Saturday, February 21, 2009

Our last assignment in my Intellectual Freedom class was to report on an actual Intellectual Freedom challenge in a library. I chose a well-known incident, the unanimous decision by the Jackson-George Regional Library board to ban the bestseller, Jon Stewart's America, the Book: A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction: With a Foreword by Thomas Jefferson.

This was quite an unusual incident in that the challenge to the book was not initiated by a patron but by the director of the library. The Director was powerfully offended by an apparent nude photograph of the nine Supreme Court justices with punch out judicial robes to "restore the dignity of the Court". The Director stated that he believed the book should be removed from the library so that young people would not inadvertently see it.

The Library Board agreed with the Director and the book was removed because they all found it offensive and did not want teens or children to have access to it. They made no reference to policy at all! This library seemed not to consider collection development policy or to have followed any established procedure for dealing with challenged materials.

Within 48 hours of the first newspaper story the ban was lifted and the book returned to the collection without restriction because of the unpleasant glare of national publicity. I am not guessing the Board's reason for returning the book to the collection; several Board members made statements to the local paper in which they said flatly that they had rescinded the ban because of public pressure generated by publicity. Again, they made no mention of policy or procedure!

A case like this really show how important it is to have policies in place and procedures which are followed in every instance. Not to mention training in Intellectual Freedom for the Board (and the Director).

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

IF and the public terminals, again!

I had another conversation about intellectual freedom and the public computers in the library today. Yes, another, this is a constant source of conversation and has been so for at least 2 years. There are two camps among the librarians: those who feel that patrons must have free, really free! free! free! unfettered access to everything, including the wide world of the internet and those who feel it is their duty to defend access to the collection above all else. Need I say that those in both camps are ready to die for their beliefs? And am I the only one who thinks they sound kind of alike? The internet or the collection... I must admit, the collection glows in my eyes with its multi-faceted databases, Web of Science first among them*, its ebooks (we have Google apps hacks as an ebook) and, uh, those paper things (really we have nice books too, I'll write about them sometime). I lean toward the Defenders of Collection Access camp but I think the Internet camp has made some very good points.

We are a state supported academic library. We are not a public library and I think that really does make a difference. We do not have that special duty of public libraries to support the democratic process and it is nowhere mentioned in our mission statement. Our mission statement talks about academic achievement, teaching, learning and research.

I should clarify here, the discussion is about the public patrons who come to the academic library where I work. There is no disagreement about access for students, staff or faculty.

Those in the Internet camp point out that research can legitimately require unfettered access to the Internet. I think that this is quite true but I don't necessarily think that we have to provide it to the public (there is a public library about a mile away). Those in the Collection camp say that some of our resources (databases) are not available anywhere else in our state. Our collection is really a unique resource, mostly paid for by taxpayers, and there will be no public access to some of these things if we don't provide it with public access computers. One way of keeping computers available for this purpose would be to use domain limits so that they aren't tied up with games and porn. There are other options also, time limits (our current, probably temporary, solution is a one hour time limit), a scholars pass (this has some support in the Collection camp), and a few other things as well. But there just isn't any perfect solution to this! Everyone means well and is trying to do the right thing but there are some hard feelings.

The librarian I discussed this with today has the unenviable task of facilitating discussion on this issue. She is one of the most even tempered people I have ever met but she says she lost it in one meeting because no one would compromise. A few people are starting to suspect the other side of being Republicans...

*Those who know me will realize that I am not being facetious here. I really love Web of Science. I called the databases gem-like at first but changed to multi-faceted so as to sound more feet-on-the-ground but really - Web of Science...glowing, gem-like.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Patron Privacy

I had to unexpectedly deal with a privacy issue at work on Friday and I'm afraid I may have done the wrong thing.

I had an email from a disabled patron asking me to send her a PDF of a journal article she needed for her research but I wasn't able to send her the article she needed. We generally try to avoid sending articles to patrons because of licensing restrictions but, since I was able to establish she was a UWT student, I could have sent the article to her if it had been available full text online. Unfortunately, the article was an old one and only available in paper copy from one of the UW Libraries in Seattle. This doesn't usually present much problem to UW Tacoma students because they can use the Book & Article Delivery service (free) and usually a PDF is made for them within a couple of days.

This student had made a point of telling me that she was disabled and needed help obtaining the article for that reason. Now I wish I had just emailed her back saying that she should use the Book & Article Delivery link but that's not what I did. Since she had made a point of saying she needed help I called Disability Support Services to find out what help they could offer. The person who answered asked me the students name and ...I didn't know what to say. I have to admit, I actually asked the person I was talking to if that would be a violation of the students privacy. Anyway, I did tell her the student's name and the woman at Disability Support recognized the name. She thought that the student would require her help to order the article and assured me that she would email the student to offer that assistance. I emailed the student also. I explained why I couldn't send her the PDF, told her about Book and Article Delivery, and told her I had contacted Disability Support Services. I said something like, "I have contacted Disability Support Services and they have assured me that they will be happy to assist you with placing an order should you require such assistance. Contact them at ..."

I hope this student feels like the UWT Library and Disability Support Services are both part of the UWT system, there to help her succeed. I hope she doesn't feel her privacy was violated but, the more I think about it, the more I think I should never have given them her name. I know nothing about her, her relationship to Disability Support, her desire to have their help or stay clear of them...I should have said nothing.

Our online IF class included a cautionary tale about a librarian who handed over a wife's holds to her husband, not knowing that they were do-it-yourself divorce books. Like that librarian, I didn't know the patron's wishes and I can only hope that no harm was done. I called Disability Support because I wanted to give the patron the most complete information I could in my answer to her email. When they asked her name I should just have said, "no". I can't undo it now but, if there is a next time, I'm not going to casually reveal anything about a patron.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The public library branch I most favor has had self check-out and self-service pick-up for holds for several years now. I LOVE both of these. Partly I like it just because they speed things up. I can just run in, grab my holds, and check them out quickly. Sometimes there is a line for self check-out but I've never waited long. When I've placed a hold on a DVD I have to pick it up from the circulation desk and that can definitely take longer. Not anybody's fault, but it can take a while.

And, I blush to admit, I have been a bit freer placing holds on library materials since I knew that I wasn't going to have to pick them up from, well, from a person! But, of course, these books are on a shelf with a fairly easy to decipher version of my name sticking out of the top. Last week's lecture was an interview of Candace Morgan who pointed out that this system doesn't maintain patron privacy very well. She is actually concerned that this system will be used as a wedge to begin chipping away at our right to privacy with respect to library records.

Of course, this system IS less private than the old one so...why do I feel like I have more privacy?

I suppose there are ways to have our library cake and eat it too. The holds could continue to be self-serve but be place in closed boxes with names on the boxes. Or we could have some kind of code instead of our names on the hold slips. My name isn't actually on the hold slip right now. Instead, a shortened version of my name, intended to increase patron privacy, is on the hold slip. I suppose that if it was too much of a code, people wouldn't remember - but this doesn't seem an insurmountable problem.