Libraries are usually thought of as quiet places for reading and contemplation. But life in the book stacks is getting more complex and librarians are worried.
At the meeting of the American Library Association - the nation's largest organization of libraries - in New Orleans July 9, some of those worries will be on the agenda.One of the biggest problems is how to deal with the FBI's Awareness Program, in which the agency asks major libraries about "suspicious foreigners" and any materials they may be seeking.
Librarians feel this is an invasion of privacy and generally are opposed to the FBI program. They are right to do so. Unless there are specific grounds for checking into a specific person, the use of a library should not be enough to bring a person under FBI scrutiny.
A recent case involving the Marriott Library at the University of Utah did not fall under this program, despite some confusion that it was the same situation. In that instance, a Russian diplomat went 2,000 miles out of his way to use the Marriott Library to seek information from the National Technical Information Service - materials that are by law forbidden to the Soviets.
But in a normal situation, using the public library should not be a reason to draw suspicion upon a person.
A second problem for libraries is a much more mundane one. It involves the growing tendency of working parents to use the library as a kind of baby sitter or day-care center.
Libraries just don't have the time, the facilities, or the personnel to function in this capacity. What about legal liability? And what happens to a youngster at closing time if the parent is late? It would be a real loss if such misuse of the system caused restrictions to be placed on children being left unattended in a library.
One of the greatest discoveries a child can make is the wonderful world of books. Library access should not become a hurdle to that discovery. But neither is a library an alternate day-care center. Let libraries be just libraries.