RAQs: Recently Asked Questions

Topic: Use Of Library Copier To Print Racist Flyers - 9/11/2019
Many libraries have printers that require staff assistance or are visible to staff from their usua...
Posted: Wednesday, September 11, 2019 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

Many libraries have printers that require staff assistance or are visible to staff from their usual work areas. 

Sometimes patrons print content that can cause concern.  This question specifically addresses printing materials that make false and hateful claims about race.


Are there any legal parameters on the printing of racist materials? Are staff violating any laws by assisting in printing? Can the Library/staff legally refuse to print materials that promote segregation and discrimination?

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

Library employees should not feel compelled to mediate the production of materials that target any protected category (including race), and in fact, feeling compelled to do so would risk potential illegal harassment of the employee.

There is of course a very fine first amendment and ethics line here.  A library cannot have a policy restricting access to library resources solely on the basis of viewpoint. However, if any employee considers the materials to be genuinely discriminatory (to themselves or others), they can report the behavior, and the library must take corrective action, including asking the person to desist the behavior.  This is because being compelled to view, help create, and handle such materials can create a "hostile environment" for the employee or patrons—or both.

To help create a balance between a patron’s right to confidential library services, access to resources, and the rights of employees and patrons to be free from a discriminatory environment, it is worth considering adopting a corollary to a library’s anti-discrimination policy, such as:

To ensure adherence to state and federal anti-discrimination laws, library resources (including staff assistance, production resources, and public areas) may not be used in a way that discriminates on the basis of age, race, disability, predisposing genetic condition, gender, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, race, veteran status, or domestic violence victim status. 

Examples of violations of this policy include, but are not limited to:

  • Viewing discriminatory material in locations or on screens easily viewed by others
  • Requesting staff help to print discriminatory material
  • Using a library room to host a meeting that limits attendance based on a protected category
  • Violation of a domestic violence victim's protective order

This policy works with the "Library Bill of Rights" and shall never be interpreted to deny or impede access to library collection materials or materials via inter-library loan.

Violation of this policy shall be considered harassment and concerns about the application of this policy shall be addressed through the library's discrimination policy and the library's [Code of conduct.]

Attention to matters like the question posed by this member is critical in 2019 (and beyond) because this year the NY Legislature greatly expanded the scope and control of the NY Human Rights Law (“HRL”).

The HRL is the state of New York’s mirror image—and significant extension—of several federal civil rights laws.  HRL has always barred discrimination on a number of enumerated categories,[1] but this year, the Legislature broadened it again.  So developing materials and training staff to balance library services with civil rights has only grown more mission-critical.

Thank you for this important question.



[1]  Age, race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, military status, sex, disability, predisposing genetic characteristics, familial status, marital status, domestic violence victim status, and at times criminal conviction status.

Tags: Discrimination

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The WNYLRC's "Ask the Lawyer" service is available to members of the Western New York Library Resources Council. It is not legal representation of individual members.