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Did the Pelham Library Violate NY Law?

How many of you have seen this article (found via Library Stuff)? I’m going to quote part of it:

"PELHAM MANOR – Someone at the Pelham [NY] Public Library tattled on a teen researching gun carry and concealment laws, which led to the 11th-grader being called into the high school assistant principal’s office and being interviewed by police, police said.

The unidentified student was called to Assistant Principal Lynn Sabia’s office Tuesday after someone from the public library called the school, saying the teen had ordered a book on concealing a gun.

‘It is not our procedure to notify somebody,’ about the books people order, library Director Patricia Perito said Wednesday, the day after the incident. But, she said, she had to look into it. Since then, Perito has declined to provide any explanation of the incident or information on the instructions the library has regarding notifying authorities about questionable book choices."

Is this weird, or what? Apparently, it didn’t stop there, but went on to the police. "Pelham Manor police Detective Ken Campion said the teen was doing research on gun carry and concealment laws, not on how to conceal a gun…. There was not anything to be worried about with regard to the teen, Campion said after interviewing him Tuesday. He did not break any laws." He didn’t, but somebody did.

According to one of the comments on this article, the busybody in the library who called the school does this sort of thing all the time. It’s not clear if the person is actually a librarian, but it doesn’t matter that much. The director doesn’t seem too upset about it, and presumably she’s a librarian. She should have trotted out a high-minded speech about the ALA and privacy issues and told everyone she was going to fix this problem immediately!

The busybody might not be the brightest bulb in the library. Kids who carry guns to school to murder their peers generally aren’t concerned with laws. If you’re going to start randomly shooting people, you’re probably not too worried about being arrested for carrying a concealed weapon.

The school’s safe from this kid, though. "Pelham Manor school’s spokeswoman, Angela Cox, said calling police was ‘a responsible step,’ but added that they were sure the student posed no threat and remained in school."

That’s certainly a relief, but I wonder if Ms. Cox realizes that in addition to it being a "responsible step," which I highly doubt, it’s also possibly an illegal step? Perhaps Detective Campion is unaware of the New York State law on the issue. Here it is, for the curious:

"NEW YORK CONSOLIDATED LAW
NY CLS CPLR § 4509 (2001)
§ 4509. Library records

Library records, which contain names or other personally identifying details regarding the users of public, free association, school, college and university libraries and library systems of this state, including but not limited to records related to the circulation of library materials, computer database searches,interlibrary loan transactions, reference queries, requests for photocopies of library materials, title reserve requests, or the use of audio-visual materials, films or records, shall be confidential and shall not be disclosed except that such records may be disclosed to the extent necessary for the proper operation of such library and shall be disclosed upon request or consent of the user or pursuant to subpoena, court order or where otherwise required by statute."

It seems to me that calling up this kid’s school to tell them what this kid checked out would be considered a disclosure of library records. I suppose the busybody could claim she didn’t disclose the "record" because she saw the kid check out the book herself or something like that, but I doubt that argument would go very far. We can all get upset that the library worker violated our professional ethics in some way, but professional ethics don’t carry any weight, which is why nobody pays any attention to them. However, she also seems to have violated New York law. Some of the commenters think the person making the call should be fired. Perhaps. Then after that, maybe she should be arrested.

Though maybe I’m wrong on this one. Doesn’t this seem like a pretty clear violation of the law? Why hasn’t the director said more about it? Then again, what do I care. I don’t live in Pelham.

However, if you care, go ahead and contact them for more information. They’ve got their email address right on the website. Heck, they even have a blog: the Pelham Library News. The Webtamer would be so proud! Of course there’s no news about this issue, because it hasn’t been updated since December. It’s a pity, since a possible violation of NY law by one of their library staff would be some juicy Pelham Library News.

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Comments

  1. Matt says:

    Last time I commented on this blog that it was illegal to give out this kind of info. I got blasted by a bunch of people who said if the patron wanted it private they shouldn’t come to a public place. I didn’t notice AL sticking up for me then.

  2. Kim says:

    It is illegal to give out this kind of info. People research for different reasons. My nephew did a research project similar to the one mentioned here. He’s an excellent student, not a kid to go out shooting other kids.

  3. VNS says:

    I would be very suspicious of a teen doing research in a book in a library.
    If they aren’t there playing video games, then they are up to no good.

  4. Dr. Pepper says:

    So…do public libraries have the Anarchist’s Cookbook?

    If so, do we get profiled? :p

  5. tjwilliams says:

    Can her ass. This is completely unacceptable. Especially if it is true that this is something she does regularly.

