March 2003

Author/Playwright Paul Zindel dies at 66

San Jose Mercury News story: Paul Zindel won a Pulitzer in the 1970s for his play “The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-moon Marigolds”. He was also a celebrated writer of books for young adults, including My Darling, My Hamburger, The Pigman and The Pigman’s Legacy, and Pardon Me, You’re Stepping on My Eyeball!. The New York Times reports that he succumbed to cancer, and also talks about the troubled childhood that inspired his work.

Iraq 2003 — Alternative and Mainstream Sources

Lisa writes “A colleague and I at the University of Windsor’s Leddy Library have created a webliography of links to alternative (dissenting) and mainstream sources of news on the Iraq conflict. As there don’t seem to be many guides to alternative news sources from libraries available yet, I thought people might be interested in looking at this one for ideas. Feel free to borrow from it and/or to link to it. It’s a work in progress, so new links will be added from time to time.”

Library Porn Subject of Federal Lawsuit

Bob Cox sent along This CNS News Story the Minneapolis Public Library lawsuit, aka the Minneapolis 12.

“This lawsuit starts out with a group of plaintiffs who are in the battlefield. They are in libraries, they are actually seeing first-hand – there is no hypothetical here. This isn’t like the conservative versus liberal or the pro-censorship vs. anti-censorship,”

House votes on Net porn Is Reporting The U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to ban pornographic Internet sites with misleading addresses and computer-generated child pornography.

“The Internet can be used to deceive children into viewing inappropriate material,” said Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., who drafted the domain name amendment. “These Web sites use legitimate-sounding domain names to lure children to sites with sexually explicit material. Imagine your own child visiting a Web site with a domain name that sounds like it contains educational or child-related materials, only to have a lewd image pop up on the monitor.”

When a Free Download Isn’t Free

Wired has This One on writer Glenn Fleishman offered his book, Real World Adobe GoLive 6, as a free download.

Instead of the few hundred downloads Fleishman expected, the book was downloaded about 10,000 times in just 36 hours. And because he’s charged incrementally for bandwidth, Fleishman estimates he could be billed $15,000 at the end of the month — possibly a lot more.

Ministers highlight role of public libraries in strengthening information

Karim Boughida writes \”At a recent conference in Portugal, ministers and policy makers from 36
European countries agreed on priorities to support the contribution of
public libraries towards developing the information society. The delegates
agreed that local and national funding is required to meet the needs of
citizens and help implement the eEurope 2005 Action Plan. As Europe\’s most
popular public Internet access points, libraries also have a key role to
play in economic and social development, through providing access and
training to those who might not otherwise have access.

Full Story


The case of the Minneapolis Twelve

Michael McGrorty writes: “This morning I got an email from a friend that cast a pall across the day. As I sat at the reference desk, I learned that the cases of the Minneapolis Twelve are headed for a day in federal district court. If you have not been following, these are the librarians who filed charges with the EEOC over the ‘hostile work environment’ which resulted when they viewed pornographic images which patrons had brought up on the Internet. According to the Pioneer Press, the twelve are each seeking more than $450,000 for “humiliation, emotional distress and anxiety.” The math on that makes an ugly dent in any library’s budget.

Michael McGrorty writes: “This morning I got an email from a friend that cast a pall across the day. As I sat at the reference desk, I learned that the cases of the Minneapolis Twelve are headed for a day in federal district court. If you have not been following, these are the librarians who filed charges with the EEOC over the ‘hostile work environment’ which resulted when they viewed pornographic images which patrons had brought up on the Internet. According to the Pioneer Press, the twelve are each seeking more than $450,000 for “humiliation, emotional distress and anxiety.” The math on that makes an ugly dent in any library’s budget.

In May, 2000, complaints were filed whose substance may be summed up by the text of one:


I am a staff member at the Minneapolis Public Library located at 300 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, MN.

During the recent course of my employment I have been subjected to repeated exposure to sexually explicit materials and sexual activity at my place of employment. My employer has adopted an Internet access policy which allows for unrestricted access to sexually explicit Internet sites. My employer further allow patrons of the Library to print out on Library printers sexually explicit and obscene picture and materials from the Internet. As a result of this policy I have been forced to view computer screens filled with images depicting explicit sexual activity including bestiality, child pornography, oral, anal and vaginal sexual acts, homosexuality, and explicit photos of male and female genitalia and sexual poses. These same images have been printed out on our computers and left for staff to find, depicting the same pornographic and obscene materials.


