NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The library trustees will update some policies to address filming patrons in the library and political events in the meeting room.
The trustees addressed an American Library Association memo in response to filming in the library and agreed to hold off on penning a policy until next month.
"Let's think about it and look at this next month," trustee Don Pecor said at last Wednesday's meeting. "It sounds like we are a little split on this."
The memo was in response to a group of First Amendment advocates across the country who enter public buildings with cameras. When given a building policy mandating that they not film in the building, they hand over a copy of the Constitution and continue.
"There is apparently a loose group of people not just in Massachusetts ... they say it is their First Amendment right to film everything and everyone in a public space and there is no exception," Library Director Sarah Sanfilippo said. "So they walk in with body cameras and video cameras and then post their videos."
This footage is later posted online.
The ALA response was not to engage but Trustee Robin Martin said had done research and found that libraries, like courthouses, are considered limited public forums. She said people may have the right to film inside the actual building but do not have the right to film people without their permission.
When people have asked to record in the library in the past, she said it was allowed but if they were to film patrons, permission must be granted.
Trustee Sara Farnsworth thought this was a reasonable policy.
"Patrons have an expectation of privacy especially where they are browsing, what they are looking at, and what they are checking out," she said.
Farnsworth said she watched some of the videos and noted they are not kind to libraries that "fail." She said the filmers in one instance were told they could film wherever they wanted just not in the children's room, which they abided. She said she would have major issues if they filmed children without permission.
Trustee Tara Jocobs felt if this group ever made it to Berkshire County it may not be worth confronting them with a policy.
"This is intended to create a kerfuffle," she said. "The policy might be feeding right into what they want to do."
Sanfilippo said she felt a need to protect patrons and her staff but realized it may not be worth the trouble. She said if they knew this group was coming they could let patrons know beforehand.
"They may have the right to do this but do they really have a need?" she asked. "I don't know."
The trustees decided to look deeper into the law and think about a policy.
They were also unsure how to address political events in the library.
An unnamed political candidate running for Congress has asked to hold a forum in the library meeting room and Sanfilippo said that after discussing the request with Martin and the mayor, she decided to not allow the forum.
Trustee Don Pecor thought this was the right response.
"I think that is the safest least controversial position to take," he said. "If a person is involved in a political campaign anything they do is furthering their campaign. If you did that you would have to invite other candidates to be part of it."
Martin said according to the current policy the meeting rooms can be used by anyone but library programs take priority. She added that they can't be used for fundraising.
She said she also contacted the ALA, which was concerned about access.
"As a public library, you have to give equal access to all of your patrons so someone running for office has every right to use the meeting room but they have to go by strict rules," she said. "It is a tough call."
Pecor agreed but noted that even if a politician gave a very objective presentation it still provides them with a platform adding to their campaign, which does not line up with the library's purpose.
Farnsworth said she would prefer to err on the side of caution and provide access even to political candidates.
"I lean toward being more open," she said. "I think you can get into as much trouble for saying no as you can for saying yes."
This lead to other questions like when should the library charge someone for using the rooms.
Sanfilippo said she would survey other libraries to see how they handle use of meeting rooms.
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A record turnout is expected for the 2020 election as states with early voting say they are surpassing numbers from just four years ago. The Washington Post reported that turnout is already at 70 percent of the total early voting numbers of 2016. Massachusetts on Tuesday has already seen more than 1 million early and mail-in ballots two weeks before the election; in 2016, the total for the election was 1,038,144.
Voting in advance or by mail is being encouraged to reduce long lines and potential exposure to the novel coronavirus. Early voting in person began on Oct. 17.
If you are mailing a ballot, the U.S. Postal Service recommends that it have been in the mail by Oct. 20 to ensure it arrives by Nov. 3. You can also drop off your mail-in ballot in person at your town or city hall and many have secure drop boxes for ballots so they can be returned at any time. Make sure the drop box is legitimate -- don't fall for cardboard boxes or handmade signs.
The weeklong Cultural Appreciation Week celebrates diversity, equity, and inclusion in the courts and communities throughout the commonwealth. This year's theme is "We Rise by Lifting Others, Justice and Culture: Bridging the Gap."
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Library Director Sarah Sanfilippo told the trustees Wednesday during a remote meeting that the library plans to expand some technology services by appointment even though the building is closed to the general public.
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The grant is from the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a national nonprofit dedicated to increasing civic engagement and professional administration in elections. City Clerk Deborah Pedercini applied for the grant.
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