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2 May 2007 / Julie

my first podcast

Okay, so it’s not MY podcast, but I was interviewed today during a pre-conference break at MLA. You can listen to my 1 minute interview here. You can listen to more of the MLA podcasts (the conference hasn’t started yet and there are already a lot) at

Let me elaborate. Being a librarian is heavy stuff. No one should enter into the profession if they are not prepared (or willing to become so) to deal with hardcore issues such as personal privacy, confidentiality, and fair access to ALL, despite content or viewpoint.

Here are some more of my thoughts/notes from today’s (free) pre- conference, Can the KKK meet in the library?

First Amendment and Libraries

The library is a public forum. The courts have upheld that the public library is a designated public forum for the receipt of information.

“Limited public forums” (such as a library) CAN have time, place, and manner restrictions:

Time restrictions, eg opening hours. If you’re open from 9a – 9p, it’s unreasonable for someone to want access at midnight.
Place restrictions, eg branch locations, book mobiles, etc
Manner restrictions, eg “no shoes, no service” (remember that “must wear shoes” is objective but “offensive body odor” is subjective and subjective policies will get you into trouble.)

Most libraries break the 1st Amendment weekly! Take a look at your policies. Are you one of these libraries?

If the law is neutral and generally applicable, you won’t win if it “happens” to infringe on your religious beliefs. i.e. no headgear in the military… yarmulkes.

Parents have the right to control what their OWN (biological, adopted, or legal) children can see, view, or hear. You (as the library) can not restrict access based on age, but can advise the parents that they have that option personally.

MCAA Ratings can restrict access because they are a PRIVATE business. A 10 year old can’t go see an R rated film in most chain theatres but they CAN borrow that movie from the library. You (as the library) can not restrict access based on age, or any other factor because you are a public institution. Similarly (and strangely), Starbucks can choose to not sell tires because they are a privately owned business.

Parental permission forms are a barrier to access. Also an increased liability for when your systems fail or gotten around.

You can’t go wrong if you have a policy, let people know about it, and refer to it often. Policies are to guide staff and send clear messages to customers. Policies are good for 5 years. Don’t reinvent the wheel – steal ideas from other organizations that have good policies! Get your policies approved by your board.

Rely on paperwork. If you are asked to hand over records, or told a search is happening, get the paperwork – the search warrant or subpoena.

Don’t worry about the establishment clause of the 1st Amendment (congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion… aka separation of church and state), the free exercise clause (congress shall… prohibiting the free exercise thereof) is the one you have to worry about. Aka – don’t break the FE clause because you’re worried about the E clause.

As a government agency, the library CAN put up displays or hold events on whatever they want but they CAN NOT restrict the public, allowing some but not others. Remember, are you facilitating access to information or promoting? (Christmas, Kwanzaa, and Ramadan displays versus the local church putting up a nativity…)

Be wary of the Hecklers Veto. You can restrict, say a meeting of group X if you have evidence to believe that it will cause a threat to others (ie, every time Group X meets, a riot breaks out). You can’t restrict a meeting of Group X if you think their presence will create a disturbance because of others being vocal about the group. The Group itself causing trouble versus trouble following the group.

Think about why you’re restricting or denying access.

ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom

I have lots of example cases to list, but I’ll do that in another post.

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