Librarians Use Shredder to Show Opposition to New F.B.I. Powers
Ali Houissa <ah16@...
2003-04-07 12:21:10 GMT
The New York Times | April 7, 2003
Librarians Use Shredder to Show Opposition to New F.B.I.
By DEAN E. MURPHY
SANTA CRUZ, Calif., April 4 The humming noise
from a back room of the central library here today was the sound of
Barbara Gail Snider, a librarian,
at work. Her hands stuffed with wads of paper,
Ms. Snider was feeding a small shredding machine mounted on a plastic
First to be sliced by the electronic teeth were several pink sheets with
handwritten requests to the reference desk. One asked for the origin of
the expression "to
cost an arm and a leg." Another sought the address of a collection
Next to go were the logs of people who had signed up to use the library's
Internet computer stations. Bill L., Mike B., Rolando, Steve and Patrick
shredded into white paper spaghetti.
"It used to be a librarian would be pictured with a book," said
Ms. Snider, the branch manager, slightly exasperated as she hunched over
the wastebasket. "Now
it is a librarian with a shredder."
Actually, the shredder here is not new, but the rush to use it is. In the
old days, staff members in the nine-branch Santa Cruz Public Library
destroy discarded paperwork as time allowed, typically once a
But at a meeting of library officials last week, it was decided the
materials should be shredded daily.
"The basic strategy now is to keep as little historical information
as possible," said Anne M. Turner, director of the library
The move was part of a campaign by the Santa Cruz libraries to
demonstrate their opposition to the Patriot Act, the law passed in the
wake of the Sept. 11
attacks that broadened the federal authorities' powers in fighting
Among provisions that have angered librarians nationwide is one that
allows the Federal Bureau of Investigation to review certain business
records of people
under suspicion, which has been interpreted to include the borrowing or
purchase of books and the use of the Internet at libraries, bookstores
In a survey sent to 1,500 libraries last fall by the Library Research
Center at the University of Illinois, the staffs at 219 libraries said
they had cooperated with
law enforcement requests for information about patrons; staffs at 225
libraries said they had not.
Ms. Turner said the authorities had made no inquiries about patrons in
Santa Cruz. But the librarians here and the library board, which sets
policies for the 10
branches, felt strongly about the matter nonetheless. Last month, Santa
Cruz became one of the first library systems in the country to post
warning signs about
the Patriot Act at all of its checkout counters.
Today, the libraries went further and began distributing a handout to
visitors that outlines objections to the enhanced F.B.I. powers and
explains that the libraries
were reviewing all records "to make sure that we really need every
piece of data" about borrowers and Internet users.
Maurice J. Freedman, president of the American Library Association and
director of the library system in Westchester, N.Y., said only a handful
of libraries had
posted signs or handed out literature about the Patriot Act. Warning
signs are posted in the computer room at a library in Killington, Vt.,
and the library board in
Skokie, Ill., recently voted to post signs, Mr. Freedman said.
Many other libraries, he said, including those in Westchester, decided
that warnings might unnecessarily alarm patrons.
"There are people, especially older people who lived through the
McCarthy era, who might be intimidated by this," he said. "As
of right now, the odds are very
great that there will be no search made of a person's records at public
libraries, so I don't want to scare people away."
At the same time, though, thousands of libraries have joined the rush to
A spokesman for the Justice Department said libraries were not breaking
the law by destroying records, even at a faster pace. The spokesman, Mark
said it would be illegal only if a library destroyed records that had
been subpoenaed by the F.B.I.