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Recipient of 2006 Downs Intellectual Freedom Award Announced

December 14, 2006

Library director Michele Reutty never realized that following the rules could get her in so much trouble. But when she found herself following library protocol in response to a request for information from the police, she landed in the midst of a controversy. Now, her commitment to upholding privacy laws has earned her the 2006 Robert B. Downs Intellectual Freedom Award given by the faculty of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS) at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

In May 2006, area police asked Reutty, then library director at the Hasbrouck Heights Public Library in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey, to supply library circulation records to aid in an investigation. Complying with state statutes, Reutty told police she couldn't supply the records without a subpoena. After they returned with one, she provided the information as requested.

Soon after, however, local officials expressed their shock and disappointment, accusing Reutty of putting the library's interests ahead of a police investigation. According to an article appearing in The Record, officials "decried her 'blatant disregard' for law enforcement."

Reutty was quoted as saying, "The whole episode is shocking. I followed the law. And because I followed the law, at the end of the day, the policemen's case is going to hold strong. Nobody is going to sue the library and nobody is going to sue the municipality of Hasbrouck Heights because information was given out illegally."

Reutty faced disciplinary action from the library's board, in part because she consulted a lawyer who was familiar with the statutes regarding state libraries and not the borough lawyer as is required by borough law. After months of disagreement, Reutty resigned on October 2, 2006.

"Michele Reutty's insistence that proper procedure be followed before patron records were released is the kind of protection of intellectual freedom that the Downs Award is meant to recognize. Michele's stand is the kind of front line defense of the principles of due process that Robert B. Downs stood for in his many years of dedication to intellectual freedom and the protection of library users' right to privacy," said GSLIS Associate Professor Terry Weech.

On December 4, 2006, Reutty became library director of the Free Public Library in Oakland, New Jersey. She is currently the vice-president and president-elect of the New Jersey Library Association.

A reception to honor Reutty will take place during the midwinter meeting of the American Library Association at the Westin Seattle Hotel on Saturday, January 20, 2007, from 5:30 p.m. - 7:00 p.m. The Greenwood Publishing Group provides the honorarium to the recipient of the Downs Intellectual Freedom Award and also co-sponsors the reception.

The Robert B. Downs Intellectual Freedom Award is given annually to acknowledge individuals or groups who have furthered the cause of intellectual freedom, particularly as it affects libraries and information centers and the dissemination of ideas. Granted to those who have resisted censorship or efforts to abridge the freedom of individuals to read or view materials of their choice, the award may be in recognition of a particular action or long-term interest in, and dedication to, the cause of intellectual freedom. The award was established in 1969 by the GSLIS faculty to honor Robert Downs, a champion of intellectual freedom, on his 25th anniversary as director of the school.

Additional information about the award and past recipients can be found at www.lis.uiuc.edu/about/awards/downs-award.html.

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