School librarian's email examined for misconduct re: gay pride law


mdoneil writes "A Hillsborough county school system librarian who is an outspoken opponent of the Hillsborough County Commission's recent action to not fund gay pride related activities had his email scrutinized after he used a school system computer to send bulk email.

Bart Birdsall is upset that his emails to Tampa Hillsborough Library Director Joe Stines were read. Not all of the emails that were examined including those to Stines were sent from school systems computers, some were sent from Birdsall's personal computer. However three of the messages sent from the school system computer violated school board policy and Birdsall was warned that he could be subject to disciplinary action.

The St. Petersburg Times article notes that Birdsall "felt like it was a witch hunt."

It is important to note that Florida has government in the sunshine laws which make correspondence with public officials such as Library Director Stines public record in so far as it was recieved on a computer or over a network paid for with public funds. All email messages, with certain exceptions for legal and personnel records, are available for inspection by members of the public. So while Birdsall's email messages to Stines office computer were made public so would yours or mine.

While everyone is entitled to their opinion, one should not use employer's resources to promote them. Similarly if you don't wish to have your email made public do not send it to a government official in Florida"


Before anyone else reams me via email for my appalling knowledge/application of grammar, or about how I got the story all wrong, please know that the person who posts a story is often not the same person who submitted it. If you take the time to read the story, the person who submitted it, if it was a submission, is listed in the first sentence. This story was written and submitted by LISNews contributor mdoneil. Please direct all further ire in care of Mr. O'Neil.

I understand that Bart Birdsall has another side of the story to tell. Both Blake and I have tried to respond to him, but our emails are bouncing back. Bart, if you'd like a chance to give your side of the story, please comment here, or let us know how we can get in touch with you.

I'm not certain that I have posted my position on gay pride exhibits. I have posted my position on displays of works by gay authors, but I don't think those could be considered gay pride exhibits.

You see, the library is about books, and information, it is not an organization that should endorse anything, sort of like the news media should be. Book displays of gay authors, or Norweigan authors are just that, and to read into them is inappropriate.

Just because I put up a display for Rosh Hashanah does not make me Jewish, nor does my Canada Day display make me Canadian. They just show that there are library patrons who may be interested in reading about those things. That is what libraries are for - broadening horizons, not pushing agendas.

Bart Birdsall asked me to post his response. Here 'tis:

Mr. Oneil,

You have made a lot of assumptions in your posting about my case.

I did NOT mass mail anyone. I posted 3 messages to a media specialist message board with the school district. Those were emails discussing the removal of a book display. I felt it was a library issue that librarians would be interested about on a library message board. I did not fill anyone's email box up or mass mail them. I have been reprimanded for those 3 postings.

During the reprimand a Tampa Tribune article and emails I sent from my home email account were discussed. I have my 1st Amendment right to appear in the newspaper and to write the Director of the public library system. When I said this, the woman from Professional Standards agreed. So why did she bother to bring those items up??? She also admitted that Joe Stines (Director of the public libraries) gave the emails I sent to him to Mary Ellen Elia (the School District Superintendent). I feel that is very unprofessional of him.

If someone were complaining about how I ran my school library and threw a fit in my library, I can't go and tattle at that citizen's place of employment. That would be outrageous of me to do so.

I have absolutely ZERO problem with my emails to Joe Stines to be made public, since they are sent to a public official and there are public records laws. You have assumed that is what I have a problem with. I do not. I have a problem with what I believe is him using them and taking them to my boss in an attempt to get me in trouble with her. When he sent those emails to the Superintendent, I believe that started the investigation into my school email and that's when they found the emails I posted to the media specialists, which, at the time, I thought were appropriate. I felt that they were searching for something to get me on, since they could not get me with the Joe Stines emails after reviewing them and finding out they were sent from my home email account.

That is the story from my perspective.

By the way, I did not exactly send Joe Stines 30 emails. I sent him maybe 6-7 directly. The others had him carbon copied (ones I sent to county commissioners, county attorny, etc.) asking about the library display policy. That is a minor point but one I feel is important. The paper made it sound like I sent 30 emails meant to him and only him. That makes me sound nutty.


