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

Reference Question of the Week – 3/25/12

   April 1st, 2012 Brian Herzog

No PornThis isn't exactly a reference question, but it is something reference staff deal with all the time. A patron came up to the desk and said,

That man on the last computer over there is looking at porn.

This seems to go in waves for us, but we probably average three or four porn complaints a month. The way we handle this in my library is to print out our Appropriate Library Behavior policy, and highlight the line that says,

The library is a public building and objectionable or pornographic images that can be seen by others (either intentionally or accidentally, and either on screen on in print) are not permissible.

I then give it to the patron in question, while at the same time saying something like, "another patron complained about something they saw on your screen. Since this is a public building, you must make sure that anything on your screen is appropriate for all ages."

At least, this is how we handle first-time offenders - we don't accuse them of anything, we don't kick them out, we just make it clear that anything they do must be clean enough for kids and the general public. We approach it this way because porn isn't illegal, but very subjective, and just not something we can allow at the library.

But it got me thinking: there are other things the library can't accommodate, for one reason or another: color photocopying, notary service, etc. In these cases, we have little handouts at the reference desk that list other locations in town that can accommodate those needs.

So, I thought, why don't we also make a handout for the porn people, listing other places in the area that cater to Adult Services? Here's what I came up with:

Adult Services bookmark

From now on, whenever a patron complains about someone looking at porn, in addition to giving them a copy of the official library policy, I'm also going to give them one of these handouts - that way, we're maintaining our yes-based policy and fulfilling a core library function by referring them to the most appropriate resource.

It's formatted to print three per page - feel free to download and edit one for your library [ppt], or check out the PDF version.

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The Dangers of Secondhand Flash Drives

   October 4th, 2007 Brian Herzog

See No Evil monkeyHere's a humorous story from Ohio (in fact, one town over from where I grew up). It's short, so read it before continuing...

...Okay, so it's funny for a couple reasons:

  • It happened at all
  • It happened to a politician, in a high school*
  • It happened because of something given to him by a librarian
  • A very similar thing happened to me

People leave/lose a lot of stuff in the library. The valuable things we collect up and keep in a "lost and found" at the desk. A lot of it is reclaimed, but some things have been here for years.

One of these long-term items happened to be a flash drive.

One day, I was asked to join a meeting at the last minute. They wanted me to demonstrate uploading images to our web server. The computer they were using was not connected to our staff network, but was using our public wireless to ftp to our web server.

I wanted to come prepared with images to upload, so I grabbed that flash drive from the lost and found, transferred a few library images to it, and went into the meeting (this is before my library provided flash drives).

When it was my turn, I plugged the flash drive into the laptop. It turns out that the person who owned the laptop had it set so that, when Windows automatically detected a flash drive, it would launch a picture viewer and display the images on the flash drive.

Guess what happened next.

My co-workers got an eye-full. Luckily it was all staff in the meeting, and no one was offended or called the police.

Potential morals of the story:

  • Always run through your presentation on the equipment you will use for your presentation before you give your presentation
  • Don't use things from the lost and found
  • If you're going to reuse a strange disk, format it first
  • If you save porn on a disk, don't lose it
  • Never save your porn in a root directory

Take your pick.

*I vaguely remember a similar story from awhile ago, but it ended differently. I couldn't find it on the interweb, but it went something like this: a school librarian (or teacher) was showing her class something on the internet. She accidentally clicked a wrong link, and opened a website that had porn popup windows. It didn't phase the kids, but when the parents found out, they got this person fired. I wish I could find an update to this, to see why a librarian (or teacher) lost their job but a politician didn't.

libraries, library, porn, pornography, public libraries, public library

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