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May 17, 2008

Comments

Mary,

What if it's a matter of life and death. What if, for example, someone is minutes away from death, has only a library card for identity, and waiting for the usual requirements to breach patron privacy would result in the death of the individual. The identity is needed to save the person's life somehow.

Is there any exception for exigent circumstances? If not, why not? Should privacy laws be amended to allow immediate library response in such circumstances?

Do patrons at the reference desk have an expectation of privacy? Even if the reference librarians keep the questions and answers confidential, can a nearby patron be expected to respect the privacy of a question? What if a child requests information on a domestic issue and a neighbor overhears something and brings the information to a parent? Has that neighbor been spying?

What if a library school student is doing systematic observations of the reference department and learns something that is of a sensitive nature? Does the patron have an expectation of privacy?

Do patrons at the reference desk have an expectation of privacy? Even if the reference librarians keep the questions and answers confidential, can a nearby patron be expected to respect the privacy of a question? What if a child requests information on a domestic issue and a neighbor overhears something and brings the information to a parent? Has that neighbor been spying?

What if a library school student is doing systematic observations of the reference department and learns something that is of a sensitive nature? Does the patron have an expectation of privacy?

“I don't believe the library should be agents in this”

If the library powers-that-be feel this way, then they shouldn't keep records on our children (such as which books that child has checked out). Where records are kept on our children, we should have access. Can you think of any other entity that holds records on children without the parents having access (not including those cases where abuse is the issue)?


“I don't believe a bookstore is required to tell a parent what a child bought - nor a candy store for that matter.”

1. These stores don't keep records on our children.

2. If I think it is in my child’s best interest to know what books or candy she is buying (for example, if she is buying inappropriate books or movies or if my diabetic child is buying candy), then those store owners DO have the freedom to tell me that information. There is no law preventing them from doing so, like the VT law for libraries. The store owners would understand that their choice not to inform parents of their children’s purchases could affect their business.

3. Bookstores and candy stores are not paid for by our tax dollars. It is not right that my tax dollars should go to fund a library which then prevents me from accessing what should be accessible to me as a parent.

“…libraries don't really know who is a parent and who is not.”

It should be very simple. Off the top of my head…whoever is not on file as being a parent (or doesn’t have written permission from the parent) doesn’t get access. If a restraining order is necessary, maybe libraries need to be one of those places that are notified.

“. Let the parents and children talk to each other directly without a library serving as ‘big brother.’”

I think you have it backwards. “Big Brother” interferes with the parent-child relationship so that he can have better access to the child for his own agenda.

The bottom line is that parents have the natural right to access records held on their children, and the exception should be when they abuse their rights and responsibilities as parents.

Thanks for the comments. Although I see Eileen and Retta's point of view, and although I want parents to be fully engaged with their children's lives, I disagree about the role of the library. I believe the parents should find out any information about their children's reading from the children directly. I don't believe the library should be agents in this. I don't believe a bookstore is required to tell a parent what a child bought - nor a candy store for that matter.

On a practical note, libraries don't really know who is a parent and who is not. In today's world of complicated families, probably the only reasonable measure the library would have is who signed the child's library application. Even that is not really verified. Does another parent has no right to see the records? What happens when the library gives out information to an estranged parent with a restraint order (and who knows if s/he is even a parent) and thereby reveals a child's actual location?

As for my personal opinion, perhaps I should have done more to segregate that from this. Libraries should not insert themselves between parent and child, and should not serve in loco parentis. Let the parents and children talk to each other directly without a library serving as "big brother."

Am I concerned about only one aspect of this new Vermont law which is the interference in the parent/child relationship by the state or in this case by a library.

It is nice to know that someone has a personal opinion about something but that personal opinion should not be inculcated into law to govern what I personally believe about raising my own children! Government is a poor parent. Or in this case a library is a poor parent.

A poster mentioned parental “interest” in a child's life. Parents have more than an “interest” and involvement in their children's lives (Pierce v Society 1925). The USSC court recognized that parents have a “right” to direct the education and upbringing of their children. Even bad parents have this right but this right is not absolute. It is illegal to starve a child. So what parents have is way more than an “interest” in their children.

More and more laws like this are interfering with parental rights. It is happening so slowly that parents do not see it coming. Before long children will be raising themselves. I shake my head at this because modern science is moving forward and showing us that the brain is not fully developed until around the age of 21. The last part of the brain to develop is the area containing discernment and judgment. But hey, let's treat kids like little adults anyway and protect them from ALL loving parents just in case there is a bad parent out there. Who cares about science? Throw all children to the wind or better still let's force them into the monopoly of government schools to be raised.

