A New Issue When Defending Patrons’ Rights?

Civil Liberties, General Interest

By: Sarah Hicks

Last September, a librarian in Kansas City was charged with “obstruction, interfering with an arrest, and assaulting a police officer” for trying to stop security guards at a library event from removing an attendee. The attendee had asked a rather pointed question of the speaker, but had not been threatening or dangerous. Thankfully, as of a few days ago, the charges against the librarian have officially been dropped.

Two weeks ago, a nurse in Salt Lake City was handcuffed for not agreeing to draw blood from an unconscious patient. The nurse acted in agreement with the hospital’s privacy policy, and laws regarding warrants. Though she was detained for 20 minutes, she was not charged, and the incident is being reviewed by local police.

Though these events occurred a year apart, both deal with people being arrested for simply doing their jobs and adhering to professional standards. I am not trying to argue that this points to some increasing danger to librarians, specifically, from law enforcement. These two events alone don’t necessarily indicate a pattern to be concerned about. And, obviously, in both cases there was no real punitive action taken. That said, both incidents should give us pause.

@kelly_smith72 Steven Woolfolk went to jail to defend a patron's right to speak. Librarians are heroes. #alaac17

In Kansas City, the librarian, Steve Woolfolk, (who was this year’s Lemony Snicket award recipient) was defending the patron’s right to access. In Salt Lake City, the nurse, Alex Wubbels, was defending her patient’s right to privacy. Both of these are issues that are central to each profession, and both are issues that are increasingly under attack in the past few years, especially in recent months.

It is likely that most of us will never have to face what Steve Woolfolk and Alex Wubbels did. Still, it doesn’t hurt to be prepared for the eventuality. We are working in institutions that rightly center both access and privacy, and we may, at some point, be called on to actually, personally defend one or both. Make sure you know the laws in your area, know your rights, and come up with some plans for how you would handle any tricky run ins like the ones above. We have an obligation not just to the profession, but to our patrons to make sure that their rights are infringed upon while in the library.


shicksheadshotSarah Hicks is a current MLIS student at the University of Pittsburgh, and works in a local public library. She has long been passionate about issues regarding intellectual freedom, and believes that these issues are becoming increasingly important worldwide, especially those related to privacy, surveillance, and censorship. Perhaps unsurprisingly, as certain stereotypes about librarians are not wholly untrue, she is both an avid reader (of many genres) and a total cat lady. Sarah can sometimes be found @exactlibrarian.

One thought on “A New Issue When Defending Patrons’ Rights?

  • Sarah, thanks for bringing the conclusion of this municipal farce to our attention. I cannot understand why, especially after an actual video of the event came to light, local officials failed to drop the charges. If I were a local voter, I would certainly want an answer. That said, I offer one correction. Apparently, according to news accounts, the city did not drop the charges. They insisted on going to trial and the judge found Steve Woofolk not guilty on all counts — and quite quickly. Many thanks Steve for standing firm.

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