Posted March 3, 2009
2009 Paul Howard Award for Courage recipients named
CHICAGO – Judith Flint, Amy Grasmick and Christine Lesinski of the Kimball Public Library, Randolph, Vermont are the recipients of the American Library Association (ALA) Paul Howard Award for Courage. The $1,000 bi-annual award and citation honors a librarian, library board, library group or an individual who has exhibited unusual courage for the benefit of library programs or services.
The award will be presented at the Award Reception and Ceremony during the ALA Annual Conference in Chicago.
Flint is youth librarian at the Kimball Public Library, while Grasmick is the library’s director, and Lesinski is chair of the library’s board of trustees.
The three were recognized for their response to request a by a Vermont state police detective investigating the reported disappearance of a 12-year-old girl.
The detective was pursuing a tip that the girl may have used the library’s computers and he wanted to take all public computers for evaluation. Knowing these computers held information about hundreds of community users, Flint informed the officer that the library could release the computers only in response to a court order, citing the library’s board-approved confidentiality policy. The detective stated that he understood and would go to complete the paperwork and get a judge’s signature.
However, he returned later without a court order but with four additional state police officers and proceeded to spend the next hour demanding that the library give them the computers. During this time Flint called Lesinski, who immediately came to the library to stand with Flint and to represent the library board. Upon returning to the library, Grasmick found Flint and Lesinski surrounded by five police officials. She reiterated their statements, telling the officials that the library wanted to be helpful, that information about what patrons research in the library is confidential, and the computers would not be released until a court order was presented. The police officials finally left, returning five and a half hours later with a signed court order. Grasmick made a trip to the library at 11:00 p.m. to give the police access to the computers.
The three showed enormous courage in upholding their board-approved policy in the face of extraordinary pressure and intimidation from police officials. At the same time, they showed good sense in their attempts to appropriately assist the police and defuse the tense situation. They offered to shut down the computers in question to protect any potential evidence, consulted with their legal counsel, repeatedly stated their willingness to cooperate if presented with a court order and they tried to move the police interaction to a more private space to avoid upsetting the library patrons present, many of whom where children.
When the story of their interaction with police became public, the three also displayed tremendous courage in the face of hate mail from across the country. Grasmick wrote a letter to the editor of the local newspaper explaining what had happened and why library confidentiality and due process are important to a healthy democracy. As she said in her letter to the editor: “Kimball Library’s policy puts judgment in such matters where it belongs, with a judge, who can make a rapid and impartial decision about constitutional matters that protect all us: due process, probable cause and privacy.”
Members of the 2009 Paul Howard Award for Courage jury committee are: John A. Moorman, chair, Williamsburg Regional Library, Williamsburg, Va.; Richard Terry Chaffin, Florida State University Library, Tallahassee, Fla.; W. Lee Hisle, Connecticut College, New London, Conn.; Kelly Gordon Jacobsma, Hope College Library, Holland, Mich.; Ann Zeidman-Karpinski, University of Oregon Library, Eugene, Ore.