No Exceptions

Shared with me via email is the response from a university library who would not make an exception for an online student who needed an article and who was without access from home and at work due to unforeseen circumstances:

The Library policy states that the Library will not send an article if the article can be accessed online. As you may be aware of that many of our patrons have no access to computer or internet from home, so we are unable to make exceptions to anyone for such kind of requests.

I’m trying to understand what this means exactly. I do know that making a tiny exception to deliver a much needed article might just “save the day” for a student. Isn’t that more important?

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13 thoughts on “No Exceptions”

  1. Libraries are service organizations, and it is patrons, not books, which are our sine qua non. Before I judge the university library too harshly, I’d need to know the specifics of the request (i.e. how the student wanted delivery, etc.) but in my personal experience, libraries are supposed to be bending over backwards to enable as much access of this type as humanly possible.

    The only thing I can think is that the student wanted the article faxed long-distance and the copyright clearinghouse costs would have been prohibitive. If that’s the case, the student should have been notified of such.

  2. My guess is that this email came from the document delivery department. My recommendation would be for the student to contact a subject/reference librarian and explain their circumstances. Those librarians will generally be free to bend the rules where the document delivery staff are more likely to be told to enforce them. It’s sad but true.

  3. Was the online student a student at the library’s own institution? This could make a difference since many of the databases have licensing agreements that restrict emailing articles to customers outside of a library’s own borrower pool. This was explained to me when I requested that another library email me a copy of an academic paper from a database to which they subscribed but to which I did not.

    However, if the library was refusing to assist one of their own students, that’s just wrong.

  4. I am the one who forwarded this to Michael–It was a friend of a friend who had this unfortunate experience…

    The online student is a full-time student at the library’s institution. The e-mail request was sent to the reference staff via e-mail and answered by reference staff via e-mail. Not to mention this was the student’s first experience with this university library!

    This is certainly not the “first impression” libraries should be making to patrons, IMHO.

  5. One of the great joys of being a librarian is to make someone’s day – even if it does require bending the “rules” a little bit…I can’t believe the response from this university! Clearly customer care is not on their agenda.

  6. (Former) Academic reference librarian here. This is so depressing. Lou Mack states my thoughts entirely. The best thing about the job is being able to help someone solve a problem. Why would you avoid doing that? (Not to mention the obvious fact that student fees pay our wages).

  7. I am wondering if your student called /emailed/texted a public library if they could not find a way “around” a stricter academic policy. A public librarian may just be able to access the article online as requested by the academic policy and then send to this student without having to break any rules himself.

    I know this is not the point here, just a reflex to try solve the problem 1st, debate it later.

    My point is there may be less rules in a public library.

  8. In our ILL dept, we send the link if it is available online, or if it’s through a subscription service, explain the steps needed to login to the university’s website and into the resource holding the article. With copyright clearance and other things, making a pdf of something already available is an unnecessary expense. It doesn’t appear that this was handled very well though, as I don’t see where they’ve tried to help the patron get to the apparently available resource…

  9. Since it was a friend of a friend, and I was highly disappointed in the reaction of the University, I tried to bypass the institution in order to help the patron get what they needed, but the database it was from is not carried by any local public libraries and the other institutions I have access to.

    The database in question offers all articles in PDF format to subscribers, so the library staff did not need to “make a PDF”. They simply had to search the said database and e-mail the article to the student. The student did not have access to a computer that could access the database/library website online at work or at home. They did have access to e-mail, however.

  10. Maybe the problem was the institutional licences… If you understand that supplier could block the whole institution for “bending the rules”, you wouldn’t be so harsh. It’s a sad reality. We should shout louder and try to change it of course.

    on a side note – i don’t understand in a student had access to email he had access to internet… almost all libraries have VPN access to library databases…

  11. Mitja makes a good point with regard to institutional licenses. I hadn’t considered that. If the resource is so locked down that there will obviously be students left in the dust, then perhaps more institutions need to ban together and demand change.

    The lack of access involved no computer at home temporarily and access to the university’s library databases require that the user’s computer have access to specific ports that are not accessible at the student’s work computer due to the security policy in place. The student still could access e-mail via their work computer and cell.

    Which leads to another thought–If the entire university library’s database collection could be easily accessed via smartphone could this whole situation been avoided? I am not familiar with academic database smartphone compatibility, but I would like to think there are some databases that must be built on platforms that are. Does anyone have insight on that?

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