    Oddly enough, however, there doesn’t seem to be a punishment attached to that statute. I think it is a law that police have to follow when conducting an investigation. That is, it only pertains to what types of evidence can be gathered without a warrant. I don’t think this is actually a crime.

  6. another f-ing librarian says:

    hm. next, the catalogers will start putting fake records into the catalog for books on ‘how to wreak all kinds of havoc’, and then get the cops to track down the people requesting those titles. all in a day’s work, for… SUPer librariann!!! woo. ‘big hero’.

    ya wanna save the day? become a paramedic.

  7. NotMarianTheLibrarian says:

    It appears Pelham has a busybody employee and a nincompoop director. I think they’d do better without either employee. I’m occasionally ill at ease with some of the topics our students research but why they need the information is none of my business. It does seem though that many young people haven’t heard of TMI or boundaries.

  8. bawlmer librarian says:

    Probably one of those older librarians who are bored and can’t afford to retire :)

    (just kidding)

  9. NotMarianTheLibrarian says:

    Funny you say that bawlmer – our youngest staffer is the most squeamish and backward among us. Students are researching all sorts of interesting topics but I am not too interested in hearing how their intimate piercing went. :| That’s too much information!!

  10. G says:

    It seems a funny thing to someone with a background in pharmacy. I don’t know how much I’ve read about librarians trying to be a profession, with professional standards and advanced degrees. And then they don’t seem concerned with passing around protected information. The protected information has a parallel in the pharmacy with HIPAA laws, and they are *very* serious about not passing around patient health information.

  11. YQW says:

    Who cares?

  12. TheCompleatLibrarian says:

    Until he is 18 he has no rights.
    Wait…until he is 18, he can do whatever he wants to.
    No..No…it is the the Librarian’s fault.

    No, that’s not right….it is the ambiguous use of language in the laws that have no solid precedent and no true enforcement.

    Librarians need to quit acting like they are the Lords of their own fiefdoms and actually comply with the laws of the community they are a part of.

  13. comedian says:

    I had a patron looking for info on safe driving, maybe I’ll turn her into the cops on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter. Or the senior looking for information on prescription drugs cause he’s got to be a crack dealer. Or the guy looking for bank information has got to be looking for account to deposit embezzled money. Or the kid looking up stuff on tattoos, he’s gotta be in a gang. Or that small child reading Princes Bride must be planning regicide.

  14. Auntie Nanuuq says:

    OMG! Why didn’t the snitch-baby call the kids parents & the FBI as well?

  15. Dan Kleinman of SafeLibraries.org says:

    It’s the kid’s fault. He looked up gun laws. Obviously that was wrong. To avoid this problem the next time, he should look up child pornography. Had he viewed child pornography, he would not have been reported to the school. His privacy to view child porn would have been protected by the library. See “Libraries Aid and Abet Pedophiles, Destroy Evidence, Retaliate Against Whistle Blowers, Claim Dubious Privacy and Free Speech Rights; ALA At Fault” at safelibraries.blogspot.com/2009/05/libraries-aid-and-abet-pedophiles.html

  16. Mr. Kat says:

    TheCompleatLibrarian commented: Until he is 18 he has no rights. Wait…until he is 18, he can do whatever he wants to. No..No…it is the the Librarian’s fault. No, that’s not right….it is the ambiguous use of language in the laws that have no solid precedent and no true enforcement. Librarians need to quit acting like they are the Lords of their own fiefdoms and actually comply with the laws of the community they are a part of.

    Regardless of HIS age, the LIBRARIAN’S age IS old enough to hold her accountable for breaking the law! Furthermore, it is NOT illegal to research concealed weaponry at any age.

    There are further a number of communities that need to learn to understand that a number of regional and federal laws apply to them too, even if they don’t believe in those values Locally…

    Where IS the ALA on this one???

  17. Joe says:

    It was probably a volenteer who called it in.

  18. rightcoast says:

    Volunteer or not, she broke the law. Just because you were not *paid* to break the law, does not mean you can not, and should not be prosecuted. Whoever called this in needs to be prosecuted.

  19. Just a question says:

    …a philosophical one…

    If you saw a teenager looking at school shootings online and happened to see a printed page that he left on the printer of his online diary saying he plans to shoot people on a certain day, would you call someone or ignore it based on protecting his privacy? I have asked myself this question and find it hard to answer. Perhaps others would have a solid take on this. Thanks!

  20. Techserving You says:

    I haven’t looked at the statute, but I am guessing that it is a civil statute and therefore there is no ‘prosecution’ to be done.

    Regarding the very specific scenario described above – yes, I would let someone know although I am not sure that I would identify the patron. Although, even doctors can legally breach confidentiality when they have information that someone’s actions may harm others or themself. I really don’t think that librarians need to be held to a higher standard than doctors do.

