It’s always a little weird to see librarians acting all unlibrarianish. Last week there was the library employee in St. Louis who left a comment on this blog that notified the world of the library card holding status of a specific person named in a news article. So much for privacy!
Now comes the result of a lawsuit against yet another public library in Missouri motivated by some pretty bizarre librarian behavior.
Someone at the Salem Public Library wanted to read about Native American religions, Wiccans, and other crazy topics that no God-fearing Salemite should ever want to know anything about, but she couldn’t get past the computer filters, which were apparently set to block “occult” sites.
The librarian wouldn’t remove the filters, so she sued. Finally, a sensible lawsuit against a librarian.
The ACLU victory statement has the best quote:
The resident had originally protested to library director Glenda Wofford about not being able to access websites about Native American religions and the Wiccan faith. While portions of the sites were unblocked, much remained censored. Wofford said she would only allow access to blocked sites if she felt patrons had a legitimate reason to view the content and added that she had an obligation to report people who wanted to view these sites to the authorities. The resident’s attempts to complain about the policy to the library board of trustees were brushed off.
To which I can only reply, wow. That’s the strangest reply to a library patron I’ve heard of in a while. It’s not like the patron was trying to stream some Wiccan porn in the children’s section of the library. (If there is such a thing as Wiccan porn, I imagine it would involve a lot of slutty witch Halloween costumes.)
Outside of porn, which is blocked by law, libraries don’t usually block Internet searches. Most of them don’t even seem to want to block porn. And here this librarian wanted to block religion sites.
To have the constrained sensibilities of the library director determine what everyone can research is a little bizarre. Add to that the total lie about having an obligation to report people to the authorities. Obviously that was meant as intimidation, and by librarian standards it’s pretty intimidating.
It’s no wonder the library lost the case, because the librarian’s behavior was pretty much indefensible. The library apparently knew they didn’t have a leg to stand on because they removed the filter months before the legal judgment came.
I was curious about where such a library might be found, and was unsurprised to discover Salem is a town of fewer than 5,000 people in the middle of nowhere. I couldn’t imagine that particular sort of unlibrarianish behavior happening in St. Louis or Columbia.
Are there other libraries that block non-porn sites? Or where the librarians only let patrons view websites if they feel patrons have a “legitimate reason”?
I’d never heard of this sort of librarian reaction to non-porn Internet searches before. However, plenty of libraries in effect keep their patrons from reading books on certain topics the librarians don’t like by just not buying the books. The ALA might call it censorship, others might call it selection, but either way it’s done all the time.
The website challenge by a librarian seems unlibrarianish to me, but maybe that kind of thing happens all the time to websites and books, and we just don’t find out about it.