Public Library Trustees: A Voice for All

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Library boards represent all members of the community, not just the majority.

Being a public library trustee is an important public trust. Trustees have a duty to see beyond their individual points of view and act to preserve and defend the values and opinions of everyone. In a diverse society where people are free to disagree with one another, dissent from the majority, and vigorously espouse individual beliefs, the library as a public institution should make room for all points of view, even those that are controversial. In America, after all, we often agree to disagree and believe that when ideas are exchanged freely, the answers we need will arise. We do not create consensus through suppression. American public libraries are cherished by Americans and admired and respected throughout the world because they expand access to information, not because they limit access. Boards ensure that the minority opinion has equal representation.

Library boards function as a buffer against exclusive practices.

Some groups would prefer to impose their agenda on a community and exclude dissenting ideas. The board should protect all voices and all opinions within the community. The most effective board policies are those that remain committed to their original goals and are not in response to emotional appeals.

Trustees make policy, they do not select.

The public library trustee, in partnership with the library’s director and staff, makes plans and policies for the library. They then monitor to make sure the plans and policies they have set are followed. Collection development policies set the criteria and target areas for materials selection and acquisition. Those criteria are in keeping with the library’s mission and service role in the community, recognize the library’s collection needs, and respect the principles of intellectual freedom. That is, materials should be selected because they meet a defined objective standard and not selected or rejected because they represent or offend a trustee’s, a staff member’s, or any individual’s point of view. Once these criteria are set, it is the responsibility of the director and library staff to make selections based on these criteria.

When trustees load the collection policy with too much detail and procedure, they may end up with an operations manual rather than a practical policy. Collection policies should guide selection, not manipulate and control every aspect of selection. Policies that are burdened with too many specifics can actually have the opposite effect. They may be ignored because they are difficult or impossible to follow or because the outlined procedures become outdated.

Content and use are not the same.

Understandably, library trustees may experience discomfort with materials that are controversial or offend one’s individual values and opinions. It may be helpful to remember that the content of a book and its use can be very different For example, a dictionary of occult practices and rituals could be used by a parent who is worried that his child is dabbling in occult practices and wants to understand symbols and references he is seeing and hearing so he can discuss them. A CD by a rap artist may contain vulgar or profane language, but it may also provide valuable insight into daily life in an inner city plagued by violence and drugs. Every material, in other words, has meaning and use beyond its face value. In a democratic society, we trust individuals to make their own judgments about the use and the meaning of the material.

A shared approach builds confidence

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The majority of states, including Utah, provide specific statutorily laws addressing the issue of privacy. What information is public? What information is private? The Utah Code specifically states in section 63-2-302 what records are considered private. Section C of section 63-2-302 reads, “records of publicly funded libraries that when examined alone or with other records identify a person,” are considered private records. This would include library card application information, checkout information, overdue notices, any circulation history kept in the computer in a patron’s record, and even computer sign up sheets that may identify the user.

In contrast, Utah’s Government Records Access and Management Act (known as GRAMA) establishes a “presumption of openness” in regards to governmental records. GRAMA provides that unless a statute expressly restricts the public’s access to a record held by a Utah governmental agency (such as in section 63-2-302 of the Utah Code), the public may inspect and copy that record. So what library records are open to the public? Records such as library board minutes and agendas, purchase records, employee salaries, job descriptions and qualifications, and certain planning documents must be accessible. This applies to public, higher education, school, and government agency libraries. It is very important that libraries, which do receive a request to examine records, consult GRAMA before responding to the request. GRAMA not only classifies various kinds of records, it also sets deadlines for responding to the request. GRAMA also imposes penalties on agencies that fail to respond properly to requests.

How does the USA Patriot Act impact all of this? In a nutshell, if used by the appropriate agencies, the USA Patriot Act supercedes GRAMA and any other state laws protecting patron records. Requests for patron information made under the USA Patriot Act must come from the FBI. The requests are not valid if coming from state/local agencies. Although it is incumbent upon us as professionals to protect and defend patron confidentiality and privacy, we need to balance these principles with our obligations to federal law. The ALA provides excellent information on the USA Patriot Act on it’s website: Also be sure to read the section in this manual on the USA Patriot Act for more specifics on how to handle requests from the FBI for patron information.

