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A Librarian In Illinois Asks:


We have a computer lab with several computers and it is open to the public. In our community we have a couple of mentally ill patrons who have asked for extra-ordinary protections while using these computers because they are fearful. Oftentimes, they would be satisfied with meaningless (to you or I) pieces of paper that constitute ‘verification’ to them. Our question is whether or not we should provide them with these one page documents saying the computer is not being monitored? We don’t want to do anything to cause them any more harm or distress. It is morally wrong?

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Interesting ethical and policy question, and I’m not sure I can offer any definitive answer. You have clients who are homeless, and very much the ideal consumer for your public Internet services. On the other hand you have clients who are ill with marked paranoia and you are finding yourself having to make special accommodations for these clients. Reading between the lines, I’m assuming that you are having to tell white lies to these folks in order to calm their fears. Not that you are actively monitoring the computers, but there are browser cookies and logs and the like that record where the users have been. And even if you are not telling white lies, there is the issue of colluding with the paranoia and the fear that you may be doing more harm than good in doing so. I don’t think that colluding with mild paranoid delusions is all that terrible a thing (so long as what you are signing is not an outright misrepresentation of the privacy you can legitimately offer), but it is not a therapeutic thing either. But you are not in a treating role here and should not attempt to take up that role. My advice to you is to consult with your local community mental health clinic staff and ask their take on the matter. In all likelihood, they are familiar with your patrons. If they aren’t, they should be. At any rate, as local providers who are intimately knowledgeable about local health resources, they are in the best position to know what to do.

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