For the past few weeks, I have been considering trust–how much do I trust my library’s patrons? People talk about radical trust in libraries all the time, but does anyone really advocate trusting patrons? I don’t mean trusting them not to put stupid tags in an OPAC or use their cell phones appropriately–I mean trusting them with the library and the library’s materials. Do we really trust in patrons enough to let them have free reign of the library alone?

What I have been considering is allowing 24-hour, key-carded access to my library for medical students. No staff, no security guards, just my trust that they will take care of the library.

The question is, do I trust them? Apparently, I don’t trust non-medical students, because I am not even considering letting the general populace of my institution have access. Last Friday, when I was out of the library for a meeting elsewhere in the state, my co-worker closed the library up. Usually, it is just me kicking everyone out on Fridays, so it was the first time she had done so in many, many moons. She’s a lot nicer about kicking people out than I am, even going so far as to make jokes involving the students’ need to get lives–I generally just announce that I am closing up. They are all pretty used to the drill. But it is April, and that means one thing in medical school land–time for the 2nd years to start cramming for the USMLE Step 1. And, so some of the 2nd years were in the library quizzing each other on pharmacology and other stuff, and when my co-worker gave them the 10-minute warning, one of them apparently commented that it would be really nice if we trusted them.


But, then, she got to tell everyone about my amazing 24-hour access plan, which was a hit.

Clearly, though, making the students leave the library was indicating distrust on our part. To be honest, I would trust most of the medical students with my life, so it was pretty discouraging to hear that was their interpretation of our library hours. (They DO need lives, after all, even with Step 1 looming.) Part of the problem was that we recently gave some strong indication that we don’t trust them–the infamous headphones incident. One day, my co-worker noticed that instead of having 18 pairs of headphones, we had 5. Where did the other 13 go? Good question. To prevent any more “missing” headphones, we decided to barcode the remaining pairs and require them to be checked out. Not one, not two, not three, but something like 15 students have personally asked me why. These are junky headphones–I seriously doubt anyone would purposefully purchase these, so I have to imagine that they were taken by accident for the most part. But, the message we sent was evidently that we thought they stole them all.

I do know there is actually some theft of library materials–largely theft of CD-ROM’s from textbooks (we yanked all of those out of books and have them secured now), USMLE Step 3 materials (not our students, then), and the occasional expensive text. Harrison’s got snatched a year or so ago, and I have refused to replace it so far. The thing that made me the most angry was when within a week of purchasing 5 copies of the Board Review Series Pathology, three of them went missing. Two have never been recovered, and one was returned by being left in the library with the barcode ripped off. (I love how people think the magnets are in the barcodes.) That did leave me more than a little shy of trusting for a while, I admit, especially as it was during boards review, and thus was likely a student. But, I think the theft rate is pretty small, so I am inclined to think that if just the students have 24 hour access, we wouldn’t lose much, if anything. I’m hoping to get this in effect by May 1, so the 2nd years can study all hours if they want.

(Funny. I am watching Misery, and Kathy Bates just asked James Caan, “When are you going to develop a sense of trust?” Just after she sledgehammered his ankle.)

A few days ago, I heard a vicious rumor that one of the major medical libraries in the region is planning to be open 24 hours, too. I’m never first, I tell you. But, they are in an urban area, have a huge constituency, and are planning to leave the library staffed only with a security guard. Ha. Now, I tell you one thing–I sure wouldn’t trust those patrons. 🙂 I found myself thinking, hmm, I could do a WorldCat search to see what books they alone own, and then, if I was a thief, I would have a very handy list of what would be valuable (so, clearly, it is myself who is untrustworthy). And, with one security guard who will occasionally have to go to the bathroom or smoke pot on the roof, a thief would have ample opportunity to make off with the goods. I know for a fact that this same library had almost all of its optical mice stolen, suffers from a wealth of perverts who do nasty things in the computer lab and cut pictures of naked, derformed children from the books, and who can’t keep a copy of a certain pharmacology text in the reference shelves for theft. The first thing that came to mind is that it won’t be too long before someone gets tasered and/or shot there.

Is trust so locally based? Is trust just easier to give when you know everyone concerned? Maybe this other medical library is really the epitome of radical trust. Or maybe, they are just crazy.


2 responses to “trust

  1. We have several hospital locations, most of which have an unstaffed library open 24 hours. In the three years since I’ve been there, we’ve had one thing stolen. One.

    The biggest problem has been mess. It is atrocious. The cleaning staff won’t clean the library (don’t ask me why), except occasional vaccuming, so a librarian has to clean everything up when s/he is there (we have drop in hours roughly once a week and conduct occasional training sessions). I like the fact we allow hospital staff (although 99% of people who use the physical library are residents) to come and go at any of the odd hours their jobs require, but for crying out loud, I wish they would throw out their damn garbage!

  2. Staff has 24 hour access to my hospital library (“My” library! Isn’ t that revealing!) Theft is a very minor problem – and I prefer to think of it as forgetting to properly check out items. I agree with Amanda about the mess, though. People can be such slobs! I once found a banana peel shoved behind shelved journals. And then there was the very burnt stub of a joint – turns out the security guards didn’t bother going to the roof to smoke their pot. Not when the library was so cozy and had internet access to porn!

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