The firing of a county library employee who disobeyed her supervisor in reporting to police a patron who was viewing child pornography has focused attention on permissive library “free speech” policies.
Brenda Biesterfeld, a librarian assistant in Lindsay, California, was ordered by her supervisor not to report a man who was looking at pictures of naked boys on the library’s public computer. She called police anyway. On the 39-year-old man’s next visit, police caught him allegedly viewing child pornography.
The man, Donny Lynn Chrisler, was arrested on March 4 on suspicion of violating child pornography and obscenity laws. Police say they found “kiddie porn” in Chrisler’s trailer home.
Biesterfeld said she had a hostile conversation with her supervisor, Judi Hill, after she ignored the supervisor’s orders and notified police. “She kind of threatened me,” Biesterfeld said. “She said I worked for the county, and when the county tells you to do something, you do what the county tells you. She said I had no loyalty to the county. I told her I was a mother and a citizen also, and not just a county employee.”
Biesterfeld was fired on March 6. A letter from Tulare County Librarian Brian Lewis said that probationary employees such as Biesterfeld can be terminated at any time if they don’t perform at a level “necessary for fully satisfactory performance in the employee's position.”
However, a Lindsay city councilwoman said that six weeks before the firing, she was told that Biesterfeld was doing a great job.
On March 14, the Linsdsay City Council sent a letter to Tulare county supervisors complaining about Judi Hill’s “abrupt, demanding and demeaning” phone call to a police captain telling him to call off his pornography investigation because the city had “no business interfering” with library matters.
Randy Thomasson, president of the Campaign for Children and Families, criticized the county library administrators. “The liberals who run the library system in America must stop violating the federal law because they regard child pornography as free speech,” he said.
“All pornography is immoral, but possession of child pornography is a federal crime. No librarian should fear reporting child pornography to the police, but libraries that fail to report these crimes should be very afraid. Brenda Biesterfeld will get her job back, and more.”
The Campaign for Children and Families said that the American Library Association does not instruct librarians to report child pornography incidents to the police. “Instead, the association has vigorously opposed all congressional efforts to restrict pornography, obscenity and child pornography for more than a decade,” the campaign claims.
However, the library association has refuted this claim stating, "The American Library Association does not condone child pornography. We advise librarians to call police when an individual views or prints out child pornography. For library staff, we advise library personnel to use reasonable efforts to preserve any direct evidence of the crime and then turn it over to the library's director and the library's attorney, who should then report the incident to police in accordance with the law."