Monday, April 27, 2009

Library ethics

"I’m a librarian. A regular patron, a man in his late 40s or early 50s and virtually technologically illiterate, asked me to print a few e-mail attachments for him — photos of a young and attractive Russian woman. Many of the messages were titled “I Love You” or the like and included explicit requests for money. I believe he is being scammed. May I intervene, or does that violate his privacy and my professional boundaries? N.P., LAWRENCE, KAN."


  1. Phebe points out--and rightly so--that the answer doesn't really address the question. I think we can all agree that we have to draw the line at helping a patron to get scammed. But where is the line, and how do we communicate it to the patron without driving him or her away? I can picture a scene where a patron comes up to me in a year or 2 and says, "It's all your fault. You showed me how to get an email address and let me use your computers all day long, but you never warned me about the scammers waiting to clean out my bank account and all my credit cards. Now I'm suing you for $1M."

    It doesn't exactly keep me awake at night--worrying about selling my house accomplishes that--but you get my drift.

  2. I think the question addresses the answer- it is about giving the patrons what they really need- answers to questions that they haven't thought to ask or didn't know to ask.

    I like this response from the Feel Good Librarian about dealing with a Nigerian Scam email. She said to the patron, I think we are long lost cousins!

    I see it quite frequently enough while helping people print, and I just quietly let them know that I think this is a scam and provide them some resources that will help them protect themselves. In the computer classes I teach, I point how to look for secure sites and the old adage: If its too good to be true, probably is.