Homeland Security Agents Pull Ohio Libraries’ Haz-Mat Documents

Posted on May 12th, 2009 Admin

American Libraries Association

It all began March 26, when a woman came to the reference desk and asked Martha Lee of the Bluffton (Ohio) Public Library for the Allen County Hazardous Materials Emergency Plan. Lee told American Libraries that after receiving the appropriate binder, the woman declared, “You can’t have it back.” The patron removed the materials and substituted a letter stating that the haz-mat manual would be “available for public inspection” at Allen County’s Homeland Security Office, although “proper ID may be required” to access it. According to Lee, the woman also said, “Well, I have a whole list of libraries I have to visit.”

Apparently, one of them was Lima Public Library, where Homeland Security agents flashed their badges and announced that they had come to “update” the emergency-plan binder. The reference staff later found that the same letter had been substituted for the manual. “It’s information that probably doesn’t belong on our library shelf,” Lima Public Library’s Head of Public Relations Karen Sommer told American Libraries, noting that Allen County contains both an oil refinery and the only military-tank-manufacturing plant still operating in the U.S. She added, “What we really had a problem with was the way it was handled”—namely the apparent presumption that librarians might not cooperate otherwise.

Paul Rider of the environmental group Ohio Citizen Action was far less sympathetic. Denouncing the documents’ relocation “as a pretext to push through an agenda that has nothing to do with terrorism,” he told American Libraries that the action furthered the chemical industry’s goal of “shutting down the right to know so their pesky neighbors won’t pester them about the soot that’s landing in their yards.”

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