Standing up by Sitting down

Intellectual Freedom Issues, Privacy

So often in library land the only IF stories we hear of are the long drawn out battles in library boards, school boards, city councils and the courts. Here’s an uplifting story sent in this week by a reader. It’s just one of those seemingly small battles which when taken with all of the other unknown victories is the reason why we still have the freedom to read in this county.

Last week Gail Robinson director of the Bridgeton Public Library, Bridgeton, N. J. received a “subpoena” from the state police seeking the borrowing records for a particular book. The specific book is actually unimportant as you will see. Gail, having attended several workshops given by the New Jersey Library Association, was well aware of New Jersey’s confidentiality statue. It requires a “subpoena issued by a court, or a court order.” After insisting on reading (great idea!) the “subpoena,” guess what? There was no indication that a judge or magistrate had been anywhere near it.

So, Gail took it over to the court house to have it checked out. The assistant prosecutor told her there was nothing wrong with the subpoena and that it would be some time before a judge would be available. When Gail offered to come back later, she was told that she couldn’t leave. No explanation.

She sat down and prepared to wait (as Gail said later, librarians should always have a book with them). When the prosecutor realized Gail wasn’t going to wilt, he quickly found a judge. The judge signed the subpoena making it conform to NJ law and the information was eventually provided — after consultation, of course, with the Library’s attorney, Ms Grayson Barber.

A seemingly small incident that could have blown up into something really big, if Gail hadn’t first, been knowledgeable and second, followed the rules — along the way getting law enforcement to follow them too, too their ultimate benefit. Way to go, Gail.

As for the original reason, apparently a library patron had found a “disturbing” photo inside the book in question and had taken the book with the photo to the police. When responding to the subpoena Gail included a note indicating that the book had been stored on an open shelf so that literally anyone could have had access to it. The borrowing records would prove nothing.

Thanks to Grayson Barber for bringing this story to my attention and once again many thanks to Gail for “doing the right thing.”