Librarians Still Enabling Pedophiles

The following is a guest post by Jenn, a recovering librarian and occasional contributor to Red Alerts.

It’s a no-brainer. You see someone looking at child porn, you call the cops, right?

Not if you want to keep your job at the Lindsay branch of the Tulare County Library system in California.

When librarian Brenda Biesterfeld observed 39-year-old Donny Lynn Chrisler viewing naked images of boys on a Tulare County library computer station, she told her supervisor, Judi Hill. Hill’s solution was to have Biesterfeld hand Chrisler a note explaining that his behavior was not permissible and would result in banning him from the library if it happened again. Biesterfeld was told to refrain from reporting the incident to authorities.

Fortunately, Biesterfeld recognized the inappropriateness of administering the equivalent of a “time out” to a child porn-seeking pervert. She helped officers catch Chrisler in the act of viewing kiddie porn images, resulting in his arrest. He is now accused of possessing hundreds of pornographic images of children, some as young as 2 years of age.

When she told her supervisor what she had done, Biesterfeld was admonished for lack of loyalty to the County, and even threatened. Biesterfeld told Hill she was not just a county employee, but a mother and a citizen as well.

Two days later, Brenda Biesterfeld was fired, just before her employee probationary period expired.

I don’t have to explain to readers of this blog why this incident is so appalling. I’m sure all of you join me in applauding Brenda Biesterfeld as a hero, a model citizen who puts the safety of children before her career. But I do want to impress upon all of you that this type of situation is more common than you think, and is symptomatic of a larger problem with the “professional ethics” drilled into future librarians by graduate programs and the American Library Association.

I ought to know – I’ve been through it.

After college, I began working in an academic library and decided to pursue a graduate degree in Library Science. If nothing else, my indoctrination into librarianship drove home one point: never, ever give law enforcement officials information about a patron.

Those who obstruct law enforcement are deified as defenders of First Amendment rights, while those who adhere to legal mandates by cooperating with local or federal officials are pariahs in the library world. I was 22 and in love with libraries and books. Nerdy, I know, but championing First Amendment rights, actually helping to defend the American public from censorship, sounded so noble.

And I believed all this discussion of professional philosophy and information ethics was purely theoretical. Surely no pedophilic pervert would use the public access computers in the library to download kiddie porn.

And then it happened. A technically savvy coworker came to me, pale and visibly shaken, and told me he had found horrible, unspeakable images of children on a library computer. The hard drive, he said, was completely filled with movies and stills. He also said he knew who had downloaded the pornographic content.

I went with him to offer moral support as he informed our supervisor. She assured us she would handle things in consultation with the college administration.

I’m embarrassed to write this, but in all honesty, I moved on from that incident pretty quickly. Unlike my coworker, I didn’t have the images emblazoned on my very synapses, I didn’t know the identity of the person who had downloaded the vile stuff, and I had every faith that my boss, a person for whom I had great respect and admiration, would handle the situation appropriately.

I was naive.

Weeks later, I discovered that this extremely liberal east coast college had disappeared the incident. The network logs had been wiped clean, the hard drive had been destroyed, and my questions about whether the FBI had been notified were skillfully evaded.

I watched my coworker, the guy who initially found the child porn, literally make himself sick as he struggled with whether or not to circumvent the academic administration by reporting the issue directly to law enforcement. Unlike me, he wasn’t sure we should trust they had been notified. I decided he was probably right when subtly, and then not so subtly, he was pressured into resigning his position. On his last day, my coworker told me more about the guy who had downloaded the materials.

He was a student in the childhood education program.

That was the beginning of the end for my library career. Over time, I found that this was not the only point at which my personal sense of right and wrong diverged from the philosophical underpinnings of 21st century librarianship. But I’ll save those for another day.

Today my concern is that librarians continue to aid and abet pedophiles in the name of free speech and that highly dubious sweeping right to privacy that I have yet to find in the Constitution or Bill of Rights. Their mission to promote intellectual freedom by ensuring patron confidentiality nearly always seems to trump their responsibility to protect our children from pedophiles.

