RAQs: Recently Asked Questions

Topic: Follow-up to Minor Employees and Obscenity in Libraries - 11/05/2021
[NOTE:  This question was submitted in response to the guidance posted at https://www.wnylrc....
Posted: Friday, November 5, 2021 Permalink


[NOTE:  This question was submitted in response to the guidance posted at https://www.wnylrc.org/ask-the-lawyer/raqs/228].

After sharing your reply with my board, we have a follow-up question seeking clarification. The question is in regards to the following paragraph:

In that regard, I can only say that inviting concerned parents to review the library's well-thought-out accession, cataloging, and appeal policies is a pro-active way to ensure parents know that the library takes both its role as an employer of their child, and as a champion of a community's intellectual freedom, seriously. Parents or guardians of minors working in New York will have already had to sign working papers; no waiver or disclaimer should be further required.

My president reads your first sentence (and the word "pro-active") and thinks that your advice is to reach out to parents upon or before the hire of a minor in order explain these policies and allay any concerns. If so, then which? Before, or after?

Whereas, I read your second sentence and think that you're saying that we're not liable -- we already have the parent's permission -- but that parents who then express their "concern" to me about any of the training materials should be given said spiel.

Can you please clarify? Thank you!


This question is an example of why clear, precise writing is so important.

To make sure no reader is in suspense, first I'll answer the member's question: I intended the guidance to convey the member's interpretation (with the information about accession, cataloging and appeal policy being supplied only after a parent expresses concern).

Re-reading my answer, I can see how the member’s president interpreted this guidance not as a reaction, but as a preemptive strategy to head off parental concerns.[1]  But that is NOT the guidance I intended, and I have since added a footnote[2] to the original posting to clarify that.[3]

While I have your attention on this, I will add: except for factors required by law (like requiring working papers, limiting certain activities in certain industries, and abiding by child labor laws), I don't advise treating minor employees differently than any other employee. If a library wouldn't contact the parents of a 40-year-old worker to alert them to the fact that, from time to time, a library worker may be exposed to content or communications they find objectionable, it shouldn't be done for a 17-year-old either. Except for when it is required by law, employees should not be differentiated by age, just as they should not be differentiated by gender, race, or religion.

Thank you very much to the member for giving me this chance to post a clarification, and this caveat.

[1] That is what I get for using a buzzword like "pro-active."  Although...is it a "buzzword" anymore? What happens when a buzzword gets tired?  Is it a "dunzzword"? 

[2] Here is the footnote: "We received a request for clarification about when to use this tactic.  As posted in the clarification here [https://www.wnylrc.org/ask-the-lawyer/raqs/241] I intended this guidance to convey that the information about accession, cataloguing and appeal policies be supplied only after a parent expresses concern."

[3] I could of course just have made an edit, but we don't hold with that 1984-style memory adjustment here.


Tags: Employee Rights, First Amendment, Management, Policy, Obscenity

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