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Are parental rights on the chopping block?

To hear the Vermont Library Association tell it, there is a privacy crisis taking place in our local public libraries and one of the ways to battle it is to enshrine, in law, the confidentiality of all library recordseven children's records. The VLA is supporting S.220, a bill that requires libraries to keep patrons' records private. This certainly isn't a bad principle. But it does beg the question: Why is this such a pressing issue when the VLA already provides guidelines on privacy issues, and many (if not all) libraries have their own privacy policies, usually put together by community-based library boards? S. 220 may be yet another case where the state is inserting itself into the parent/child relationship. Take, for example, the case of children's library records. Under S.220, parents would not be able to access their child's library records unless the kid has overdue fines. Parents can often use books their kids are reading to start conversations about difficult subjects in order to counsel or guide their children. Under S.220, a parent who had the idea of using her child's reading habits to address complex issues couldn't ask the local librarian for a list of reading material her child had checked out. Or rather, she could ask.but would be told the information was protected by law (if S.220 is passed). And, because the law protects children under the age of 13, even something as simple as determining overdue book titles for a 14-year-old would be taboo territory. Several librarians testified for the bill. Testimony included some from a long-time reference librarian whose personal survey of librarians found that in a "one-year period, libraries had received more than 1,200 requests (for patrons' records) from a variety of peoplecollege professors and administrators, neighbors, police officers, spousesall kinds of people." The librarian didn't note where the requests were honored. The VLA provides guidelines on confidentiality and privacy issues, as does the ALA. The testimony didn't indicate how many librarians had been included in the survey. VLA also presented the testimony of a librarian and mother who spoke about children's confidentiality issues. She stated that kids of a certain age are "starting the process of separating from their parentstrying to figure out what the 'grown up world' is all aboutEven in the best parent-child relationships, sometimes there are topics one does not want to share with a parent, because it can be awkward." This certainly is true. But it's by no means a compelling rationale for allowing the librarian to know more about a child's reading habits than the child's parents. When a child starts exploring the "grown up world," sometimes a parent is the best guide of all. The specter of abuse was also raised in testimonywhat if a kid was checking out books on abuse because he himself was abused in the home by a parent? Should the abuser have access to those records? Well, maybe the abuser's spouse would find them helpful, especially given the possibility that the librarian would do nothing with this knowledge but a non-abusing-parent could use it to uncover the painful truth. These examples notwithstanding, it's highly unlikely that Vermont libraries are going to be, or ever were, inundated with requests from parents for their children's library records. But in the cases where a parent believes it is important maybe even crucialto see what her child is reading, why should the state of Vermont say that it knowsmore than the parentwhat's best for that child. Yes, privacy rights are important. And yes, the confidentiality of library records is important. But does it take a law to ensure this confidentiality? Or is this an issue better worked out through library policy, determined by libraries' local community boards? Now House Judiciary is getting into the fray. The library bill was just introduced where its constitutional issues will hopefully be properly weighed. The rights of parents concerning the education and upbringing of their children should be supported by the State of Vermont.

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