UX Librarian

Sunday, November 19, 2017

User Experience in the Library

Prison Librarian to UX Designer?

I currently work as a prison librarian and for months I have contemplated a career change. While I enjoy working as a prison librarian it can be a solitary and limited work life. No phones or fit bits are allowed at work. I can't even walk in the door with a cup of coffee. Sometimes I grow weary of this luxury-less work life. I have an undergraduate degree in Fine Art and a graduate degree in Information Sciences. With substantial career experience in graphic design I thought it would be a natural transition for me to go into User Experience Design, or UX Design. After all, I can sketch a wire frame, create a persona, and troubleshoot websites with the best of them. I am good at working with people and interviewing them to know their habits and routines. Why not become a UX designer?

To pursue my dream of making more money and getting out of prison librarianship I spoke to an old friend who lives in New Jersey and works as a UX Designer. He gave me an hour-long lecture at lightning speed that gave me a unique insight into what it is that a UX Designer does. The best I am able to translate into laymen's terms is that the UX Designer works upfront with design and the creative team to create a plan of how to develop a website. The UX designer tests the human and computer interaction for intuitiveness and user-friendliness. What works? What doesn't work? What could work better? It is problem solving at it's core, something that creatives and librarians know a lot about.

Two Disciplines are Better Than One

I looked into a UX design certificate program at the University of Baltimore but at age 52, I really didn't want to spend a year and $15,000 to retrain and redirect. So, I did what many will do when faced with a crossroads, a possible change...I procrastinated. Then one night I had a light bulb moment about how to combine these two fields that I feel drawn to-- Librarianship and User Experience. After all, librarians love their patrons, their users. But are libraries creating programs and spaces that their patrons love? Why not have UX Librarianship?

What is a UX Librarian?

UX Librarianship combines the assessment and evaluation of UX within any library environment. What are the needs of your library users? How do users use your library? What are the strengths? What are the weaknesses? UX Librarianship goes beyond the library grad school SWOT analysis and follows users more closely to create a library that is responsive and user-friendly at every turn. While library school may give lots of lip service to the idea of the ever-changing library, the real model may sometimes remain static. UX Librarianship challenges library leaders to truly assess and evaluate the user, or patron, experience in the library in a scientific and methodical way. What is working for each individual user? What is not working? The UX Librarian puts the needs of the patrons first. To do this, UX librarians create a user-lead environment where the needs of the user come before those of the library staff or library board. UX Librarianship goes beyond providing excellent customer service by exploring like a scientist how the user uses the library and how it can be improved.

Are Libraries Ready For Change?

There is only one problem with UX Librarianship and that is the library itself that can be resistant to change and adaptation. I have heard from many professional librarians that are frustrated by older library leaders who want to hang on to 20th century library ways. Though, one could also argue that the 21st century has brought many changes and challenges to the library world that many have faced head on and conquered. Many others have chosen to keep their library in stasis, to not rock the library boat. The bottom line though is that each community is always in a state of change and flux-- a good library needs to be in touch enough with their users and patrons to be able to accommodate new technologies, new needs, and new purposes.

Libraries Serving Users

What are some ways that libraries change to meet the needs of their communities? Recently four branches of Baltimore's Enoch Pratt Library started a program that has social workers in the library to help people connect to services such as applying for disability. This is not a traditional library program but a recent addition that has been brought about by a need in the community. Another recent addition to the arsenal of services offered by libraries is Narcan, the nasal spray that reverses the effect of an opioid overdose. I can hear some skeptics asking, "Is providing Narcan a service? Is providing Narcan a service that libraries should offer?" I would answer emphatically, yes. If having Narcan in libraries nationwide saves one person it is well worth the service. The New York Public Library publishes a yearly collection of information for formerly incarcerated people entitled Connections. This 158-page publications offers information on housing, benefits, and services for those needing re-entry services back into the general population of New York and the United States.

As libraries continue to change, expand, contract, and grow in the 21st century, they need to keep an eye on the changing demographic of the community, the depth and breadth of programming offered, and the way in which services are provided. Through research, evaluation, assessment, interview, and observation, UX librarians help to keep libraries relevant and up-to-date in a world that changes very quickly. After all, the last two of Ranganathan's Laws are: The library is a growing organism, and save the time of the reader.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Prison Librarians - Where Are You?

