Librarian under fire for following the law

A New Jersey librarian has been disciplined for refusing to divulge patrons’ private borrowing records without a subpoena. This isn’t a PATRIOT issue: it was local police trying to track down a possible child predator.

The police had the title of a book that had been reported by the child, and asked the librarian to tell them who had checked out that book. She refused to do so without a court order. When the court order was forthcoming, she told them that there was no book by that title, and the police demanded the entire lending record over the last few weeks, which she again refused without a court order. Again, the police obtained a court order (I would be interested in how, exactly, that order was tailored, since it sounds like prime territory for a fishing expedition), and the librarian complied.

OK, no problem, right? Textbook ethical librarianship. Wrong. The mayor has criticized the librarian for stonewalling the police. The residents seem to think she was simply misguided in protecting this information.

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  1. Posted 6/23/2006 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    I couldn’t be happier with the Librarian’s decision to uphold the law and stop police dead in their tracks forcing them obey procedure. Regardless of the purpose of the investigation this is an element of our system of checks and balances and should definately be praised not shunned. We should so lucky to a librarian such as the one in NJ gaurding our phone conversations and acct #s/activity.

  2. Rene Palmer
    Posted 6/25/2006 at 7:08 am | Permalink

    You are putting spin on the situation. This is very much a patriot act issue. The library doesn’t even own the book, which any police officer could have found out at any time, by using the OPAC. I, too, am glad that the Director protected MY right to privacy. Only one person out of all those patrons committed the crime. Why should everyone’s records get handed out without a court order?

  3. Rene Palmer
    Posted 6/25/2006 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    Sorry for posting twice, but the other issue is that if she had provided the information without a court order, it could be considered illegally obtained and possibly not admissible as evidence. The Director made this point for the police. By following the law, the attorney for the guilty person will not be able to question it’s validity.

  4. Posted 6/25/2006 at 4:01 pm | Permalink


    I reread my posting to try to figure out what sort of a spin you thought was being spun. PATRIOT does not apply here, as it only allows court-ordered release of library records (without probable cause) by the FBI, not by local officials. Had this been covered by the USA Patriot act, someone could argue that she had violated the law. Whatever you think of PATRIOT–and I would have considered such a violation to be a patriotic thing to do–the case would have been more ambiguous if she had violated existing law.

    That she is disciplined for upholding the law is preposterous. I don’t think there is any spin involved there: there is nothing patriotic about pressuring librarians to break the law to make law enforcement’s job easier.

  5. Rene Palmer
    Posted 6/25/2006 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

    Apparently, I have misunderstood you and thought you were criticizing her actions as wrong. Thank you for clarifying.

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