Skip to content

Madison Public Library Not Prepared For Alzheimers Request

July 20, 2009

As Powers of Attorney for a friend of ours with Alzheimers Disease we encountered a most remarkable turn of events on Monday.  After having stopped at an insurance company on the Capitol Square and obtaining a renter’s insurance policy for him, and also getting the proper check from a downtown bank to pay for the policy from our friend’s account, we headed to the next place on our schedule. 

The Madison Public Library. 

We wanted to be linked to his library account so that we could be placed on an email alert notice for when books that our friend had checked out may not have been returned on time.  We wanted the email notice to be sent our way so we could insure matters were all handled as they should be.  Surely there could be no problem with an email alert and getting us linked to his account.  After all, we had already arranged almost every other account, including matters with his doctor, in such a fashion to insure that our friend has less worry at this stage in his life.  Remember that before we arrived at the library we had completed financial transactions at an insurance company and a bank.  We were sure that this matter at the library would be handled in a few keystrokes at the front desk.

Oh no!  Not so fast.

The lady who heard our request was pleasant, but very unsure how to proceed, and had to ask her supervisor.  About two minutes later she returned to tell us that there was no way, in spite of us having all the forms that were signed and notarized granting power of attorney, that the library could place our email into the account without having our friend in person to OK the matter.    Having just had the insurance company, and the bank both deal with the needs we presented without hesitation, and then have the library reject the request of making sure overdue books get returned, was nothing short of amusing.

I may be a midwestener, but I am no longer shy about saying things about issues that make no sense once they are presented to me.  I asked if they ever dealt with people who had Alzheimers, or folks such as ourselves who sought to help a friend with the disease–friends mind you armed with 28-page legal documents granting us every authority under the sun.  She informed us that she had never been presented with such an issue. 

I then thanked her for being a ‘forward thinker’ on this matter.

Others have argued that the library was really just trying to protect our friend’s right to privacy at the library.  I am sure that this is the case.  The library shouldn’t just allow a stranger to come in and ask for information about someone else’s reading habits.  The fact though that we were legally endowed to be making this sort of request with 28-pages of legal text in hand to prove it is what frustrates.

Our friend visits the library often, and there is no problem having him there with us to complete what is needed to be done.  The problem is the needless hurdle put in place to remind someone with this disease that they are not able to live life like they once did.  That is why the power of attorney was granted–so that we could do things for him that will allow him to live life and concentrate on the matters he needs to for his health.  By our doing things and making arrangements per his request, and doing them out of his sight, is a more proper way to handle these affairs.  There should be no reason for the Madison Public Library to have more concerns about an email than the insurance and bank did with the other matters with which we dealt.

  1. July 24, 2009 6:30 PM

    I work at the public library and I’ve inquired into this situation. At the time you were in the library, the Circulation Supervisor was not in the building. You may contact her directly at 266-6362 during business hours and she can explain several options available to you and your friend, including the possibility of special privileges we offer in certain situations such as home delivery service and limited use cards.

    Our computer system, which is quite dated and in the process of being replaced next year, only allows for one email address to receive notification. So, only you OR your friend would be able to receive all of your friend’s notifications. One option would be for your friend to give you login and password information for his/her account, which would allow you to check on the status of items at any time while still allowing your friend to receive notifications. Or you could use a third-party service such as Library Elf ( to track your friend’s library materials, again after your friend had provided you with login and password information. This free service could be set up in such a way that would allow your friend AND you, as his/her Power of Attorney, to receive notifications, and you could choose the notifications you receive, such as only overdues, which would still give your friend privacy options and control.

    As a library employee, I am glad to see that several comments appreciated the library’s very real concern with privacy. Having never worked in a bank or in the insurance industry, I’m guessing the difference for the library is the money involved. Since both banks and insurance companies involve monetary matters, they’re more likely to have well-known policies in place concerning Power of Attorney. While the library is a free service, and therefore perhaps not as used to receiving requests like yours, it’s a good reminder to us to be aware of our policies and procedures. Your situation fits our Confidentiality Policy ( so please give the Circulation Supervisor a call.

  2. Delicious permalink
    July 22, 2009 10:13 AM

    I admire the assistance and thoughtfulness you are showing toward your friend. Try not to be too hard on the public library, particular the front line staff. Most of the people at the front desk are part time student workers, who may not be fully trained yet. Acknowledge that the privacy issue at libraries is more complex than the average person in the public might think, particularly as a reaction to Sept.2001, and years of Bush administration policies. Ask to speak about this issue with the circulation supervisor, who is the only person who is going to be equipped to talk policy and exceptions with you. And even this supervisor may need to take policy exceptions up to a higher level. We should all be grateful that the librarians are taking a lot of care with privacy issues–it keeps our reading histories out of the hands of the government, and reading decisions of teens and young adults out of the hands of their parents, who might not want to know that they are reading about sexuality or other issues like that.

    Good for you, for being such a considerate friend.

  3. July 21, 2009 6:10 PM

    Libraries are very touchy about privacy, more so than banks or insurance companies (who merely follow the legal requirements established by the government). The government can easily subpoena bank and insurance records. Librarians have fought against the requirement to share library records with the government, for very good reason. If they don’t want to share records with the government, they can’t very well share them with friends or family members, even if they have a power of attorney, without putting cracks in their privacy policies.

    While you may find it a bit more inconvenient, why don’t you simply check out books for your friend with your libary card? You can be sure that email notices about overdue books will come directly to you.

  4. Kelly permalink
    July 20, 2009 10:54 PM

    My grandpa use to say that my grandma had the right amount of crank within her to get any engine running. After reading this tonight you seem to have the same personality. I think you are doing a fine thing for someone in need and wish you all the best.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: