loyalty, the library, and you the librarian

I’ve been sort of sitting on this story for a few weeks because I was hoping someone would do a more comprehensive “here’s what really happened” post about it, but maybe that’s not going to happen. The loose outline is this, from American Libraries. Library worker notices patron looking at material online that she suspects is not just offensive but illegal. Her supervisor tells her to give the patron (who is deaf/mute and may have developmental disabilities) a note telling him to stop, which she does. The next day she decided to alert the police who come and arrest the man and seize the library computer. The library worker revealed her part in the arrest to her supervisor. Soon thereafter, the library worker was fired right before her probationary period as a library employee was up. The county says the two events — the arrest of the patron and the firing — were unrelated. Privacy laws prevent this assertion from being tested one way or the other which is one of the things that makes this situation so vexing from a “what really happened” perspective. The library worker is suing. Here are a few more articles on the subject.

I really wish ALA had come out and made some sort of a statement on this, but I’m not sure what it would have said. For what it’s worth, I have not seen anyone leap to the defense of the library administrator/firing except in a “we don’t have all the facts” sort of way.

To me, the way this differs from the standard USA PATRIOT Act computer seizures and reporting is that in this case the assertio was that a crime was being committed. So, while going on fishing expeditions and seizing computers because you think someone might be doing something illegal is something that a library has the right to object to, saying “this patron is breaking the law in the library” is a different story altogether. I think even talking about child pornography issues online is difficult and complicated — an amusing side note is seeing which comments forms on the web people can’t type the word “porn” into — and intellectual freedom issues are tricky in a different way. I’m sorry this library assistant didn’t get better guidance and I’m sorry this is being tried in the media in sensationalist ways.