Forensic librarianship

I’m working at the reference desk, and a student just asked if I knew a way to print the list of files in his My Documents folder, showing the date they were last saved. I showed him how to use the print screen function to create an image, and to format the image to show the information he was looking to highlight. He started grumbling about “that’ll prove I was here”. I was curious, but didn’t say ask for fear of invading his privacy. But he’s a regular of ours — one of the students whose name I know because I’ve interacted with him so often. Instead, I said, “If this is for something official, I’d recommend using the color printer so that the image is as legible as possible.” He took the opening and told me his story.

Apparently, he’s been accused of being somewhere he wasn’t and doing something he didn’t do, and he’s using his electronic data trail to prove it — the time documents were saved, emails sent, and programs logged into and out of. I helped him print as many of those things as I could, and I suggested a few other people he could talk to and places he could go for more information, and wished him well.

He came back 20 minutes later to show me the logs he’d gotten from another office (one I’d recommended) on campus, corroborating his story about his whereabouts at what time, at which point he told me he had a military and criminal justice background and he was going to prove his innocence!

That was a new one for me. Crime scene librarianship. We’re here to serve, if not protect.


  1. As the one he got the logs from, as I told him, all that he’s actually proving is that SOMEONE was logged in at that time, not himself. I wished him the best of luck all the same, futile as it is.


  2. Matt, I know that it’s not concrete, and it’s not ‘proof’… but I liked his willingness to think creatively and thoroughly and TRY.


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