This experience in March 2005 of the Monroe Township Library (NJ) will be helpful to all libraries who are reviewing procedures and training staff on how to respond to law enforcement subpoenas. With subpoenas there is virtually always time to consult with an attorney ... and many state laws forbid libraries to turn over patron records without a valid subpoena. Furthermore, some state laws require a judge's signature (court order) rather than a law enforcement issued subpoena. See State Privacy Laws Regarding Library Records.
To see what Irene Goldberg, Monroe Township Library Library Director (posted with permission) has to say about the library's recent experience ...
On a normal weekday morning, a phone call from a Detective in a neighboring community set events in motion that he never anticipated. The Detective called our Circulation Supervisor to say he had a keychain in his possession what had our library keychain card attached. He asked for the patron's name, address and phone number. Our Circulation Supervisor explained that our protocol is to call the person and tell them who to contact to retrieve the lost card. He said not to contact the person, since this was found during an investigation. We did not release the information.
The Detective faxed a subpoena to the library. The subpoena was on an office supply company form, with no docket information and a scribbled, unidentified signature. The Monroe Township Attorney advised us not to comply. The Attorney call the Detective and inquired as to on whose authority the Detective had issued this subpoena. The Detective responded that he had "no clue".
Two days later another subpoena arrived by fax. Again on an office supply company form with the signature of a Court Administrator. The Township Attorney called her asked what justified this subpoena. She had no idea. Again the Library was advised by our Attorney to do nothing.
Five days later the Detective was insulting to the Township Attorney. He provided a docket number, but still no legitimate subpoena with a judge's signature.
Eventually a subpoena was issued to the Township Attorney, followed by a phone call later that day from the Detective saying to ignore the subpoena, the investigation was going in a different direction.
The Monroe Township Library is proud of its staff member who maintained her composure, and pleased that the local Township Administration and Attorney supported them and stood strong in the face of continued assault. The Library staff and Township Administration repeatedly stated that served with the proper document, they would comply. However, the proper document took three weeks to appear and was rescinded the same day.
I think this summarizes the situation.
Thanks for your support.
Library Director [Monroe Township Library (NJ)