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Impersonating Students to Increase Sales?

Working at a small school with deeply ingrained vocabulary and a student population of only a couple thousand, you get pretty used to the way email questions look and feel when they come from students. So this morning when I opened a message and it just felt off, somehow, I took a minute to do a little investigating. The email I’d received said:

Dear Ms. Jastram,
I am doing some research on colonial Latin American literature for my honors thesis and I came across a book that just came out this year and our library does not have it yet.  The title is: __El discurso colonial en textos novohispanos: espacio, cuerpo y poder__ by Sergio Rivera-Ayala (Tamesis, 2009; ISBN:9781855661790) Is it possible to purchase it?

Senior Student
Carleton College

First of all, our seniors do “comps” not “honors theses.” Second, they tend to assume that we know them by their senior years (which we generally do), so the signature seemed odd. And finally, it’s very rare for students to request books here, just generally, unless we’ve already exhausted our InterLibrary Loan options.

The kicker came when the registrar confirmed that we have no such student enrolled here.

Apparently someone is hoping to drum up sales for this book by impersonating students. And here I thought those handwritten letters from authors were a bit much… This is another whole level of “a bit much.”

Published inRandom Thoughts


  1. Clint Clint

    At our medium-size university library, we have a web form for library users to suggest books. It doesn’t get much use, but for some reason a few faculty members prefer it to a regular email or phone call, and grad students, who wouldn’t know who to contact in the first place, use it on occasion as well.

    Authors and publishers sometimes use the form to make straightforward sales pitches for their books. But I’ve also noticed two other more nefarious uses of the form:

    1. The requester implies they are a student but enters an email address outside of the our domain, and my suspicions are raised, especially when the book is from an obscure publisher. It turns out no such person exists on our campus, much like your situation, and I ignore the request.

    2. One time, a request was sent using the name and email address of a faculty member in one of the departments I deal with. I thought the subject of the book seemed a bit outside the realm of her usual requests, but I went ahead and ordered it. When I notified the faculty member after the book came in, she told me she had never heard of the book and certainly had not requested it. Fool me once….

  2. Iris Iris

    Well, as glad as I am to know that I wasn’t singled out for a sucker, I’m a little disturbed to hear that this kind of thing goes on in any kind of a systematic way. It seems like too much trouble for a publisher to go through, which leaves me to wonder if getting one copy here and there into a library is that much of an ego thing for authors. Surely they don’t make enough money off of each sale to make this kind of machinations worth it. So again, I’m left wondering who would do this?

  3. Verga Parati Verga Parati

    What is the problem with that request? I do not understand. The fact that she or he is suggesting a book for the library to buy, I do not see why the fuss. The book, he or she is suggesting, is a legal product, isn’t it? Plus the book comes from a very respectable British academic publisher. As far as I am concerned, if someone is suggesting something that could enhance the library collection, I do not see any problem. Have you forgotten the roll that librarians have played in history? Jesus, what kind of librarians are you?

  4. Iris Iris

    I’m sure I’m not the first librarian in all of history to turn down a request that we buy a book, even a book that is from a respectable British academic publisher and that can be legally obtained. And even though your nom de plume leads me to believe that you don’t really want a reasoned answer, I’ll give you one anyway.

    My problem with the request is two-fold. First, impersonating somebody else in order to drum up sales is unethical. It constitutes a lie, and it’s manipulative. So right off the bat, that sours me on the whole idea. Second, my library exists to serve the curriculum of this college, so the best book in the world is out of bounds if there isn’t a pretty direct connection between the courses being taught here and the book itself.

    But really, it’s the manipulative lying that I take exception to.

  5. Verga Parati Verga Parati

    Thank you for your answer. I did want one. I can understand why you are bothered. I think nobody should try to pass as a student, especially the way it was done. However you do not really know for sure the motives of that person. You are just assuming that it was done “to drum up sales.” The motives are unclear to me, from what I can read in the email. I do not see any marketing language there. On your second reason, you say that you library serves the curriculum of the college. I am not familiar with the subject of the book in question, but I could guess that in your college some professors could be interested in it. So my question is: did you ask anyone about the book? I am a retired professor and I used to get emails from the librarian suggesting books. As an avid reader, I think students should be able to have access to as many books as possible. Regards… ;o)

  6. Iris Iris

    You are a retired professor? And your institution gave you VPN access to their network?? Wow. Most universities are far stingier with their VPNs.

    Best remember that blog owners can often see the originating IP addresses for comments left on their blogs, in future.

  7. Not to mention that’s a _particularly_ odd name for a retired professor.

    Just sayin’.

  8. Todd Todd

    I get a few of those odd requests a year at our very small college.

    We also get website suggestions on our LibGuides course guides from bloggers and website authors/editors. Much like your school, we know most of our students and can recognize oddities in requests.

  9. […] that just won’t die (or keeps giving, depending on your perspective). Remember back when I got an email purporting to come from a non-existent Carleton student? And then the comments on that post got really interesting really fast? And remember when Steve […]

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