Despite protests made by myself and other employees, the Public Library has not taken any reasonable steps to remedy this situation. They have continued their policy of unrestricted access to sexually explicit materials on the Internet. In fact their approach has made things worse. For example, one policy requires us to monitor the time a patron spends on the computer. We are not allowed to monitor the content of what they are viewing, but we are supposed to advise them they only have 30 minutes of use of the Internet. Supposedly this would limit the use of the computers for accessing sexually explicit material. This has resulted in numerous incidents where patrons verbally abuse staff members for attempting to tell them their time is up. In addition, when we are required to confront them, we are forced to them view the pornographic materials they are accessing. It is not uncommon for obscene and vulgar language to be directed at us if we attempt to enforce the time limit. In addition, the ready availability of such materials at the library has been accompanied by a sexual activity at the library including masturbation.
In addition, we are frequently placed in the situation of observing young children being exposed to these materials. I have on numerous occasions observed children watching adults access this material or be surprised by what they find left on a terminal they wish to use. I find this particularly distressing and upsetting since the library seems to place greater importance on unrestricted access of these materials than on the well-being of children who are in many ways our most important patrons.


I believe that the Library’s policy of allowing unrestricted Internet access of sexually explicit and pornographic materials has created an intimidating, hostile and offensive working environment for me and my co-workers and that it has otherwise substantially interfered with my employment. I believe this action is in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., and the Minnesota Human Rights Act, Minn. Stat. § 363.01 et seq.


Before going to library school I spent fifteen years enforcing federal labor laws, first for the U.S. Department of Labor and then for various unions. I can tell you that the nature of the process in the vast majority of these cases is restorative in nature. That means the emphasis is to seek a remedy that puts an end to the problem and ‘makes whole’ the complainant, at least to the extent possible. Most of these cases are settled with a couple of letters and an agreement between the parties. Very few go to court. When they do, there are generally forces acting on the complainants to push the action. They call these forces ‘lawyers,’ and they often come equipped with particular agendas, of which the major portion is often to punish or even cripple the opposite side.

We are all familiar with this situation; it is the engine behind every Civil Rights lawsuit you ever heard of. Most of the time we cheer the side with the agenda. This time, the library (and not merely the library of Minneapolis) is the target of the motivated attorneys-that’s the Library with a Capital ‘L.’

Within days of the original filing, the Minneapolis EEOC office issued a determination to the effect that the library did subject its employees to a sexually hostile work environment in violation of federal law. The parties then commenced the process of conciliation. At first it seemed that the affair would end with a minor award and some changes to prevent future violations of the law. And it would have, if the librarian-complainants (or their invisible supporters) had wished it to end there.

Apart from the immediate difficulty which this presents for the Minneapolis Public Library, the situation raises important problems in other areas. The first is that it creates a clash between two sets of rights: Those of the librarian-employee under civil rights laws, and those of the patron, both under the Constitution and the traditional free-access standards which the public library has always upheld. Apart from this, the litigation of the Minneapolis Twelve creates a sitation against which the traditional ‘free speech/free use’ defenses of the library establishment can make no inroads.

It is important to understand that the battle here will not be between the forces of ‘yes’ on the one hand and ‘no’ on the other. The two sides are essentially fighting on parallel tracks, never to collide. Yet in losing the one battle the library can suffer great and lasting damage in the other field. The issue has been removed from the free speech arena altogether, at least inasmuch as that issue reflects the right of individual expression versus some censoring force. The question of whether a library patron has the right to use material, or whether that material may be restricted has no place; the patron and the library are permitted their liberties, but those liberties are rendered irrelevant. It no longer matters whether ‘Fire!’ has been shouted in a crowded theater; it only matters whether anybody was offended by the shout.
The available options are not favorable to the goals of the library or the traditional rights of its users. In order to eliminate the circumstances which give rise to such complaints, the library would have to shield staff from likely sources of offensive material on the Internet, a virtual impossiblity given the nature of the medium. A second response is that patrons could be warned against exposing sexual material to library staffers on pain of expulsion, a circumstance which itself creates a nightmare of First Amendment pitfalls and other legal snares for the library.

