[6 August 2007: Follow-up post about the independent investigation of this incident]
ALA President Leslie Burger has written an open letter to UCLA Acting Chancellor, Norman Abrams, expressing her concern and alarm at the taser incident which happened in the Powell Library on November 14, 2006. This follows condemnation by ACRLog and the Progressive Librarians Guild.
I am not going to focus on the specifics of the taser incident here. You can view it and read about it in a number of places. It was one of the most viewed items on YouTube a month ago [the footage is quite disturbing, not so much for you see but for what you hear]. It was also written up in LISnews (something which I thought had good reach amongst librar* bloggers) and Library Journal, Slashdot and Boing Boing Boing.
I waited for the inevitable reaction from the librar* blogosphere. There was some. Welcome contributions from the Baby Boomer Librarian, into the stacks, the Invisible Library, LibraryCrunch, Pattern Recognition and See Also..., but otherwise not that much. I know it's inevitable that some posts escaped my notice. Please let me know and I'll post them here. I'm only interested in the initial responses, not the later and meta responses such as mine.
But generally, the silence was deafening, compared with the outrage I was expecting. I even saw posts in two other blogs calling for a reaction from librarians - one from a paraprofessional and another from an academic. I managed to find a different response from a librarian in the discussion of this incident in Salon.com [registration required]:
... It's not just dangerous for us, it's also dangerous for our patrons. Students should not be afraid to use the library in the wee hours.
So what do we do to keep safe? Usually we close off part of the space late at night because we can't police the whole area. Also we require that people prove they have a right to be in the library via ID checks and we have campus police to support us if there is a problem.
If the patron can't comply with our simple request that he help everyone remain safe by showing his ID, then he must leave. It's not just the safety factor - the students have paid a lot of money to have exclusive access to our expensive library. We must maintain that integrity as well. This person refused to do comply with a simple ID check and was quite roughed up as a result. I don't like to see patrons tazed but in this case I think the campus police handled this correctly.
I wonder if this is the reason why librarians have been reluctant to comment on this issue - because many librarians might agree with these views, or we are reluctant to get into arguments our colleagues who hold these thoughts?
This is an incident which seems able to strike a chord with different people for different reasons. I think this is a travesty of police brutality, while a conservative might think the incident an example of political correctness out of control, while others might view this as evidence for limiting the usage of tasers. I think it's fair to say that this incident was caused by the belligerence of both the student and the University Police. That doesn't excuse the behaviour of the police, because they were ones entrusted with authority and weapons, and so they should be held to a higher standard.
I would like to ask, what role did the library policies have in creating this incident? Specifically, is it a good policy for students to be forcibly ejected from a library without any consent, or knowledge or involvement whatsoever from library staff? Although I can understand why a library might have a policy requiring the possession of ID cards after a particular hour at night, why can't they also have a secondary verification procedure - so that a student without the primary ID might have some way of proving her or his identity?