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Librarians Use Shredder to Show Opposition to New FBI Powers

2003-04-07
Santa Cruz Public Libraries
Patriot Act warning sign

By Dean E. Murphy
New York Times Online
April 7, 2003

SLIS Summary

Staff members at the nine-branch Santa Cruz Public Library System used to destroy discarded paperwork as time allowed, typically once a week. But at a recent meeting of library officials, 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 system.

The move was part of a campaign by the Santa Cruz libraries to demonstrate their opposition to the USA Patriot Act.

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.

Turner said the authorities had made no inquiries about patrons in Santa Cruz, but the librarians and library board, which sets policies for the 10 branches, felt strongly about the matter. 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 FBI 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.

American Library Association President Maurice J. Freedman said only a handful of libraries had posted signs or handed out literature about the Patriot Act. Many other libraries, he said, decided that warnings might unnecessarily alarm patrons.

At the same time, however, thousands of libraries have joined the rush to destroy records.

A spokesman for the Justice Department said libraries were not breaking the law by destroying records, even at a faster pace. Spokesman Mark Corallo said it would be illegal only if a library destroyed records that had been subpoenaed by the FBI.

Turner said librarians did not want to help terrorists, but she said other values were at stake as well.

"I am more terrified of having my First Amendment rights to information and free speech infringed than I am by the kind of terrorist acts that have come down so far," said Turner.

Library officials said the response to the warning signs had been overwhelmingly positive, and visitors interviewed today had nothing but praise. Several of them noted, however, that Santa Cruz was not necessarily a microcosm of America.

Santa Cruz is a community well known for its leftward leanings and progressive politics. Last fall, city officials allowed marijuana for medicinal purposes to be distributed from the steps of City Hall. The City Council also passed a resolution condemning the Patriot Act.

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Posted April 07, 2003