Well, it's only 3000 miles away, but the County Cork pub in Portland, Oregon, serves Beamish on tap.

During my own recent experience with politics invading the workplace I did feel it was necessary to explain to my employer that while what I put on my website was done on my time I did spend worktime on places like LISNews and that postings were going to be from my perspective. How that breaks down in terms of what benefits myself and what benefits my job I don't know and I don't think I want to know. I do believe I learn a lot about new library issues and technologies and there are definite professional gains so I don't feel too guilty. But to say its a fine line doesn't do it justice. What side of the line these things fall on seems to depend on your working relationship with your employer. In Mr. Birdsall's case it looks as if it went against him.

And before anyone yells "Policy!" keep in mind a policy is going to say either all or nothing because parsing it would be more complicated and loop-holish then its worth. Either suggestion would be wrong and I think it would be better to simply rely on individual integrity.

For the record I disagree with mdoneil and Birdsall on the issue of gay pride exhibits but I think based on mdoneil's info Birdsall is getting hosed.

I love Beamish! I don't know where to get it in the States. I'd have to take the grammar cop to Ireland and then he or she would probably go stark raving insane with the abuse the language takes from the lads in the pubs over there.

As always speakers of English are differentiated by a common language.

You can get Beamish in a can with a widget at some places and that is my mission for today, find a Beamish, of course a nice draught would be much better.

Odd to find myself agreeing with both Greg* and mdoneil (the latter less odd), but...I've been using "their," "them," and "they" as singular sex-neutral pronouns for years in Cites & Insights--at least since March 2002, when I included some blather about why I was doing it (and repeating why "data" is usually a collective, thus singular, noun in real-world use).

So my response to someone objecting to that usage is likely to be impolite.

Md's also right about the other issue, to be sure: correct British and American usage differ in a number of key areas, including Britain's lack of the "corporation as person" assertion that makes "IBM" singular in American. (In British, the punctuation around quotes in the first paragraph of this comment would also be wrong...)

None of which has a whole heck of a lot to do with the story, to be sure.

The original post in this thread was based on a newspaper article, the article linked to in the post.

It seems that some of the information in the newspaper article was incorrect (a newspaper wrong who would have thought!)

Bart Birdsall, about whom the article was written graciously took the time to clarify things for me and I think it is only right to clarify things here.

There were never any mass mailing or spam sent from Mr. Birdsall's work computer. Postings were made to a listserv for school board media specialists. That is dramatically different than the impression given by the reporter.

While Mr. Birdsall was reprimanded for using his work computer to make these 3 listserve postings, it seems that the discussion went beyond the scope of those three postings and included discussions about his personal email and non-work related speech. Of course that was inappropriate as our employers have no right to constrain our speech or opinion whilst we are not on the clock.

It must also be clarified that Joe Stines, director of THPL proffered the email to the school superintendant; that they were not requested through a FOI request. Mr. Birdsall relates that he would have absolutely no problem with his email being released under the state's sunshine law.

It is also important to note that Mr. Birdsall did not send Joe Stines 30 emails, he directly sent Mr. Stines half a dozen or so, others were copies of mail messages sent to elected officials, with whom we should all correspond so they can see just how the electorate feels. The newspaper account made it sound as if all the messages were directed to Mr. Stines and that is simply not true.

Mr. Birdsall was kind enough to communicate his prespective to me, and I hope I have done it justice in my brief posting. Mr. Birdsall is not nutty, (well no more than I -although that may be of little comfort) and I can certainly see why he would feel that the investigation was a witch hunt.

Perhaps you should buy the Grammer Cop a couple pints of Beamish Stout. I'm sure by the end of the evening, they'll have stopped carring about grammar.

I went to grammar (no pun intended) school in Ireland. I learnt pronouns a bit differently.

For example I also say Sears have shirts on sale.

If someone takes the English language VERY seriously they should indeed recall that it did not originate in the United States but amazingly in England so perhaps they could get off their (his or her) high horse and cut those of us who spent our formative linguistic years elsewhere some slack.

