Take One: September 26, 2011 (the Patriot Act and Banned Books Week)
Nearly a decade ago the USA PATRIOT Act became law in the wake of 9/11. Intended to modernize wiretap and surveillance laws for the Internet age, the Patriot Act had broad ramifications for libraries—public and private—all across America. Prior to the Patriot Act, the government could subpoena library records. Nowadays government officials can secure access to library records without demonstrating “probable cause” that a crime had been committed, as long as they are undertaking a terrorism investigation. Have CUL records been requested? I can’t tell you…or anyone else about it, including any subjects of any investigation, thus precluding their right to object to the government’s action (as they could with a subpoena). Cornell University Library, like other libraries across the country, struggled to conform to the Patriot Act’s provisions while protecting individuals’ rights. The demands for increased security capability run counter to a fundamental mission of libraries—to provide individuals with access to information as well as privacy in seeking that information. Cornell University Library, among many others, reviewed the extent and duration of its record keeping in order to limit patron vulnerability. As we celebrate the 30th anniversary of Banned Books Week, September 24 to October 1, it’s important to remind ourselves that the fundamental right to read includes not only access to information of all political and social stripes, but also the freedom to read materials without fear of reprisal. These rights are embodied in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press. During Banned Books Week, take a moment to think about the role libraries play in collecting, preserving, and making available such books, as well as their stand on safeguarding an individual’s privacy. The right to read is of critical importance to libraries, the users they serve, and the ongoing health of a democracy.
Have a healthy and productive week,