This rural librarian is still very rural, but I am now serving as a prison librarian somewhere in Appalachia, USA. I have been trying to connect with other professional prison librarians and have had a tough time finding colleagues. The United States has the largest incarcerated population in the world and prison librarians have an important job. We need to connect, collaborate, and network so that we may share ideas and establish best practices while maintaining a safe and secure library environment.

Prison Librarian Challenges

I maintain that there is little difference between a public librarian and a prison librarian, but the prison librarian gets the short end of the professional librarian stick because we work with convicted criminals. Maybe the stigma of felons transfers to prison librarians? I have had the pleasure of working in academic and public libraries and this is my first prison library experience. My goals in my prison library are very much the same as my other library jobs-- collection development, developing programs, tracking statistics, and staying in touch with the needs of my patrons.

While I take risks by holding my position as prison librarian, I also contend that the opportunity for rewards is great. I have the unique opportunity to help people return to society as contributing and positive members. I try to cultivate a library collection that focuses on positive behavior and entrepreneurial skills. I try to create programs that entertain, empower, and educate my library patrons.

Prison Library Collective

I know there are other prison librarians out there, both professional and non-professional. Where are you? I would like to conduct an interview with you to find out what your unique challenges and rewards may be. Are you a prison librarian working in the United States? I would like to hear from you. You do not have to have a library degree to be a prison librarian. If you push a book cart in a jail, I would like to hear from you. If you would like to remain anonymous, that is OK, too. If there are enough of us, I recommend that we form a Prison Library Collective that is separate from the usual "Special Library" groups that we may often be lumped into. Prison libraries and librarians face unusual challenges and obstacles. Let's do this together. Please email me, or, look for the FaceBook group entitled Prison Librarians.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Toxic Libraries - What Are Some of the Causes?

Have you ever worked in a toxic work environment? Most people have had this experience at least once in the work world. Sadly, I have talked with many librarians and library employees who are suffering daily in a toxic library. Is this common? In my opinion, yes.

Let's define a toxic workplace, in general, first. What are the hallmarks of dysfunction in a library?

• In a toxic workplace, library leaders show favoritism to loyal followers, and punish anyone who does not show proper deference.

• Toxic workplaces have bosses that crush and question new ideas out of defensiveness and fear.

• Toxic workplaces do not value employees and treat them accordingly.

• Toxic workplaces are always asking their workers for more while giving less in return.

• A toxic library or workplace can look a lot like a dictatorship in some small and isolated third-world country.

Perhaps the worst and most pervasive hallmark of a toxic and dysfunctional workplaces is that No One in charge can acknowledge problems and deal with them effectively. Writing for PsychCentral, Melody Wilding (LMSW) adds that the dysfunctional workplace features a lot of drama. Sound familiar?

Lack of Library Management Skills

One of the reasons many libraries flounder with poor leadership and high turnover of employees is because of lack of management skills. These are complicated personnel and leadership issues, and most American Library Association accredited library programs do not have an emphasis on library management. During my program at the University of Tennessee, we did not have one course in library personnel and board management. Think about it. Libraries are complicated entities being run by information professionals who may have zero supervisory experience when they assume a leadership role. As a library director, you have to juggle all constituents from staff, to students, to parents, to board members, to the county commission. Library leaders need to be well-informed, forward-thinking, communicators who are good at nurturing and building a team. Without benefit of a proper Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree, many libraries are lead by tribal elders who have not changed in decades. So it is great that the University of South Carolina just announced a new Master's Degree program in Library Management.

Too Many Cooks in the Library

Another reason why there are so many toxic libraries has to do with the strength of involvement from the community, library patrons, the state library commission, and the library board. As nonprofit businesses, there are many groups of constituents who want to be involved in the way a library serves its community. Mostly, this is good. Public libraries want the community involved so that the library may serve them better. But what if the library board is controlling of the director and employees? Most library directors serve at the pleasure of the board, and keeping the board informed, involved, and happy comes with the territory. Many small rural library boards do not understand that the director runs the day-to-day operations of the library and their main responsibility is to fundraise, create policy, and oversee the budget. Library boards who are overbearing and controlling contribute to creating a dysfunctional workplace for most. Library boards need to understand their unique role and they need to stand behind their director.