The singular use of their certainly is acceptable and I believe preferable to the wordy and politically correct his or her. Although I don't have access to the CDRom OED from home if it were consulted you would see that the singular their is perfectly acceptable. In fact I found this wonderful page about the singular their which even mentions its usefulness with indefinite pronouns.

As to the use of them, I initially had used the word it (and I initially had the apostrophe after the s in employers) but it sounded strained. Insofar as everyone has opinions, and I assume most of us have more than one opinion I chose the above sentence construction.

I am not embarrassed about my grammar. I am astounded however that librarians and other users of LISNews can get their knickers in a knot over someone else’s grammar. Did anyone chastise Dr. de la Pena McCook for her omitted letter and dropped word in her first sentence of her post on this topic, I sincerely doubt it. (Note that I am sure the good doctor has more pressing issues than typographical minutiae, and I chose that post solely because it was adjacent, not because of the author.) I have found that when discussions deteriorate into grammatical post mortems it really was the message that was offending and not the grammar.

I would suggest your grammarian correspondent could perchance read how LISNews works before complaining to those who post the stories about those who write the stories. It makes him or her look as ill informed as someone complaining to the Home Depot clerk about getting the wrong happy meal at McDonalds.

To your grammatical perfectionist correspondent (who is welcome to use the OED at my library any time) perhaps this will be more soothing: potes meos suaviari clunes.

N.B. I often compose my posts, especially the longer ones in a word processing program. I use the grammar and (more importantly) spelling check feature. Feel free to try it on my previous post. While I don't consider Bill Gates the arbiter of grammatical correctness, it does ensure that the posts are understandable. The original sentence passes the check just fine.

The whole his/her thing is bogus. If he'd just said 'his' he'd be raked over the coals for being sexist. I've long considered 'their' a singular alternative so as not to offend anyone, and I'm not going through the hassle of always saying 'his/her' so as not to offend myself. So basically it comes down to ONeil forgetting an 's' on opinion(s). Heaven forbid.

Would that the complainers take the time to look at Blake's blog and see the monthly stats. If you're not listed as someone who submits a lot of posts/stories/comments my advice is to step up and do so so that we can have the pleasure of critiquing the grammer and spelling that you offer. And I guarantee there will be blunders, even by the best of you.

Here's the specific comlaint sent to me from someone who takes the English lanuague VERY seriously:

While everyone is entitled to their opinion, one should not use employer's resources to promote them.

For a librarian not to know basic grammar embarrasses not only her but also the whole profession. You slaughter pronoun reference in this sentence. "Everyone" is singular, so "their" should be "his" or "her." "Them," one supposes, refers to "opinion," so you have made another pronoun-antecedent numbers error.

We as professional librarians should be able to send via e-mail our professional opinions on topics like this without receiving censorship, punishment, etc from our local governing agencies. E-mail is public record and one should keep that in mind when sending e-mail. What happened in Hillsborough County affects all of us professionals and indeed was an intellectual freedom issue.It is unfortunate for the rest of us public librarians in the state that this is going on in Hillsborough County. My local govt never gave a thought to censoring what my patrons received via programs, materials, etc... until this. The only complaints we ever received were on our holding Black History Month programs and those complaints were from members of the KKK. Although we had 3 complaints re: an upcoming program, the show went on as planned. And guess what, we had a crowd of supporters. Because we took a stand this attack on free speech stopped.As professional librarians we have an obligation to stand up and support all types of programs because we serve all types of patrons. Programs are no different than materials, Internet, etc... In times like these it takes guts to stand up and tell our officials that censorship is wrong. This episode in Hillsborough County is a free speech issue. If we as professionals don't stand up, speak out and educate our officials who will? Don't let your officials try and tell you this is a political issue, it's a librarian's issue on intellectual freedom and free speech, cornerstones of our democracy.

I give up, what appalling grammar? Maybe I'm just a moron but I thought my grammar was quite good, after all I had 12 years of nuns.

Feel free to give out my mail, or if they want I'm in the phone book, librarians should be able to find me :)

Thank you for the invitation Dr. de la Pena McCook. I'm sorry if I gave the impression that I was in favor of the Hillsborough Commission's action. I thought I had made it clear here (and when I was interviewd by the St. Pete Times and when I wrote a letter to the editors of the Times and the Tribune -none of which saw print) that I thought the action was absurd.

