Tuesday, May 10, 2005

dangerously naïve or clandestinely seditious librarians?

I am, among other things, a Librarian. What sort of an image does that conjure? Bun and spectacles? Heaven forbid!! We are fighting that image, and I think it is certainly changing. But to go to the other extreme – here is a paragraph from an opinion article by Deroy Murdoch

“These dangerously naïve or clandestinely seditious librarians are beyond foolish. They potentially jeopardize the lives of American citizens.”

Wow!! Did he have his tongue firmly planted in his cheek? Unfortunately not. To return to his article, this is his introduction …

“As Congress considers reauthorising the Patriot Act, it explicitly should add libraries to the locations where federal investigators may hunt terrorists. Here are five reasons why: Marwan al Shehhi; Mohand, Wail, and Waleed Alshehri; and Mohamed Atta — September 11 hijackers, all.”

Apparently they all used libraries in the United States. His article goes on to describe how many libraries now routinely delete their records of individual borrowers and their activities.

“Like a handkerchief that can wipe the fingerprints off a smoking gun, many libraries now use computer software that automatically deletes each book's check-out history as soon as it's returned. Berkeley, California's library now shreds Internet log-in records daily rather than weekly, as done before 9/11.

"We're quiet rebels," Cindy Czesak, director of New Jersey's Paterson Free Public Library, told Fox News. Her institution collects every completed computer sign-up sheet. "After that, it's removed and destroyed." She added: "We bought a nice new shredder." Paterson happens to be the Garden State town where Nawaf and Salem al Hazmi, Khalid al Mihdar, Hani Hanjour, and Majed Moqed rented an apartment in spring 2001. All five slammed American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon. Death toll: 184.”

It is a disctinct dilemma for Librarian, and the ALA has written policy that outlines this situation
August 2003 "Guidelines for Developing a Library Privacy Policy." Due, in part, to "increased law enforcement surveillance," this document says "librarians need to ensure that they...[a]void retaining records that are not needed for efficient operation of the library, including data-related logs, digital records, vendor-collected data, and system backups." It adds: "Information that should be regularly purged or shredded includes PII [personally identifiable information] on library resource use, material circulation history, security/surveillance tapes and use logs, both paper and electronic."
The situation is difficult. I have blogged about this elsewhere. The first reported on two different articles. One reported that a library officer had been fired for giving a police officer the telephone number of a person whose wallet had been found in the supermarket. Another reported on a librarian who successfully refused to give the day’s internet sing-in sheet to a county Sheriff’s detective. Both were doing what they believed was the right thing. And then again, I noted that Dutch librarians were fighting the trend there to force libraries to supply personal information.

It remains a dilemma, and a challenge for Librarians everywhere.
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