A last refuge for the library might be some form of internet censoring, which could conceivably put the library beyond the reach of legal harm from staff or patrons, but which would require the library to voluntarily take the hemlock which its enemies had thusfar failed to force down its throat.

The second issue arising from the case of the Minneapolis Twelve has to do with the role of the professional in the institution.

The one constant throughout the long history of the library has been the role of the librarian. From Ashurbanipal to the modern day the librarian, whether slave, scribe, archivist, or information scientist has been filled the role of custodian, explicator, guardian and preserver of whatever collection has filled whatever incarnation of the library has existed through the ages. We (and significantly, our public) accept as obvious that the librarian is inseparable from the library, and that the role and duty create the position. Countless generations of librarians have understood this connectedness; that the fate of one is the fate of the other.

It would be wrong to focus on any act of patrons as the source of this difficulty. It is not as though patrons do not provide their own measure of problems, but then, the public library is all about their problems, their needs. It is a place wherein are found people from all strata of society, and often those whose circumstances or position bar them from other places: the homeless are welcomed; no test of sanity or good will is required, nor are extreme views forbidden or checked at the door. Likewise, within that place unpopular books are displayed, ugly messages sometimes heard, disturbing images made available to be seen. All in all, it has been accepted as part and parcel of the library, and therefore of the librarian’s work; in accepting her position she as much as said, “As with these books, so with myself;” she may not have preferred Fanny Hill or Playboy or Mein Kampf, but she was there to maintain and provide them in a non-judgmental way. As to the Internet the same, even as for the jazz record and the video recording and the Anarchist’s Cookbook in their turn. It was all part of the bargain, part of the conceptual framework of the profession. No court had to tell her that, any more than she would have obeyed if some Authority had dictated the opposite.

But somehow, this avatar of fairness has become a critic, a partisan, a judge of propriety. She who had excused herself from judgment now has drawn a line through the choices of those she had pledged to serve impartially. As ever, we know what we had, now it is gone: it is as though the surgeon has allowed the wounded robber to expire; it is the fireman letting the saloon burn down.

It falls to us then to sift these ashes. It is not merely the availability of a legal remedy, nor the severity of the offense taken that drives these cases; it is the decision that the needs of the librarian as a person are superior to the duty of the librarian as professional. It is not so much that legal rights have increased, nor offenses become more severe, but that, at least to these complainants, the profession has diminished in proportion, shrunken to the point where it no longer forms a buttress against the common trials of the work. To them, librarianship is no longer a calling but merely a job whose details are more important than any set of professional standards. One may complain, and one does, for the same reason that a dog chases its tail: Because it can. That the remedy works a hardship on the institution is no bar, for in the moment that the librarian decides a patron’s choices are vile, the veneer falls away; the library becomes merely a storehouse of records, its custodians drudge-clerks and worse: policemen of tastes and morals, as liable to condemn or exclude as to provide, aid or discover. In drawing her first moral distinction the librarian turns her profession to dust.

Unfortunately, the preference for individual rights over professional standards will do little to advance the one, and certainly nothing at all for the other. The library patron will be as able and willing to indulge in the extremes of his protected behavior, but the library will have to erect a barrier between him and the service it is supposed to provide-to him and all others.

Make no mistake: that is the intended consequence of these cases; this is not a matter of offense against particular persons; the remedy sought can neither right the ill nor salve the wound the litigants describe in their claims. Their object is to strike a blow at the institution, force it to do what it otherwise would never have done, on pain of destruction. But what is destroyed by this? Apart from the professional standard they trample, these complainants threaten to create a pathway for many such others-and in places much less able to afford the fees of attorneys and money penalties liable to result from these filings.

There is no satisfactory solution to the case of the Minneapolis Twelve; the law as currently stands, stands against us. That part is in the hands of lawyers. What remains for us in the profession is to examine how the structure of our principles could collapse beneath the perceived weight of our duties, with or without the added weight of ulterior motives. We owe at least this much to ourselves and our public.”

Michael McGrorty