An Uninvolved Board

I have also heard library leaders complain of uninvolved and complacent boards. If board members do not show up at meetings regularly they miss the narrative, thrust, and goals of the library. And sometimes, libraries with little board oversight have the potential to become strange little petty fiefdoms, a bizarro world where nothing makes sense. The library without oversight is as vulnerable for becoming toxic and dysfunctional as the library with too much. Let us all pause and give good cheer for successful library boards that can walk that fine line between being supportive and being over-/under-involved. I have seen healthy library and nonprofit boards-- it can make or break the success of any nonprofit workplace.

The Nonprofit Equation

As a nonprofit business, there is no financial bottom line. Libraries do not necessarily need to make money to stay afloat. So, what indicators may a library use to know it is healthy and thriving? Statistics are one story. How many items circulated? How many library visits? In many ways, a successful library may use exceptional customer service to keep these statistics healthy. However, in my experience, I have encountered many librarians who don't seem to understand what excellent customer service looks like. In the corporate or retail world, poor customer service skills would not be tolerated, especially when the results are in lower profits. In my tenure as library director, not a single board member ever asked to see circulation statistics, and during my early days of directing I did not realize how important they may be. As a student and practitioner of marketing, all of your endeavors should be trackable. How do you measure and analyze the success of your library? Good library leaders focus on assessment, gathering data, and analyzing statistics to inform good decisions. These reports should be provided to board members and the public regularly for good library relations. Many board meetings feature a Librarian's Report. This is a great place to discuss accomplishments and goals, important statistics and trends, and to keep the library board members informed. This is invaluable communication that builds collaboration and cooperation between the library and the community.

Employers Marketplace - The Economy Is Still Recovering

When I was a graphic designer and art director in the 1990's in Philadelphia, I had my pick of good jobs and better jobs. I left one of my first nonprofit jobs after five months because I could see the dysfunctional writing on the wall. I also gave one of the best lines of my career: "This job did not meet my expectations." Since the economy crashed in 2007-08, it has become an employer's marketplace. I have encountered many employers who have the attitude that their workers should just be happy to have a job, any job. In a competitive job market, employers are less likely to treat their workers well. Maybe in another decade the economy will bounce back, but the wealth of the 1990's will probably not appear in my lifetime. Sadface.

The Technology/Age/Culture Gap in Library Workplaces

This effect will vary by geographical location. In states with older librarians and less funding (like West Virginia) there is a huge technology gap between young and old librarians. Older librarians resent younger librarians who come with ideas of new technology. I have met many older librarians who still weep tears over the loss of the card catalog and who fear learning new technology. This resistance to change means that underserved states who are ruled by older librarians will remain less technologically advanced than their neighboring states with better populations and tax bases. Sadly, this may be another way that poverty becomes cyclical in Appalachia.

For many of us, we can not afford to be highly selective in choosing a library job. But I do urge people who are looking for a librarian job to do some research before they accept a job in a toxic library. This may be difficult as many toxic workplaces may be good at making appearances matter. At your job interview, ask why the previous person left. Ask about their style of management. Ask questions, and remember that you have valuable work skills and deserve to work someplace that treats you well. In the meantime, it feels like so many good librarians are just waiting for about ten years in the future. Older librarians will retire, new technology will overcome, the economy may actually bounce back. Hang in there, good librarian friends. The future of libraries is going to be a good one.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Privacy in Libraries: E-Rate, CIPA, the Library Freedom Project, and the Tor Project

While I was working at a public library in West Virginia I noticed a few things about our public Internet computers. Yes, they were slow. They also came with protective filters meant to filter out viruses and spyware. As librarian I had passwords that could lower the security system called Fortress, but many times the secret override password had been changed and librarians were not notified. I also noticed (sometimes) that when a patron could not access a site it was because it was super unsafe and dangerous, a plus on the Fortress side. But there were times when the Fortress software did not allow access to services that patrons really needed. One time it happened with a patron who needed to access her university website-- there was just no way to access the necessary site due to the protective software. My goal as library director was to serve all of my patrons and to not be able to help this one patron felt wrong.

What Is E-Rate?

Because our library is a public and a school library, another librarian friend warned me, "If kids come into the library and use the computers, you have to monitor to make sure they are not using FaceBook." Really? This one really confused me because it was an aspect of librarianship I was not familiar with...am I the Internet Police at my library? Is that part of my responsibility? This librarian's comment was meant in relation to E-rate, the federally funded program that discounts the cost of Internet for schools and libraries. E-Rate is the nickname for the Schools and Library Program of the Universal Service fund, which in turn, is administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company under the direction of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Stacked within layers of bureaucracy, YES, it is all a little confusing and senses-taking, so please bear with me, this is important library stuff worth knowing about.