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Government Information: You Have A Right To Know

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Depository programs for federal and state governments exist to ensure that important government information is available in libraries where it can be freely accessible to the public. Certain libraries throughout the state have been designated as official depositories for the Federal Depository Library Program and the Utah Publications Depository Program. Library staff are encouraged to learn more about these depository programs in order to make effective and appropriate referrals to libraries where collections of government information are available. Depository collections are especially useful for historical materials.

The vast majority of current government information is distributed in electronic format. This makes it possible for every library to provide access to government information that is of importance to being informed. Government Web sites offer citizens easy access to recent information about important government activities such as research, publishing, and the development of legislation and regulations that impact our lives.

A significant amount of government information is not considered “public information” and therefore is not distributed to depositories or made available on government web sites. Since September 11, 2001, legislation and administrative rulings have restricted the distribution of government information deemed sensitive for security reasons. Government secrecy creates restrictions on distribution of and access to information that diminishes government accountability and the public’s “right to know.” Procedures related to the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Utah’s Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA) should be known by library staff in order to help citizens obtain access to other government information. Librarians can be effective advocates for open government.

GRAMA establishes a “presumption of openness,” a supposition that Utah’s government records are open to the public. GRAMA provides that unless a statute expressly restricts the public’s access to a record held by a Utah government agency, the public may inspect and copy that record. GRAMA applies to all Utah government agencies and publicly funded libraries, including public, higher education, school, and government agency libraries. Library records such as board minutes, purchase records, information about employee compensation, job descriptions, job qualifications, and certain planning documents must be accessible. GRAMA requires librarians to classify, archive, retain, and dispose of their records according to specific guidelines and time frames.

GRAMA also identifies specific records that may be withheld from public inspection, especially where individual privacy rights are at stake (see “Confidentiality”). Libraries that receive requests to inspect their records should, at a minimum, consult GRAMA before responding to those requests.

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What To Do When You Are Confronted With A Challenge

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• Listen to the patron’s objections calmly and patiently. Be courteous. Do not argue. Sometimes a frustrated patron merely needs to vent or “blow off steam.” A reasonable listener can often diffuse the situation without committing the library to any specific action.

• If the patron is adamant about pursuing the complaint, explain the responsibility of librarians to serve people with diverse information needs and tastes which require varied viewpoints. Be prepared to supply a copy of the library’s material selection policy and explain the criteria for selection, as well as the library’s position on intellectual freedom. Give the person a copy of the Library Bill of Rights.

• If the patron persists, explain that there is a procedure for handling such complaints and that they will need to talk to the person designated to handle such questions. Bring the patron to the director or the person designated to handle challenges. That person should also hear the patron out and restate the library’s selection policy and position on intellectual rights before anything is put into writing.

• If discussion fails to resolve the challenge, initiate the library’s complaint or reconsideration procedure as outlined in the material selection policy. The objection should be clearly stated and documented in a detailed manner. Complaint procedures will differ from library to library but should always be pursued expeditiously and fairly. The patron must be given realistic expectations about what will follow.

• Notify the appropriate library authorities, which will differ according to the library’s type and governance structure. Depending up on the severity and urgency of the challenge, notify the Utah Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee and the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom.

• The written complaint is examined according to the procedure adopted in the material selection policy. A well reasoned response is made and includes a justification and supporting documents. The results are communicated to the complainant, including any explanation of procedures that are required.

• If the party filing the complaint is not satisfied with the response, an appeal to the library board may follow. The appeal process should be outlined in the material selection policy.

• If pressure to remove the materials threatens to escalate, bring the matter to the public’s attention as soon as possible. Remember, it is the public’s right to know that is threatened. The staff and governing authority should be informed and their support encouraged. Alert the ULA Intellectual Freedom Committee. Activate any support groups or coalitions. Seek support of the local press or media. If warranted, seek legal advice.

• Keep a written record of what happens, including telephone calls received and what was said by whom and when. Favorable responses may be needed when building support. Critical responses may need to be answered.

Libraries play the role of fair brokers for the public’s right to have access to diverse points of view so that people can make up their own minds. Increasingly, pressure groups with ideological agendas are attempting to limit the information and opinions available to the public. Such attempts can come from groups anywhere on the political spectrum, left or right. In recent years, however, most of the groups that have challenged library materials could be described as “far right” and often describe themselves as “pro-family.” They have mostly targeted schools by trying to shape curriculums to fit their values and points of view. Libraries, however, have not been immune.

Think about strategies to preempt these attacks by addressing them in a positive way before they are used against the library. A proactive approach can make a big difference.

A number of excellent resources are available to guide you through a censorship challenge. See Appendices I and J for selected titles and web sites.

