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 Brian Herzog

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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