E-Rate in West Virginia

In West Virginia, E-Rate gives back almost $13 million in 2015. I can confirm that as part of the E-Rate program, our library's telephone bill was reimbursed every six months and this saved us about $600 per year. We had no Internet fee because the service was paid for by the West Virginia Library Commission (WVLC). I can see that the WVLC was reimbursed a little over $16,000 for Internet access which is 65% of the full cost. I'm including the data below from the Universalservice.org site: (Click on the image below to make it appear larger.)

What is CIPA?

The Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) was passed by the United States Congress to help keep kids safe online. This leglislation says that any entity that receives E-Rate funding has to comply with CIPA by having certain filters in place online to protect children from seeing obscene images and/or harmful content. (Read more about CIPA here.) My favorite takeaway from CIPA is this: "CIPA does not require the tracking of Internet use by minors or adults." So, because the WVLC has filters in place librarians are not responsible for monitoring what minors are looking at online. *phew* That is a relief, because I feel like kids have rights, too, and no one likes someone looking over their shoulder while they are browsing online.

What is Tor?

I recently saw this news story from the Kilton Public Library in Lebanon, New Hampshire, and I thought, "This is important." Kilton Library looks to be a progressive and forward-thinking library with a wonderful green design and well-lit interior. Earlier this summer, Kilton Library became the first public library in the United States to become part of the Tor Network, an anonymous Internet browser. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was not so happy about this and contacted the library by email. Eventually, the DHS, the local police, and Kilton city officials all had to have a long meeting to talk things over and Tor was shut down. Now, the community is being polled to see if they will support the Tor Browser and the Tor Network at the public library. Stay tuned.

So what is Tor? Why is To important? The Tor browser on library computers allows patrons to use the web anonymously. What does that mean? The Tor browser routes information in a circuitous fashion, almost like a high-speed chase, in order to not be easy to trace or follow. Currently, most browsers store your data and information. Google knows where you have been and it does not consider your email private. Does that feel a little bit like Big Brother is watching you? Some people don't mind being served up ads based on private communications, but others find this deeply manipulative and materialistic. The Tor browser has no ads and it is not selling you anything. While some might associate criminal activity with anonymous web use, there are many legal and legitimate uses for the Tor browser by an eclectic group of users that include law enforcement officials, military, and journalists.

Support Library Freedom

I, personally, am all in favor of anonymous Internet browsing in the public library (can you tell?), but I also want to give the point of view of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The DHS does not like Tor because it associates the anonymity with criminal activity, and DHS has really focused on child pornography over the past decade. But Tor is not impervious to law enforcement. In March 2014, DHS took down a major child pornography ring that used the Tor network. While there is potential for illegal activity on Tor, this potential exists in every nook and cranny of the Internet. I might argue that the benefits of Tor far outweigh the liabilities. The Library Freedom Project is behind Tor at the Kilton Library in New Hampshire.

The American Library Association supports intellectual freedom and unfiltered and unfettered Internet use is part of that freedom. The OpenNet Initiative and the Library Freedom Project are working to preserve these rights. Libraries and librarians are not law enforcement officers, nor Internet nannies. I encourage all librarians and information professionals to talk about these issues with your board members so that they can have the information they need to make decisions about filtering the Internet in libraries. Privacy in the library is important to everyone.

Update: 9/27/15 - On September 16, Kilton Public Library of New Hampshire voted to continue being part of the Tor network. Score one for privacy online and in the library.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Reframing the Civil War - It Was About Slavery

Leighton Hall, Carnforth, England, 1989. Pictured left to right: Captain Tom Foster, Mary Rayme, and Michael L., representatives of the First Confederate Signal Corps of Maryland.

In creating an imaginary curated exhibition for a local history museum, the Beverly Heritage Center in Beverly, West Virginia, I had an epiphany about how we interpret and present the American Civil War in museums, in reenactments, and in history class. My story starts several decades ago when I was lured into Civil War reenactment by a boyfriend. For a solid year, we attended reenactments in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and even England (see photo above), as part of the First Maryland Confederate Signal Corps. This was a rich and rewarding experience that pushed me headlong into history in a way that I will never forget. (If you want a more in-depth look at the subculture of reenacting, read "Confederates in the Attic" by Anthony Horowitz.)

