Privacy, Censorship, and Good Records Management: Brooklyn Public Library in the Crosshairs
Over at librarian.net, Jessamyn West has a brief write up about a post on the New York Times' City Room blog about placing access restrictions on offensive material (in this case, one of Hergé's early Tintin books at the Brooklyn Public Library). More interestingly, she notes, is that the Times was given access and accordingly republished challenges from BPL patrons and other community members. Quite astutely, Jessamyn recognizes that
the patrons' addresses are removed but their names and City/State information are published. If your name is, for example, [name redacted], redacting your address doesn't really protect your anonymity. I'm curious what the balance is between patron privacy and making municipal records available.
It's a good question that doesn't have an incredibly straightforward answer. My first concern was about whether BPL had kept the challenge correspondence beyond the mandated dates in the New York State records schedules. After doing some digging, on the New York State Archives' website, I came across Schedule MI-1 ("for use by miscellaneous local governments"), which seemed to be the best fit for the type of entity BPL is. Looking at the records schedule for libraries and library systems, I found the following:
Library material censorship and complaint records, including evaluations by staff, patrons' complaints and record of final decision: 6 years after last entry
NOTE: Appraise these records for historical significance prior to disposition. Some library censorship records deal with serious constitutional issues and may have value for future research.
For what it's worth, the scheduling for libraries and library systems that form part of other governmental bodies seems to be the same for this type of record. Accordingly, it seems that BPL was well in the scope of state policy to retain the earliest of the records they shared with the Times, which dated from 2005.
However, whether they should have shared them without redacting them is entirely another issue. Under "Public Access to Records" in the Introduction to Schedule MI-1, there can be restrictions placed on certain records based on § 87(2) of the Public Officers Law (POL), one of which being privacy concerns raised in POL § 89(2). In my mind, BPL didn't quite meet the requirements, of POL § 89(2), but IANAL; nonetheless, it was probably in poor taste and possibly ethically improper to not redact all personally identifying information from the records shared with the New York Times.