Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Sunshine Week: Public Libraries and Sunshine Laws

It's Sunshine Week, the "annual nationwide celebration of access to public information and what it means for you and your community."

Sunshine laws involve the public's right to public meetings or to copies of public documents made by public entities such as public libraries.

Public libraries go out of their way to ensure open access to nearly anything (facilitating even child pornography despite the law, but I digress) so it should be a no-brainer that libraries will be the most compliant with sunshine laws.

Not so fast.  Right during Sunshine Week, public libraries have come to the fore in the different ways they respond to sunshine laws and the different ways legal process addresses the issues.  Here are publications that arose during or around Sunshine Week that illustrate public libraries may need remedial education on sunshine laws and the public's right to know:
As can be seen, public libraries need remedial education on sunshine laws and the public's right to know.

The American Library Association's "United for Libraries, Association of Library Trustees, Advocates, Friends and Foundations" provides guidance to library boards on how to handle public meetings:
Nowhere in that guidance is any reference to any sunshine law.  The "Sample Meeting Agenda" doesn't even include a sample of important open meeting inclusions such as listing with sufficient detail the reasons for an executive session.

Let's hope someone at ALA will have read this and that it prompts an improvement in the information ALA provides to libraries nationwide.  The public's right to know is just as important in public libraries as it is in other public institutions.  Libraries, of all places, should know that.

Perhaps the ALA's poor guidance to libraries is the cause of massive sunshine law failures that caused a library in Orland Park, IL, to spend over a quarter million dollars and even raise taxes to defend against multiple open meeting and public record request violations that it lost again and again for years.  All to cover up the crime of child pornography viewing on unfiltered Internet computers.  It was ultimately exposed.  Had the library complied with the law the first time, that huge public waste of time and resources and even the tax increase would never have happened.  The library and ALA even stooped to homophobia to attempt to hide the child pornography and scare off the whistleblowers, one of whom was gay.  ALA has not even incorporated this debacle into its guidance for libraries, except for how steps could be taken to block future whistleblowers.

Buy Shut Up! on Amazon
This multiyear effort to hide records and meetings from the public resulted in the publication of a book that serves as an educational yet humorous guide for how to prepare for and handle the many excuses public bodies will use to thwart the public's right to know.  Yes, shockingly the book deals with public libraries, supposedly the most open of all public buildings, but it applies to any public institution.  If you are a Sunshine Week aficionado, then this is your Bible to buy:
Lastly, know that I am involved in a lawsuit against a library that, in my opinion, violated the open meeting law to ensure children retained access to Internet pornography in the children's section of the library, even after children had been viewing such material there.  At the end of this multi-year civil rights suit, I'll FOIA the records of all the money spent to ensure the public stayed unaware of a policy approved in possible violation of the law.

So stay tuned!

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