U.S. Civil War Reenactment

So, what did we do at Civil War reenactments? We wore wool, we practiced semaphore (a binary language communicated with flags), we drilled, and marched. The highlight of most of the reenactments was, of course, the battle. The battles and skirmishes were usually very carefully discussed and considered by fake generals on horseback and other chosen leaders of the various factions attending. Thousands of spectators would turn out to watch the battle and walk among the campgrounds, eager to feel as if they had just stepped back in time. Hundreds of reenactors invested their own money to have authentic uniforms handmade, to buy authentic cotton duck tents, to bring functional artillery and horses to a fake battle that recreated a war resolved on paper in 1865. I met men and women from all over the world who had come to participate or observe. The only African Americans I ever met were dressed in Union uniforms or they portrayed freed African Americans. I never met a Civil War reenactor who dressed up and pretended that they were a slave. In fact, at many reenactments there was a lack of participants that wanted to dress as Union soldiers. Sometimes, there were coin tosses to decide about splitting up sides so that it appeared there was equal participation from Confederates and Federal troops. No lie, most reenactors at the events we attended wanted to be Confederates. Self included. For me, this was an act of historically portraying my ancestors who fought for the South as Virginians and North Carolinians. This was not an act of feeling any sympathy for the South at all. Slavery is a despicable institution and any supporters of slavery need to be eliminated and abolished.

The Beverly Heritage Center

Years later, I worked at the Beverly Heritage Center (as coordinator of the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike) for about six years and was involved in the creation of this awesome museum from historic rehabilitation of the buildings to the creation and design of the exhibitions. The museum has one whole building dedicated to interpreting the Battle of Rich Mountain, one of the first land battles of the American Civil War, part of the First Campaign. In what was then still part of old Virginia, the town of Beverly (like many WV towns) was traded back and forth by Union and Confederate troops, though Beverly's sympathies lay largely with the Union. The exhibition at Beverly celebrates the leaders and troops that fought (on both sides) and the strategies employed to create a win for the Union troops. (If you would like more information about the American Civil War in Western Virginia, I recommend Hunter Lesser's wonderful book "Rebels at the Gate.")

Slave quarters behind the Beverly Heritage Center. Photo by Mary Rayme.

So, fast forward to 2015. I am taking a Museum Studies class as one of my last courses of graduate school via the University of Tennessee. One of our assignments is to curate an imaginary exhibition at a museum of our choice. The project I chose was to create a picture of the African Americans, both enslaved and free, who once lived in Beverly, WV, and who helped to build this frontier town. I put together an imaginary exhibition that includes:

* The old slave quarters behind the Beverly Heritage Center

* The Randolph County Historical Society building that was built by slave labor.

* To cross the road between museums, visitors have to use Route 219, once known as the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike. This historic road was also used by runaway slaves seeking freedom across the Ohio River in Parkersburg to Marietta, Ohio, an abolitionist community. So part of the Underground Railroad is a piece of the exhibition that will have signage and interpretation.

* Finally, there is a section of Beverly Cemetery that is unmarked where slaves were buried. While this area is too far away for foot traffic, it should be photographed with appropriate signage for full effect.

It is clear from the evidence that exists that African Americans played an important role in building the town of Beverly.

My Civil War Education Epiphany

My big epiphany in planning this imaginary exhibition of the life of African Americans in Beverly, WV, made me realize that we may be teaching Civil War history all wrong. Like, super wrong.

In the exhibitions that we carefully and lovingly created for the Civil War we celebrate the warriors, troops, and generals who fought the Civil War. We talk about the townsfolk, merchants, and farmers. We admire their uniforms, buttons, powder horns, and rifles. We forgot to teach (thoroughly) why we fought the Civil War. We neglected to celebrate the people the North was fighting to free--African Americans. What was it like in early Beverly with freed African Americans and enslaved African Americans living in the same town? Perhaps if Civil War museums focused more on the horrors of slavery and the struggles of African Americans to be treated as equals, maybe we would have less racism overall?