What about those children who actually need protection from their own parents? Create laws to deal with this directly and NOT interfere with all parents. What this Vermont law is doing is an inditement ALL Vermont parents as not able to manage their own children. I listened to the testimony of this bill. All the blogging and talking comes down to the fundamental philosophy that all children need protection from their own parents – just in case. I happen to believe that my children need protection from those that would want to interfere in the parent/child relationship – just in case. This fundamental philosophy is bigger than this particular law.

I am a woman who has a voice and just as much freedom as the suffragettes did in the early 1900's and the feminists did in the 60's/70's did when they were burning their bras. I also listened to what they were saying. I want other women (and men) to step back from my freedoms as a woman who has a right to raise my children the way I see fit.

My children are grown now and, unlike Eileen, this is academic for me. But I will do what I can to help women like her who are still raising kids or who will eventually raise kids to protect their rights as a women and as parents to direct the education and upbringing of their OWN children without the interference of the state or a library association. I know women who are on opposites ends of the political spectrum who feel this way...

First, let me say that I am not opposed to the strengthening of the confidentiality of library patron records in general. The Vermont law was very vague. However....

“I personally believe its best to give children some measure of privacy wrt what they check out of a public library.”

Mary, you are entitled to your opinion, but what right does government have on forcing this philosophy on families? The level of reading (and viewing videos) privacy given to a child is a family matter, not a government matter. If parents feel this way about giving their children full privacy, they can merely not ask any questions. Those who care about what books and videos their children have checked out should have access to that information (kept in records) for their minor children under 18.

In Vermont state law, parents have the right to most records on their children (including but not limited to medical, dental, education, law enforcement, etc.) Those few situations where they don’t are because they have been deemed to be “emergency” situations, such as abortion, contraception, drug treatment. I don’t agree that parents should be excluded from this information either, but at least it is argued that these are emergency situations. Why on earth are library records considered so confidential? It’s ridiculous.

“…and the teens may in fact want to check out books that they don't want their parents to see, e.g. child abuse.”

First of all, what interest does the government have in supporting kids reading books their parents don’t want them to read? Secondly, if my child is being abused, I want to know about it. Oh, I see, you mean if the parents are doing the abusing. So is Vermont assuming that all parents are abusers? Whatever happened to "hard cases make bad law?” This situation should be the exception to the law, not the basis for it. Anyway, if a child is being abused, he is more likely to look up this information on the internet where he can find local resources to help him, not check out a library book.

“That is, each family determines when the child is old enough to go by him/herself alone to the library to check out books.”

Between the age where the parent goes with the child to the library and the child turns 18, there is a period of gradual independence. Parents don’t need to hold their children’s hands in their teens, but at the same time, they still need guidance. We should be able to drop off our teen children at the library and trust that they adhere to family standards. But we are not talking about having librarians track kids reading habits in the library; we are talking about the library holding records on our children (what books and videos they have checked out) and preventing parents from accessing those records.

It is ridiculous that a library can call the house for my 16 or 17 year old and say they have overdue books, and then not be able to tell me what they are. It is also ridiculous that that they can call my house telling me my husband has overdue books and not being able to tell me what they are. It is one thing to prevent an overzealous government from spying on citizens’ reading habits, it’s quite another to treat reading habits as confidential material to be kept from parents and spouses. (Although adults should have every right to request that their records remain private, even from spouses.)

Children and teens are not little adults. It is their parents responsibility to guide them into adulthood. Government is making it more difficult for us to fulfill our responsibility.

Thanks for the pointer to your blog - the comments are very interesting. I personally believe its best to give children some measure of privacy wrt what they check out of a public library. I say some measure, because obviously the parents have an interest and are involved in their children's lives. I think this generally works best without libraries serving in loco parentis (unlike schools). That is, the parents of small children will naturally be with the children when checking out picture books etc. The parents of older teens are much less likely to be there, and the teens may in fact want to check out books that they don't want their parents to see, e.g. child abuse. As for the children between those ages, it's best left up to family dynamics, not library policing. That is, each family determines when the child is old enough to go by him/herself alone to the library to check out books. See also http://blog.librarylaw.com/librarylaw/2004/05/state_laws_on_t.html

Mary:

I blogged about this here:

Note to Vermont Governor Re S220 Library Confidentiality Legislation

http://safelibraries.blogspot.com/2008/05/note-to-vermont-governor-re-s220.html

Would you please read what I have to say, then read the comments, especially those of "Retta" and "Eileen"?

Before I say anything further, would you please comment on what you read?

Thanks.

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