Librarians cite the protection of personal liberties as a reason for withholding records or failing to report crimes to law enforcement. They don’t want to provide The Man with information that might incriminate someone based on their literary proclivities – you know, like child pornography.

Isn’t it time we knocked members of the American Library Association off their high horses, or at least ripped those First Amendment cloaks from their shoulders? Here’s a thought: maybe a little critical thinking could help librarians distinguish between genuine criminal activity and odd or embarrassing taste in literature. Guided by something as simple as good judgment, librarians should be able to report those who download child pornography without inadvertently snaring law-abiding patrons in a net cast too wide.

Unfortunately, after attending library school, I can tell you unequivocally that critical thinking and good judgment are not part of the curriculum.

And that’s what makes supporting librarian heroes like Brenda Biesterfeld and decrying public library policies that enable criminality all the more important. Make it your business to find out what would happen if Donny Chrisler was downloading child porn at your library, and if necessary, stick your neck out like Brenda Biesterfeld.

8 thoughts on “Librarians Still Enabling Pedophiles

  1. As more of these incidents come to light, perhaps we can get more ‘reformed’ librarians who will come forward and report these creeps.

  2. This is appalling! Thank you so very much for posting this. Should I or anyone I know see something like this taking place in a library, I know it would be best to simply call the police from the start. Thank you again! And very well written.

  3. Everyone who reads this should know, as was left out in the post, that the library patron was profoundly retarded.

    And it is not just a First Amendment issue, it is a 5th amendment one too.

    If law enforcement wants evidence, let them seek it out using legal investigatory techniques.

    Librarians (and the rest of us for that matter) are not obligated to report suspected crimes, as we (and they) are not officers of the court or in any way related to law enforcement.

    If Jen Q. Public wants to be in law enforcement, than that career is available to her.

    If the State wants to license librarians and subject them to some version of mandated reporting in their professional capacity, they are capable of legislating that.

    That neither of the previous cases has come to pass (or applies in this case) shows it is not the librarian’s business to intervene.

    If any potential or actual librarians left the field because they could not internalize the reasoning of their ethical code, well, then they made the right choice and sayonara to them I say.

  4. So if I see you being mugged on the street I have no obligation to call the cops eh? What you’re saying is that because you don’t have a legal obligation to report people viewing the evidence of a rape on tax payer funded computers in public they should pretend it is not immoral to do so.

    Child pornography is the visual record of a rape of an innocent victim. Two pedophiles that made the very same argument you made were later found to be producing movies of them raping an infant. The scenes in many of these cases depict bondage, anal and oral rape, drugged or screaming/crying children being molested and sadistic abuse like choking children, beating them or sodomizing them with objects.

    But your claim is that when a decent person sees that they should just shrug it off. Who raised you?

  5. Chimp, I’ve already written this elsewhere, but I’ll duplicate it for others who come across your comment: this article was first published more than a year ago. Why are you suddenly showing up to copy and paste your comment on all the versions of this article that appear around the web?

    Regarding the mental status of the accused, articles originally indicated that he was deaf and mute. Later accounts mentioned that he might be schizophrenic or mentally challenged, but not that he is “profoundly retarded.” However, none of those disabilities have any bearing on whether he should be permitted to contribute to the violent abuse of children.

    Every consumer of child pornography is complicit in child exploitation. If someone is observed while engaging in this criminal activity, it needs to be reported, period, just like any other serious crime. Evidence needs to be collected and preserved so it can be used to save the lives of children who might still be alive and in the hands of vile degenerates.

    This is a moral issue, and the suggestion that we limit ourselves to what the law obligates us to do is precisely what I was criticizing. In fact, your comment underscores my point and is an excellent illustration of the type of moral deficiency encouraged by the American Library Association.

  6. Thank you, Dan, for the compliment and the link.

    I have not suffered any repercussions for publishing this because I used a pseudonym and obscured identifying details of the incident. I felt that getting my story out was, at this point, more useful to everyone than demonizing a particular institution. If I had physical evidence of the cover up, it would have been a different story, but since all I have is my word, I wanted to get the story out and hopefully encourage other library employees to do the right thing.

  7. Pingback: I Get Mail, Child Exploitation Defender Edition : Jenn Q. Public

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