Maybe all Civil War museums should debunk/expand/elucidate the history of the Confederate flag at every exhibition? Original documents such as the Declaration of Causes of Seceding States will be provided to reinforce that slavery was the driving issue of the Civil War. Even in contemporary culture, the issue of slavery has been sidelined in favor of generals and wars. We have had many excellent films about the Civil War, (Andersonville, Cold Mountain, Glory, Gettysburg, Gods & Generals), but not a single film about Harriet Tubman the most famous conductor on the Underground Railroad. Many Civil War exhibits may talk about the issue of slavery, but it is glossed over quickly-- no need to dwell on an unpleasant topic, right?. Wrong. We have chosen to celebrate soldiers over those whose lives and existence were in the hands of their owners and/or other white people. While soldiers fought the war from 1861-1865, slaves lived a life at war. We have chosen to celebrate war waged (mostly) by white people, rather than really taking the time to spiritually weigh and acknowledge our debt to African Americans.

Imagining a Better Way to Teach the Civil War

Imagine it this way: In Gettysburg where every state that participated in the American Civil War raised money to buy monuments to the troops who fought there, what if every state cooperated to create a National Slavery Memorial? What if there was one created in Washington D.C. on the Mall? This idea was proposed in 2003 but never came to fruition. America is clearly not ready to acknowledge the past so that it can move forward into the future with less racism and more tolerance. The Equal Justice Initiative has suggested a national monument system to tag and acknowledge places where African Americans were lynched. I think this is a great start. Americans, and particularly white Americans, need to be reminded that the riches they enjoy today as part of a peaceful and prosperous country came at a very high price. Slaves lived and died to build the United States and they deserve to be acknowledged. Just like the Holocaust, this is an event in history that should not be forgotten.

And what about the after effects of the Civil War on African Americans in Beverly? In the early 1800's there were African Americans, both freed and enslaved, in Beverly, West Virginia. We have evidence of their labor, we know where they lived, we know generally where they are buried. What we don't know is where they went. Today, Beverly is 98% white. In the border town of Beverly, WV, that had split loyalties between North and South, most African Americans likely left for locations where they could thrive and prosper.

Harriet Tubman c. 1885, courtesy of Wikimedia.

More Harriet, Less Ulysses

There is the old cliche that the victors get to write the history and that is certainly the case when we teach and interpret the United States Civil War. While education systems, historians, or media outlets may feign neutrality in talking about the Civil War, there is no way to present history without a bias. Let us consider changing the emphasis in how we teach the Civil War. I say, let's teach more Harriet Tubman and less Grant and Lee-- after all, John Brown called her General Tubman.

You may check out my slideshow presentation that I delivered for Museum Studies course here-- it is entitled "Who Built Beverly?"

Thursday, July 30, 2015

CARE For Africa - A Fraudulent Nonprofit

As I search for jobs online, another fraudulent company has presented itself to me, and this is a fake charity. I answered an ad on Craigslist for a telephone fundraiser and received an immediate job offer from CARE for Africa. They also included their script, the quality of which was a dead giveaway on their scam-iness and lack of professionalism. The offer of a job without a contract was also a giveaway. CARE For Africa has a slick looking site, but if you dig deeper you will find the flaws that give them away. This is what a fake nonprofit looks like.

CARE For Africa - Scam

I have to give Care For Africa some major scam points. First, CARE sounds familiar, doesn't it? There is a real organization called C.A.R.E. (also headquartered in Virginia) that does great work all over the world. CARE For Africa is not related to C.A.R.E. in any way. The Africa part-- who doesn't worry for Africa? The photos on the website are of beautiful black children that tug at the heart strings. They get sympathy points for pulling 'Africa' and 'CARE' into their moniker. But alas, this is a scam company that does not legitimately exist.

How to Report a Fake Nonprofit

The sad part is that it's really hard to report a fraudulent nonprofit. I spent hours on the phone with the Virginia Attorney General's office. They were not interested. Again, how do you question and handcuff a fraudulent online entity? When you try to report or destroy a fake online company or nonprofit, it is so easy for the scammers to tweak a page or two, change their name, and to morph into a new fraudulent company. Today's CARE For Africa could turn into Project Smile Africa or Africa United Way.

Tell-Tale Signs of Internet Fraud

Why is CARE For Africa fraudulent?

* First, if you examine their website there are no personal names attached to this website. No proud resumes, no professional administrators. Just a slick site that pulls our sympathy strings using pictures of African children. The lack of specifics anywhere on the site is a huge red flag.

* CARE for Africa lists two addresses on their site, both of which are to townhouses in Virginia. (You can check it out on Google Maps.) If CARE For Africa was a real nonprofit I would expect to see an office in a corporate park or in a commercial area. Nope, just residential townhouses.