  21. Techserving You says:

    I meant regarding the specific scenario described in the comment above mine, NOT the Pelham scenario. That person is an idiot, though not a criminal, if he/she violated a civil statute.

  22. law says:

    How dare he try to educate himself about the laws he has to obey? If you are not a criminal, you shouldn’t have to worry yourself about the rules. /sarcasm

    I say the librarian should be fired. Congrats tot he police and anyone else who managed to keep it professional and not overreact.

  23. TheCompleatLibrarian says:

    Mr. Kat commented:

    TheCompleatLibrarian commented: Until he is 18 he has no rights. Wait…until he is 18, he can do whatever he wants to. No..No…it is the the Librarian’s fault. No, that’s not right….it is the ambiguous use of language in the laws that have no solid precedent and no true enforcement. Librarians need to quit acting like they are the Lords of their own fiefdoms and actually comply with the laws of the community they are a part of.

    Regardless of HIS age, the LIBRARIAN’S age IS old enough to hold her accountable for breaking the law! Furthermore, it is NOT illegal to research concealed weaponry at any age.

    There are further a number of communities that need to learn to understand that a number of regional and federal laws apply to them too, even if they don’t believe in those values Locally…

    Where IS the ALA on this one???

    Wow….if the “No,No” and the “Wait,Wait” did not indicate sarcasm, then you need more exposure to skylarking. Good grief.

  24. Mr. Kat says:

    May 12, 2009
    In response to: Did the Pelham Library Violate NY Law?
    Just a question commented:

    …a philosophical one… If you saw a teenager looking at school shootings online and happened to see a printed page that he left on the printer of his online diary saying he plans to shoot people on a certain day, would you call someone or ignore it based on protecting his privacy? I have asked myself this question and find it hard to answer. Perhaps others would have a solid take on this. Thanks!

    If you are in an academic institution, then under mandatory reporting statues, you HAVE to report it. But why? Simply put, you have a hard printout of his personal diary – and that material is not covered under any law, not even the Constitution; you are not even allowed to publish threats or abuse against others, either libelous or slanderous.

    However, if this student is just using the computer to do research on school shootings, we may not report his activiy under the code of ethics as perscribed to our profession. If the student is checking out books on the subject of school shootings, we librarians may not even ask Why this student is checking them out, even if we were academic librarians.

    In short, we may not act until people do something specific that shows they wish to do something that may do real harm to themselves or others – and checking out a libary book or even many library books on the subject or a multitude of subjects does not constitute such proof, especially since we are under oath, contrat and understanding with our patrons that their library records are completely confidential.

    With the number of people looking for librarian jobs, there is not one good reason to hold one single librarian who is unable to ethically do their job as described by the professional guidelines as perscribed by the ALA. Ms. Nosy, Ms. Queasy, Ms. Busybody, we have no place for you!

  25. Ab says:

    Unfortunately, due to federal patriot act laws which will not expire until December 2009 this information is allowed to be disclosed to a law enforcement agency. If the person who made the call was a citizen then they are allowed to do so, but if it was a librarian then I believe that would be breaking privacy regulations. The ALA is against the patriot act but has no real authority to combat it except with letters and lobbying.

  26. Fat and Grumpy says:

    May 11, 2009
    In response to: Did the Pelham Library Violate NY Law?
    Dr. Pepper commented:

    So…do public libraries have the Anarchist’s Cookbook? If so, do we get profiled? :p

    Great question. Years ago, I worked at Waldenbooks, who refused to take orders for the Anarchist’s Cookbook, and at a public library where I ILL’d it a couple of times a year. Go figure.

  27. Subversives Unite says:

    I’d hold a Be Subversive! day for the kids down at the library. We’d look at the Underground Railroad, Prohibition’s Soeakeasy’s… ooo, how about the historical suppression of free speech and how citizens have fought against it?

  28. better 2b fired says:

    I worked at the Webtamer’s almater library for about 3 years. Although I cannot speak for the current practices of this library, I can say that this library has, apparently, silently condoned a relationship with the local police department that consisted of providing the identity of patrons who checked out items that were found during the course of police investigations, without the provision of subpoenaes and/or the required warrants per Indiana statute and library policy. It was kind of a “you scratch our back, we’ll scratch yours” situation where the library depended on prompt reactions from the local PD at times since it is an urban downtown library. Coincidentally, within a week of my questioning such an incident, I was terminated from the library–of course the library maintains this was totally unrelated to their reasoning for firing me. Ultimately, via the unemployment judge, it was decided that there was not just cause for terminating me. Now, I’m just over halfway through my MLS with a termination under my belt. Woo Hoo!