Commentary: Library Patrons Can Sleep More Comfortably By Peter Teichner

Tuesday December 20, 2005

I haven’t read it yet, but I understand that the Patriot Act II has a provision that gives the FBI, and presumably other government domestic security organizations, easier access to patrons’ confidential library information.  

A few weeks ago I learned from a credible source that the Berkeley Public Library is destroying books and/or disposing of them without keeping a record of anything about their removal from the library system or even that they had once been in the Berkeley library. I don’t know if this methodology is a recent change instituted along with the RFID system, which, by the way, was brought in by the relatively new library director, Jackie Griffin, without public review.  

Ostensibly it is done for the reason that when books get worn out and are deemed not worthy of a new replacement they must be culled from library’s stock. But since no record is kept of the removal and all trace of the books are removed from the library tracking system there is no way of knowing which books have been removed, why they were removed or for that matter who ordered them removed/destroyed.  

This sounds so Orwellian I find it hard to believe. Assuming this to be true, it means that any book could be fair game and no one would be the wiser. It’s as if our history is being taken away in the dead of night like the “disappeared” in a U.S.-supported dictatorship. 

It seems to me that right here in Berkeley, nominal home of the Free Speech Movement where unfettered access to information has been enshrined, etc. a sea change has occurred in the public’s right to and their access to information- the foundation of our so-called democracy—and very few people are aware of it ... yet. 

The RFID (radio frequency identification system) will make it ever so much easier for the FBI or Homeland Security to tap into the Berkeley Library’s storehouse of library patrons’ personal information, such as their reading preferences—their revolutionary tendencies. The RFID was installed by a company called Checkpoint Systems.  

Thanks to Director Jackie Griffin and the Board of Library Trustees, Berkeley Library users can sleep better at night knowing their private library information will always be secure under the watchful eye of Checkpoint’s new vice president, Raymond D. Andrews, who previously served as controller of INVISTA, a subsidiary of Koch Industries, which is a huge oil conglomerate controlled by brothers Charles and David Koch, two of the country’s richest men and among the biggest backers of conservative and libertarian causes.  

If you’d like to let the Board of Library Trustees know what you think sign up for the public comment period, 3:50 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 21 at the South Berkeley Senior Center, 2939 Ellis at Ashby. 


Peter Teichner is a Berkeley resident.