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Libraries, the Internet and the Law

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It is possible to attach filtering software that can block access to certain categories of information on the Internet. While at first glance this might seem like an easy solution to the problem of pornography on the Internet, there are two problems with filters on the Internet. One is that filters do not block pornography as effectively as they claim, thus giving the library and the computer user a false sense of security. The other problem with filters is that they can mistakenly block information, topics, and ideas people have a right to read and that is protected by the constitution.

Two recent laws, one federal and one state, have an enormous impact on Utah libraries (particularly public libraries) and the question of whether or not to filter their public computers. The first law that was passed is the federal law, CIPA or the Children’s Internet Protection Act. This was passed in to effect by a divided Supreme Court ruling in 2003. In 2004, the Utah Legislature passed their own state version of CIPA, further restricting the funding public libraries can receive if the library chooses not to filter.

CIPA: In June 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed an earlier ruling by U.S. District Court and rejected ALA’s challenge to CIPA. They stipulated that any library receiving E-rate discounts for technology related issues must put filter, or “blocking technology”, on all computers in the library. These filters must block images that meet the legal definition of pornography.

What you need to know about CIPA:

• Every public and school library receiving e-rate discounts for Internet access, service, or internal connections must have filters on all their computers by July 2004

• Libraries receiving LSTA grant funds for computers or Internet connection must also have filters installed by July 2004

• Libraries that do not receive e-rate or LSTA funds do not have to put filters on their computers

CIPA does not apply to academic libraries

CIPA requires that the filter only block images that meet the legal definition of obscene, child pornography, or “harmful to minors”

• Libraries cannot use e-rate funds to purchase blocking software

• In the Supreme Court ruling, an adult must be able to ask that the filter be turned off without onerous process. If the library fails to do so, they are open to a potential lawsuit.

• If a library decided to install blocking software that is CIPA compliant, certification of compliance for e-rate must be made to the FCC by July, 2004. To receive certain LSTA grant monies, libraries must submit certification of compliance to The Institute of Museum and Library Services, also by July 2004

Many public libraries throughout the country and in Utah decided that the federal funding compliance with CIPA would make them eligible for was not worth the cost of maintaining filters and the inconvenience to users and staff asking for their rights to be restored.

Unfortunately for Utah public libraries, House Bill 341 was passed in March of 2004. This bill requires any public library receiving e-rate funding or any kind of state funding must have filters on all public access Internet terminals.

What you need to know about HB 341:

• If the library wishes to receive state funds, it must have an Internet policy regarding the use of the Internet by minors and an Internet filter on all computers available to the public. This filter must be set up to block images of child pornography, obscenity, and images deemed “harmful to minors”

• You will also need to prepare procedures for policy enforcement, patron complaints related to the filters, and procedures for handling a patron request for the filter to be disabled

• Make sure your procedures and guidelines clearly state the brand of filter being used and the categories being blocked

• The law states that the library may allow a filter to be disabled only for adults, and only for “research and other lawful purposes”

• The penalty for not complying with this law is loss of state development grants, loss of lender support funds, loss of eligibility for LSTA grants

This law and CIPA have forced many libraries in Utah to accept filtering, against their better judgment, and regardless of monies available to purchase filtering software. This continues to be a challenging and complex issue for libraries. One issue that merits watching is wireless Internet access for library patrons in libraries that are CIPA compliant. As demand for Internet connectivity increases, wireless seems like a good solution, especially for libraries with limited space for more computers. But must the library filter these patron laptops as well as other PCs accessible to patrons? Most seem to agree that it is reasonable to assume that CIPA’s phrase “its computers” refers to library-owned PCs, not patron-owned laptops. But keep in mind that this is only an assumption and has not been tested yet.

Acceptable Use Policies: Although between CIPA and House Bill 341 it may feel like not filtering is no longer an option, it is still an option. Whether you employ a filter or not, it is important to have a clear acceptable use statement posted on or next to your library Internet computers or on your library system home page. This statement needs to remind patrons that they are responsible for the destinations they reach when surfing the net, and that there can be legal consequences if they access illegal sites. (See Appendix J for examples of Acceptable Use Policies from other library systems.)

The Utah State Library has an invaluable resource on their homepage under Library Laws and Legislation. Here you will find a great deal of information on HB 341, CIPA, the USA Patriot Act, and information on filter comparisons. The website address is The ALA also has useful information on their website regarding CIPA and libraries.

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