Pin It
Favorite

New Privacy Protections for Library Patrons 

Local Matters

Vermonters troubled by government's right to know what books they're reading and the topics they're researching can breathe easier. A new state law, signed by Gov. Jim Douglas, requires all libraries that are open to the public to keep patrons' records confidential, except if ordered by a judge to disclose them.

The law, initiated by the Vermont Library Association (VLA), creates broad new privacy protections for library users, putting circulation records, Internet-search histories and email reference questions off-limits.

Librarians across the country have long been troubled by the FBI's growing use of so-called "national security letters," or NSAs, to snoop into patrons' library habits. Librarians who receive an NSA are subject to a lifetime gag order, which prevents them from revealing the letter's contents or even disclosing that they've received one.

Trina Magi, a University of Vermont librarian who until recently chaired the VLA's intellectual freedom committee, says the law wasn't a direct response to provisions in the USA Patriot Act that allow federal agents to search library records without a warrant. Rather, Magi said, the law addresses Vermont's statutory protections, which are "inadequate and confusing" compared to those in most other states.

"Our committee would get calls from time to time from libraries all over the state saying, 'We just got a request for records. What are we supposed to do?'" she said. "So we thought it was time to make things clearer."

The Vermont law doesn't break any new ground, nor does it trump federal law. Library records can still be subpoenaed and, in a compromise that sped the bill's passage, parents of children 16 and under can still access their kids' records.

The VLA opposed the parental exemption, Magi said, arguing that young people often use the library to research topics they're uncomfortable discussing with their parents, such as health, sexuality, religion and politics.

"In a public library setting, we feel that librarians should not be involved in these matters," Magi said. "There are all kinds of other ways that parents can be involved in their kids' reading."

Got something to say? Send a letter to the editor and we'll publish your feedback in print!

Pin It
Favorite

About The Author

Ken Picard

Ken Picard

Bio:
Ken Picard has been a Seven Days staff writer since 2002. He has won numerous awards for his work, including the Vermont Press Association's 2005 Mavis Doyle award, a general excellence prize for reporters.

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Seven Days moderates comments in order to ensure a civil environment. Please treat the comments section as you would a town meeting, dinner party or classroom discussion. In other words, keep commenting classy! Read our guidelines...

Note: Comments are limited to 300 words.

Latest in Politics

Recent Comments

Social Club

Like Seven Days contests and events? Join the club!

See an example of this newsletter...

Keep up with us Seven Days a week!

Sign up for our fun and informative
e-newsletters:

All content © 2015 Da Capo Publishing, Inc. 255 So Champlain St Ste 5, Burlington, VT 05401
Website powered by Foundation