* Additionally, the social media icons for FaceBook and Twitter take you nowhere-- these are dead links. CARE For Africa doesn't have a social media presence because they are a fraudulent nonprofit.

* Because CARE For Africa says they are a nonprofit, I can look up CARE for Africa on GuideStar.org and see that they are not registered as a nonprofit entity. This clinches my conclusion that they are totally fraudulent. Real nonprofit organizations have 990 tax forms available for public view on Guide Star.

Small Time Fraud - Free Pass

As a last resort of trying to get CARE for Africa offline, I contacted the real C.A.R.E. to let them know that a fake nonprofit was using their name. You would think that they would care about policing their brand but I received no response. Again, an online organization is difficult to take down, especially since I didn't lose a dime to them. I have done as much as I can to report CARE For Africa as a fake and fraudulent nonprofit but have had zero impact. This blog post is my last resort. Don't give money or work for a fake organization. Take time to research who you decide which nonprofit organizations are real and which, like CARE For Africa, are totally fake.

Update: August 29, 2015: I was contacted by an independent law firm that represents CARE, Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP. They are looking into the use of the CARE name by this fake nonprofit. Perhaps there is movement to eliminate this site? We shall see....

Little Scams Online - How To Determine Internet Fraud

I have been looking for jobs online. I have done this for years and have found some great jobs that have paid the bills However, I have also found some fraudulent sites on the Internet. (Not so shocking, right?) I have tried to go out of my way to report these scams to the proper authorities but you can't police the Internet. It is Too Big and too amorphous to put handcuffs on it. That's why you have to vigilant in whom you choose to work with.

First, you should never have to pay any money up front to be hired for a job. A red flag should go off if anyone, especially an alleged potential employer, asks you for money. Which brings us to Hire Talent. They have been online for a long time and they are not going away. But they are a completely fraudulent company. How can you identify a fraudulent company online? Let's go through the steps.

Hire Talent is Fraudulent

First, Hire Talent contacted me out of the blue. I have uploaded my resume around and they found my email online. A persona named Jim Taubert wanted to hire me but I would need to send Hire Talent $65 up front for my training. That is a huge red flag that took me to their fake website. Let's look at it...

If you Google Hire Talent, there are a bunch of other sites that sound like or look like Hire Talent-- they are smart to hide among reputable companies with similar names. The logo of Hire Talent is old looking and pixilated, this screams of amateurism. Any successful company has a professional logo created by a designer. They say they have been in "Human Capital Consulting Since 2008." Sorry, according to Alexa, this website has only existed for a few months. If you search on Domain.com on who owns the domain, this information is private, another red flag. The generic stock photos of people on their website, another red flag. Look at the very brief biographies of the employees...Jim Taubert, Brandon Daniels, Jonathan Welle, and Susan Applen. These people do not exist and their vague bios show hastily drawn sketches. "Mr. Welle brings over 20 years of client relations and support experience to Hire Talent." Mr. Welle is so successful that he has no LinkedIn page? These are all clues that Hire Talent is totally fake and a fraudulent website.

I tried many ways to report Hire Talent to no avail. Their website says they are located in Minnesota, but who knows where they are really located. This fake and fraudulent company showed their cards when they sent me several PayPal requests for the $65 training fee. The email came from melissa.sarna@gmail.com. When I Google Melissa Sarna, I can see another red flag of fraud. Whomever Melissa Sarna is, her name has been attached to frauds for a very long time. Google her name with the word 'scam' and you will see what I mean. I have contacted PayPal regarding this and they have done nothing. I have also reported Hire Talent to the Internet Crime Complaint Center to no avail. I could contact the Attorney General of Minnesota, but all Hire Talent has to do is change their skyline photo and their address. These guys at Hire Talent are so small that they fly under the radar of most law enforcement. While they are stealing money from people, at less than $100 per theft most law enforcement does not have the time or resources to really investigate. Hire Talent is just a pack of petty thieves.

Job Seekers Beware

Sadly, the Internet is still very much like the high seas-- too big to police and full of pirates. That is why you have to be careful and extra vigilant at all times when doing business online. There are lots of sharks in the water, don't forget your shark repellent. Bring your critical thinking skills to any online venture. When you are hired online, make sure there is a contract that both parties sign. Make sure you dig around in to who runs the company. If you can't find information, be wary. There are lots of job scammers out there, like Hire Talent, phony and fraudulent websites who would love to take your money and run.