In the not too distant past, I was manning the reference desk, listening to a man say he had to come to the library to use the computers because his laptop was so badly infested with viruses that he had to throw it away.
“You threw it away?” I asked, incredulously.
“Yeah, it’s worthless now. I can’t use it. I’m just going to throw it away.”
Realizing he hadn’t actually thrown it away yet, but was willing to, I glibly asked if he’d throw it my way. He looked at me incredulously at the same time I realized there was probably some intervening ethics involved. So I said, “Or, I could show you how to make it usable again so there will never be another virus on it.”
He was still incredulous. I assured him it can be done. He wanted to know what he could do for me. I told him “Never tell anyone about this,” forming a mental image of what would happen if he went out and told all his friends, or worse, wrote to the director about what I’d done for him.
He came back a couple days later, but didn’t have the laptop with him. I hooked him up with a copy of Keir Thomas’ Beginning Ubuntu Linux, and a newer version of the CD included in the book. He was still somewhat incredulous. He left the book, but promised to come back the next day with the laptop. Unfortunately, I didn’t see him again after that. I’m still wondering whether the original story was true, or if my comments prompted him to find someone to clean up the laptop for him.
I’ve since left that job. Sometimes I miss the interesting world of public libraries.