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

Reference Question of the Week – 1/29/12

   February 4th, 2012

Date ChangedI wasn't directly involved in this reference question, but my coworker who did handle it had to consult me because it was just so odd.

Sometime in November, she was working the reference desk when a patron called to ask if we had a specific magazine article. We didn't, and our process for requesting articles through interlibrary loan is to submit the request through the Boston Public Library's online ILLiad form, as they are the regional center for this type of ILL.

The bizarre part came in when the patron called back a week or so later and asked:

I work at a law firm - can my article request be back-dated to July 28th?

This is where my coworker came to me, because she wasn't sure if this was something we would consider doing as a matter of policy, and she also wasn't sure if it was even technically possible.

And as far as I know, it isn't, at least for us. Since we use the BPL's online form, all the timestamp information is on their servers. We have no control over that, and to really completely back-date this would probably be extremely involved.

Regardless though, this isn't something I would have been comfortable doing anyway. The article in question didn't seem like something that would be used in any kind of court case, but who knows. And if their request records were subpoenaed by the court (if it came to that), manipulating library records certainly isn't something a librarian should be caught doing.

We don't keep any article ILL records beyond what is in BPL's system, so there wasn't anything we could do for this request anyway. My coworker called the patron back to let her know.

The article arrived shortly thereafter, and a few weeks later someone from the law firm came in to pick it up - and didn't mentioned the back-dating. We never learned more about what the request was for or why it would be important to back-dated it, but this is something I've never heard of before.

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4 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 1/29/12”

  1. Andrew Says:

    Speaking as an ILL librarian backdating local library records would technically be possible, but would play havoc with all kinds of records, possibly copyright (depending on how BPL handles theirs) etc. Backdating OCLC records where the ILL request is placed would be impossible without involving OCLC and I doubt they would ever do it, if they even could.

    I can’t imagine why anyone would want to backdate records, but the whole thing sounds rather sleazy.

  2. Andrew Sherman Says:

    I think someone told their boss they did it when they didn’t and then didn’t want a date-stamp to make a liar out of him/her. SNL did a funny parody add called “Jiffy Express” for when your package had to be at its destination yesterday, “We’ll take the package… AND the blame” by back-dating packages and simulating shipping delays. http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/jiffy-express/1356732

  3. Matthew Says:

    It also begs the question, why didn’t the law firm have access to the info through their own sources? Must be a small firm/partnership. Yet ANOTHER example how the library helps the community and small business!

  4. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Andrew: I agree – ILL is way more complex than people think it is. Not impossible, but also not just erasing a date on a sheet in a clipboard either.

    @Andrew Sherman: I hadn’t even thought of that, but I bet that’s it – I don’t know why the date they requested it from us would have mattered, but it would have if someone wasn’t doing their job properly.

    @Matthew: You’re right, they might have had the access, but not the expertise. Another case of, “give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day; give a man access to a library, and he’ll learn how to fish, where the best fishing spots are, how to get there, the best equipment to use, how to make his own fishing equipment, how to clean and cook the fish he catches, how to swim…”