Porn Yet Again

This issue just keeps rearing its ugly head.  Now the issue involves a librarian who alerted the police to a patron viewing child porn on a library computer, contrary to the wishes of the supervisor.

Brenda Biesterfeld, a librarian assistant in Lindsay, California, was ordered by her supervisor not to report a man who was looking at pictures of naked boys on the library’s public computer.  She called police anyway.  On the 39-year-old man’s next visit, police caught him allegedly viewing child pornography. 

The man, Donny Lynn Chrisler, was arrested on March 4 on suspicion of violating child pornography and obscenity laws.  Police say they found “kiddie porn” in Chrisler’s trailer home.

Biesterfeld said she had a hostile conversation with her supervisor, Judi Hill, after she ignored the supervisor’s orders and notified police.  “She kind of threatened me,” Biesterfeld said.  “She said I worked for the county, and when the county tells you to do something, you do what the county tells you. She said I had no loyalty to the county. I told her I was a mother and a citizen also, and not just a county employee.”

Biesterfeld was fired on March 6.  A letter from Tulare County Librarian Brian Lewis said that probationary employees such as Biesterfeld can be terminated at any time if they don’t perform at a level “necessary for fully satisfactory performance in the employee’s position.”

However, a Lindsay city councilwoman said that six weeks before the firing, she was told that Biesterfeld was doing a great job.

On March 14, the Linsdsay City Council sent a letter to Tulare county supervisors complaining about Judi Hill’s “abrupt, demanding and demeaning” phone call to a police captain telling him to call off his pornography investigation because the city had “no business interfering” with library matters.

Randy Thomasson, president of the Campaign for Children and Families, criticized the county library administrators.  “The liberals who run the library system in America must stop violating the federal law because they regard child pornography as free speech,” he said.

“All pornography is immoral, but possession of child pornography is a federal crime. No librarian should fear reporting child pornography to the police, but libraries that fail to report these crimes should be very afraid. Brenda Biesterfeld will get her job back, and more.”

The Campaign for Children and Families said that the American Library Association  does not instruct librarians to report child pornography incidents to the police.  “Instead, the association has vigorously opposed all congressional efforts to restrict pornography, obscenity and child pornography for more than a decade,” the campaign claims.

A few library bloggers have weighed in on the case.  The Effing Librarian has this to say:

Brenda Biesterfeld was screwed either way.

A library worker in the town of Lindsay reported to police last week that a man was looking at child pornography on one of the library computers, and because of that tip, police arrested 39-year-old Donny Chrisler. But she also lost her job over the incident.

I don’t know which is the greater sin that she could have been nailed for if she followed her supervisor’s orders:
Withholding information from the authorities when you’ve witnessed a crime, or Violating privacy Statutes by entering “child pornographer” into a patron record.

But she ignored the supervisor and did this, the story says:

Brenda Biesterfeld says by calling the police, she disobeyed the direction of a supervisor. The supervisor told her to make a note on the man’s library account and tell him to stop looking at the pictures.

[…]

That’s the official procedure???? It happens so often that the supervisor has that as a plan???? Make a note?????????????????????????

Good point.  Mary Minow at LibraryLaw blog– who is an attorney as well as a librarian – has this to say:

Child pornography is NOT protected free speech.  If you see someone looking at child porn in the library, call the police. 

If you see only the website and no patron, you can still report it to the FBI or Cyber Tip Line 800-843-5678

Here’s a point where pro-filter and pro-open access folks can agree. 

While librarians are right to be concerned with protecting the rights of our patrons, at some point common sense needs to trump philosophy. 

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3 Comments

Filed under Libraries and Librarianship

3 responses to “Porn Yet Again

  1. Scott

    I personally am a supporter of filtering software. I use Net Nanny myself (http://www.netnanny.com/features/porn-filter) and the mere thought of a public place not having some protection amazes me.
    I am completely surprise that this happened. I say good for her for reporting the guy. If librarians honestly think that disobeying the law is constitutionally protected, then they are gravely misunderstanding the law. In fact, the way the supervisor acted, it seemed like the library was trying to be outside of the law.
    Also, doesn’t most libraries have to use content filters now? I know that there is a big battle over it, but my impression was that the filter side won out…

  2. There seems to be a misconception that libraries view child pornography as speech protected by the First Amendment. Nothing could be further from the truth. As is pointed out in one of the blogs cited above, child pornography is illegal and every library I know has policies against its use on library PCs. I am a technology librarian, so I know a little about this. Many librarians (including me) have problems with the concept of filters in libraries but shielding those looking at child porn is not the reason why.

    Without knowing all the facts, this incident appears to be one of two situations:
    1) The situation was not as black and white as the fired staffer made it appear and she got “lucky” when, in fact, the offending patron was found to have child porn at home.

    -or-

    2) The supervisor made an incredibly bad call and expected the staffer to follow it even though it flew in the face of library policy and common sense. Expecting the chain of command enforce such a horrible decision wasn’t realistic and the staffer did the right thing.

    We’ll probably never know exactly what happened. Supervisors are not allowed to talk publicly about incidents with staff, who are under no such restrictions and can spread their side of the story as much as they desire.

  3. Donovan said, “There seems to be a misconception that libraries view child pornography as speech protected by the First Amendment. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

    The ALA says, “As for obscenity and child pornography, prosecutors and police have adequate tools to enforce criminal laws. Libraries are not a component of law enforcement efforts….” Guidelines and Considerations for Developing a Public Library Internet Use Policy.

    So it’s not a “misconception.” Instead, it’s in black and white, right from the ALA, in the ALA’s guide to constructing Internet Use Policies. Local control over libraries is a myth when, e.g., this ALA policy is copied, and the Lindley, CA, case is further evidence of that.

    I see this as a smoking gun that ALA policy sometimes overrides local control. What do others think?

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