron privacy. I’m so glad you could help her.

  6. Lori Fisher Says:

    Thanks for posting this scenario — in NH the only way I could see around this is to have the ILL books sent to the state library in Concord, which would be quite a hike for some in our state. But, I would like to think that our desk staff would bring me into the process since we’re small and let me determine how we could help her (especially if it meant trying to work something out with a neighboring library). Privacy is very important and we need to continually raise staff awareness in this area. It’s too easy in our small towns to overlook basic privacy guidelines, especially among husbands/wives. I plan to bring this situation up in our staff meeting to see what ideas we can come up with. Unfortunately, we don’t have an ILS with the functionality described in previous posts.

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