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"It's funny that we think of libraries as quiet demure places where we are shushed by dusty, bun-balancing, bespectacled women.  The truth is libraries are raucous clubhouses for free speech, controversy and community.  Librarians have stood up to the Patriot Act, sat down with noisy toddlers and reached out to illiterate adults.  Libraries can never be shushed."
Comedian and author Paula Poundstone, national spokesperson for Friends of Libraries U.S.A.

man thinkingDoes the USA PATRIOT Act have implications for school library media centers?

Do my teachers and students have a right to privacy?

What should I do if I'm faced with a warrant under the USA PATRIOT Act?

Students have the right to quality information and resources. They also have the right to privacy. The questions posed are important in protecting the rights of your library users.

What are the rights of our children and young adults?

These rights are embodied in the following documents. You should know each document very well.

eye iconRead the Library Bill of Rights from the American Library Association. Also read the Freedom to Read Statement and Freedom to View Statement from ALA.

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What are concerns about these rights?

Many librarians are concerned about how the US Patriot Act impacts public and school libraries. The law stresses that government agents can access all library records without probable cause and without notification of patrons. You are also not allowed to tell anyone of the actions of the agents. In other words, an FBI agent could walk into your middle school library, ask for your circulation records, and leave with copies of anything they wish. They can do this without cause. The American Library Association recommends that you obtain legal counsel if presented with a search warrant.

Under the law, the government has access to individual user circulation information (titles of books and videos checked out), Internet history logs (websites visited), email files (even deleted files), threaded discussions, student projects, and any other time of paper or electronic record.

Is this likely to happen in your town? Probably not. However, you need to be aware that it can happen and be prepared.

eye iconRead The USA Patriot Act in the Library and USA PATRIOT Act Search Warrant from the American Library Association.


eye iconRead Resolution of the USA Patriot Act and Related Measures That Infringe on the Rights of Library Users from the American Library Association.

Skim some of the related materials at USA PATRIOT Act and Intellectual Freedom.
Also skim USA Patriot Act Analyses.

Read The USA Patriot Act and You (Access requires login) by Helen Adams (May 2007) in School Library Monthly; 23(9), 35.

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Check Your Understanding

"ALA's (Emily, executive director of the ALA Washington Office) Sheketoff said that libraries should not be safe havens for terrorists. If law enforcement has reason to believe a threat exists, then librarians are 'anxious to help.' But librarians have a long dedication to constitutional rights of privacy, free speech, and free access to information by their patrons. Sheketoff said the government must provide equal assurance that all constitutional rights of patrons are protected before libraries should allow the government access to any patron records. She questions whether the PATRIOT Act meets that standard."
Excerpted from article: Pike, George H. (Nov 2005). The USA PATRIOT Act and Libraries: A Sensitive Relationship.  Information Today22(10), 1-38.

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Make It Real

Do your students have rights? How would you handle the following situation? Do you have a policy to cover this? What are the issues?

tie dye shirtChoose one of the following two situations:

You're called to the office by the principal and introduced to two FBI agent. They have a warrant to search your records. They say they have reason to believe that a group of students are planning an illegal activity. What do you do?

Someone broke into the middle school gym's storage area and stole the basketball team uniforms. The white uniforms showed up tie-dyed and hanging from the flag pole! The principal wants to see who checked out books on tie dying. What's your response?

eye iconRead Minow, M. (2002). The USA PATRIOT Act (Access Requires Login). Library Journal127(16), 52.

Update: Three sections of the USA PATRIOT Act were reauthorized in February 2010 for one year, that did not include any library-friendly amendments. On May 26, 2011, President Barack Obama signed the PATRIOT Sunsets Extension Act of 2011, a four-year extension of three key provisions in the USA PATRIOT Act: roving wiretaps, searches of business records (the "library records provision"), and conducting surveillance of "lone wolves"—individuals suspected of terrorist-related activities not linked to terrorist groups.

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Read More About It

Access to Resources and Services in the School Library Media Program: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights from the American Association of School Librarians

Doyle, Charles (July 6, 2005) Libraries & the USA Patriot Act (PDF document)
This is a student project on the topic.

Position Statement on the Confidentiality of Library Records from American Association of School Librarians

Resolution on the USA Patriot Act and Related Measures that Infringe on the Rights of Library Users from American Library Association

USA PATRIOT Act, The from American Library Association

McFall, Mairi and Schneider, Karen G. The USA PATRIOT Act, and What You Can Do. California Library Association.

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