Alaska editorials

Posted: Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Tweak library bill - and pass it

This editorial appeared in Thursday's Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

It's tough being under age 18. There's no privacy. Tough. That's just the way it is - and should be if it isn't - when raising a child. Parents should know what their child is doing, who their child is hanging out with, what their child is reading. It's that last one, though, that has drawn a bit of attention lately in the Legislature.

The Senate last week passed a bill, Senate Bill 269, to give a child's parents or legal guardian access to that child's library records. The bill apparently didn't materialize out of some great concern that children are reading loads of books they maybe shouldn't be. Rather, some parents simply complained that they couldn't find out when their children's books were due and couldn't pick up books that had been put on hold by their children.

It seems like a sensible bill that also allows inquisitive parents to see what their children are up to at public libraries.

But it does raise a few concerns that could perhaps be discussed when the House considers the measure.

One concern, raised by a Fairbanks librarian, is that the bill doesn't define "parent." With many families breaking up in acrimonious divorce, perhaps it would be wise for the bill to specify that the parent should be a custodial parent so as to avoid troublesome interference from the noncustodial parent.

What Senate Bill 269 aims to do is offer parents another small tool for doing a difficult job. Other than making a minor adjustment, the House should pass this bill.

Libraries shouldn't be doing parents' job

The following editorial appeared in the March 2 Anchorage Daily News:

Sen. Lyda Green has a bill making tracks through the Legislature that would require all Alaska public libraries to release records of what materials kids check out to their parents.

This isn't necessary.

The cause for this legislation was the experience of a woman whose 8-year-old son had put several books on hold from the children's section of the library. When the library called to say one of the books was available, the woman asked what it was and was told she couldn't have that information because of privacy laws.

It's understandable that a parent would say, "What?!!"

And then pointedly ask, "Just what rights to confidentiality does my 8-year-old have from his parents?"

Common sense says that rights to privacy and intellectual freedom aren't and shouldn't be the same for an 8-year-old as for an 18-year-old.

Common sense also says that the simplest way to find out what your children are checking out at the library is to ask them, or have a child take materials out on a parent's card, so that the parent will be able to know what materials the child has checked out.

Lawmakers sympathetic to the legislation say they're on the side of the parents, and few would deny that parents have a right and responsibility to know and if necessary limit what their children - especially young children - read, see and hear.

But that's just it - it's the parents' responsibility, not the library's. If parents are doing their job, they'll be talking to their kids and tracking what they read and see. As Michael Catoggio, president of the Alaska Library Association, said, before forcing libraries to reveal information, parents should be talking to their kids or going to the library with them.

The library association has suggested some amendments to the legislation that may satisfy parents' needs and rights to privacy and not put libraries in the position of trying to make sure people demanding children's library records are really their parents. Lawmakers should consider those changes - and ask whether this legislation is a broad solution to a narrow problem.

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