Blurring the information access line & public service

Recently a query came through an academic listserv I follow. The librarian (of a college library) was asked for help in finding resources to help birth parents locate a child put up for adoption. The librarian put it to us and what followed was  discussion about WHAT we should provide. Was this pushing into grey area, asking us for advice? Or was this just a plain information request? And in these types of tricky situations, what KIND of information do we provide?

Most of us responded that this was a tricky legal issue that varies by state, often involving legal minutia only a lawyer can interpret. Simply sending a patron in this situation to some web sites would not be entirely helpful. We offered ideas like contacting social workers and adoptee/birth parent listservs and web sites. We offered ideas in which both parties had a choice about accessing information. Mostly we encouraged our fellow librarian to point the patron to more experienced, knowledgable sources of information.

I believe we did the right thing. We are not supposed to be judgemental or biased in providing information. We should provide a well-rounded list of sources to explore. We should lead patrons to sources that might support the choice they want to make but also advise them on the consequences.  Well, that’s my philosophy, at least!

So, we have the ethical considerations of what information do we provide in this case. But it’s also interesting to me that the patrons sought a librarian’s assistance. And at a college, rather than a public institution. Perhaps this was one is a series of places they are seeking help. I find many of us allow the public to access our computers and our stacks (usually for a small yearly fee), but we don’t advertise these services to the community. Our resources are for those “in the know” or curious/brave enough to inquire as to what they can use.

I was asked to share my thoughts recently on how academic libraries can and should serve the public. I do a lot of this in my job, but at this point I draw the line at promoting our services beyond my family programs. I have yet to come up with a good reason why. Well, burdens on staff and resources that our campus have first access to are pretty good reasons. But beyond that, why should we NOT promote certain services (reference) and resources (printers, copiers, computers) to the public? I’d like to hear from you.

One response to “Blurring the information access line & public service

  1. I guess the bottom line is that promoting academic library services — even if just reference — takes the focus away from the primary users (students and faculty). The more time academic librarians spend answering reference requests of the public, the less time they have to work on academic library projects, university service, scholarship, or other professional development activities. It’s one thing to provide thorough service to the public when they arrive, but encouraging them to come to academic libraries is above and beyond the call of duty — depending on your staff and resources available.

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