Columbia Libraries Host 'Safeguarding Our Patrons' Privacy' Videoconference on the USA PATRIOT Act and Anti-Terrorism Measures

NEW YORK, January 24, 2003 Columbia University Libraries hosted over 70 people on Wednesday, December 11, 2002 for the Association of Research Libraries sponsored videoconference, "Safeguarding Our Patrons' Privacy: What Every Librarian Needs to Know About the USA PATRIOT Act and Related Anti-Terrorism Measures." Columbia University Librarian James G. Neal was one of four panelists for the two-hour videoconference broadcast from Washington, D.C. Following the broadcast, Andrew Larrick and Dana Neacsu, Columbia Law Librarians, answered questions from the audience assembled in Butler Library's Tauber Room.


Doris McMillan moderated the informative session with James Neal, Gary Strong, Director, Queens Borough Public Library, Tracy Mitrano, Policy Advisor and Director of Computer Law and Policy at Cornell University, and Thomas Susman, Partner, Ropes & Gray, Washington, D.C. Susman opened with basics of the USA PATRIOT Act, the FBI guidelines and Homeland Security legislation. Neal and Strong then discussed implications for libraries. Following a call-in question and answer session, Mitrano discussed policies, protocols, and procedures in response to the PATRIOT Act. The four speakers then talked about how libraries and librarians should respond. The final discussion was about issues and concerns: Mitrano addressed Constitutional issues, Neal and Strong spoke about library values, and Susman laid out legislative realities. Over 250 locations across the United States hosted the broadcast that had over 7,000 viewers.

Information about the teleconference, including presentation handouts, may be found at:

Responding to a query about what types of information and library patron records might be requested by law enforcement agencies, Neal said, "There is nothing in the law which requires us to authenticate any individuals as they act to use collections or electronic information. There is nothing which dictates what information we need to collect." Both Neal and Strong stressed that records and computer data could only be seized by warrant, which is an extreme situation. The USA PATRIOT Act applies not only to library patron information but also to computer and Internet data exchanges. Neal recommended that people "Follow existing privacy policies and always call your supervisor immediately when a law enforcement officer asks for patron or operations information."

Columbia's Representative Committee of Librarians (RCL) along with the Information Services Division Training and Staff Development office were local sponsors for the event. Jeff Carroll, President of the RCL, said, "This is an example of the types of quality programs that can be brought to Columbia and delivered to a large number of professional staff in a cost-effective way." He continued, "It also exemplifies how Columbia University Libraries can exert a leadership role on the national scene. In this case, our University Librarian (Neal) served as a panelist/expert in Washington, D.C., while the Libraries served as host site so that professionals in and around New York City could participate locally in the teleconference. In addition, inviting professionals from outside the Columbia community provided many external perspectives and helped set the stage for future cooperation."

Chris Grygo, the Libraries' staff development manager, said, "The teleconference was both interesting and exciting. Programs like this are part of our ongoing commitment to support the professional excellence of our staff and Columbia's leadership in the field of library and information services. It was good to partner with RCL and make this happen."

Carroll also commented on the local arrangements for the videoconference, "This event revealed the depth of resources from which we can draw here at Columbia." He continued, "There was the combination of Academic Information Systems (AcIS) staff and Libraries Systems Office staff who provided continuous support and monitoring to maintain the satellite feed from Washington D.C. It was invaluable to have two Columbia law librarians to lead a local discussion after the teleconference."

Columbia University Libraries is one of the top ten academic library systems in the nation, with 7.5 million volumes, 49,000 serials, as well as extensive collections of electronic resources, manuscripts, rare books, microforms and other non-print formats. The collections and services are organized into 22 libraries, supporting specific academic or professional disciplines. The Library's web site at is a gateway to the print and electronic collections and to services.

1/23/03 KRS