Do People Who Fill Out “Request for Reconsideration” Forms Have a Right to Privacy?

Banned and Challenged Books, Censorship, Privacy

Public records requests are a way for journalists and other interested parties to find out information about request for reconsideration forms that have been submitted to libraries and gain insight into book challenges that are happening at libraries near them. A legal debate in Colorado has raised the question of whether individuals submitting request for reconsideration forms are protected by library privacy laws or if their names and other identifying information is public record along with the rest of the request. 

Gender Queer

It all started when Crested Butte resident Rebecca White submitted a reconsideration request to Gunnison County Library about the graphic novel Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe. Ultimately the library retained the book as part of it’s young adult collection, but during the course of the challenge Crested Butte News editor Mark Reaman submitted a Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) request in order to gather more information about the book challenge taking place at the library, and the library released the request for reconsideration form to Reaman with all the White’s identifying information included. White then brought legal action against library district executive director Andrew Brookhart, claiming that he broke library privacy laws by releasing her identity to the press. The Seventh Judicial District Attorney’s office did not file criminal charges against Brookhart as they felt that library privacy laws did not cover request for reconsideration forms. But Brookhart continued to receive reconsideration requests so he sought out legal clarification of library privacy laws in relation to requests for reconsideration. That is when a civil case involving Reaman was brought before Gunnison County District Court Judge J. Steven Patrick. 

Patrick ruled that request for reconsideration forms “must be disclosed but with requester names and other identifying information redacted.” The court also ruled on the ambiguity of the term “user” in library privacy laws, stating that, “The Court concludes that user in the statute under this analysis is not limited to someone who reads material in the library, or, checks out material, but inclusive of any person ‘using’ library services.” On July 11, 2022, The Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition reported that Reaman had filed for an appeal of this ruling. The appeal notice written by attorney Rachael Johnson of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press states, “It is [Reaman’s] position that individuals who voluntarily submit requests to remove material from the Library District’s collection are not ‘users’ within the meaning of the library user privacy law.”  Reaman also argues that community members have a right to know if individuals submitting these requests are, “… a member of the community and not, for example, some politically motivated interloper that may have never set foot in the Gunnison County Library or even Gunnison County.” 

This case raises important questions about who are considered “users” of a library and who is protected by laws that insure patron privacy. Should the identities of people filling reconsideration forms with the library be part of public record?

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