I'd be delighted to attend the Library Board meeting, perhaps letting them know that those from all ends of the political spectrum find the commission's action pointless and hurtful.

I would like to add one point of clarification, your post relates that "Gay Pride cannot be celebrated," the commission certainly has no power to tell anyone what they can celebrate and I think the uproar would be more vociferous if they tried to do so. The commission's action prohibits any county spending on gay pride.

I look forward to meeting you at the Library Board meeting, I've heard good things about you from the USF Library School graduates and students with whom I work.

Your email doesn't come up as a link in the story, so someone not familiar with LISNews wouldn't have an easy time finding you.

I made my previous post after getting several emails taking me to task for my appalling grammar and shoddy reporting. I don't mind getting emails from readers who have issues with stuff I've written/posted, but just wanted to give credit where due, this time. I'll be happy to share your email with the grammar cop who blasted me. ;-)

I'm confused by your post Rochelle. Of course anyone can certainly feel free to vent their ire to me, as my email is on the site.

I don't think I got the story wrong at all. Bart Birdsall is a school library media specialist in the Hillsborough School System.

The emails he sent to Joe Stines were read by school board officials. He also sent 3 bulk emails from his school computer (I have no idea if they included Stines as a recipient, the article in the Times was not clear on that point.)

Mr. Birdsall was cautioned that sending non-work related mail from his work computer could bring disciplinary action (I would assume he would get the same caution the first time he sent email about Amway from work as well.)

Florida has quite broad open records laws. Any email sent to Joe Stines is subject to public disclosure (with very limited exception for personnel issues and pending litigation).

The last paragraph of the posting is indeed opinion that one should not send personal email from your work computer, and don't send email you want private if it will be received by someone who may be required to disclose their email correspondence.

The only part I can see that people may take issue with is the headline. It may be misconstrued but I was attempting to be brief, not give the impression that Mr. Birdsall's mail was examined because of its content. It was examined because of its origin.

I would be delighted to hear from anyone that has a differing opinion, and I would be delighted to discuss it with Mr. Birdsall. Heck, I'll buy lunch.

If it is not clear from my previous postings here; I too find the commissions action on the support of gay pride activities to be pointless, unenforceable, pandering to the electorate. It serves no useful purpose and causes more damage to the county, and the city of Tampa (which has a remarkably more progressive administration) than any possible benefit.

So feel free to flame me, or correspond with me at my user name

However, I think I have the story right.

Thaks for that information...many wrote me asking how to reach you and I explained that you are editor, but Mr. O'Neil is author. Mr. O'Neil's library, Palm Harbor, is in Pinellas County and Pinellas county allowed Gay Pride to be celebrated. So, even though he lives near us in Hillsborough county he has not suffered the shame of having one's dear friends and colleagues told that Gay Pride cannot be celebrated. Many people who work in Hillsborough County cross Tampa Bay to spend time or even live in Pinellas County which is more Gay friendly. I invite Mr. O'Neil to attend the next Library Board meeting and support our initiative to lift the ban against Gay Pride. Palm Harbor is a fairly quick ride across the Bay and showing solidarity and being positive for open access would be a brave action.
This story as posted has inaccuracies, but I am going to let them be corrected by someone who can delineate the facts with more accuracy.
I will end by saying that those of us who live and work in Hillsborough County (like me- University of South Florida) have worked very diligently to discuss this matter with both the Board of County Commissioners and the Tampa Library Board. My testimony is on file with the BOCC and I submitted written testimony to the library baord.
My union has passed a resolution calling for a restoration of Gay Pride displays.
Mr. Birdsall has been courageous in standing up and speaking out.

Here is the website for further positive action:
Hillsborough Pride
We are glad for support. The website will give you ideas to help ypou take positive action.

--Kathleen de la Pena McCook
University of South Florida
(not speaking for USF).

That's it. I didn't want to share it in toto without Bart's approval.

Subscribe to Comments for "School librarian's email examined for misconduct re: gay pride law"