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Liberals, Libraries, and Child Pornography by Jenn Q. Public May 3, 2009

Images by Red Kite Animation

Images by Red Kite Animation

The following article by Jenn Q. Public* originally appeared as a guest post on 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 library assistant Brenda Biesterfeld saw 39-year-old Donny Lynn Chrisler viewing images of naked boys on a Tulare County library computer last year, 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 that he would be banned from the library if it happened again. Biesterfeld was explicitly told she should not report the incident to authorities.

Fortunately, Biesterfeld recognized the inappropriateness of administering the equivalent of a time out to a guy checking out child porn in public. She helped officers catch Chrisler in the act of viewing kiddie porn images, resulting in his arrest. Additional images were found in his home, and he is now awaiting trial.

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’m sure most 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 library 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 pedophile would use the public access computers in the library to download kiddie porn.

But then, 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.

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 was naive.
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 sense of right and wrong diverged from the philosophical underpinnings of 21st century librarianship. But I’ll save those stories for another day.


Today my concern is that a subset of librarians continue to aid and abet pedophiles in the name of free speech and privacy. 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 protesting 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.

Autographed Letter Signed,


*Jenn Q. Public  is  an ALS guest commentator. She describes herself as “a reluctant republican and recovered democrat who has struggled for years to reconcile my liberal upbringing with a reality that inspires right-of-center beliefs”.

Please visit her blog “Jenn Q. Public


27 Responses to “Liberals, Libraries, and Child Pornography by Jenn Q. Public”

  1. David Martin Says:

    I am not religious, I do consider myself to be moral though. I try to live by the golden rule and have done my best to instill it into my three children. I am also not a historian, nor even college educated for that matter, however I do like to read and history of any kind is one of my favorite topics. It has been my observation that while not all institutional failures ( institution being empire, naton, government ) were preceeded by a moral collapse, a moral collapse was always followed by an institutional failure.

    Afrocity, I found your blog through SGP a while back and have been following since. I come from a whole different world than you, but what our backgrounds lack in commonality, I think our opinions more than make up for.

    • afrocity Says:

      Thank you David. I love Smart Girl Politics and have found it to be great for networking with other conservatives. I agree with your last statement re: moral collapse. When we read about historical events – especially atrocities such as slavery, McCarthyism, and the Japanese internment camps, one can have a false sense of security that it will never happen again. I also believe that each fringe wing of both parties can fall into moral collapse. Take a look at the MSM which is traditionally left but actively participates in censorship. I think we are on the brink of a moral collapse NOW.

    • afrocity Says:

      PS. I have always wanted a Woodie Wagon. Your work is breathtaking.

  2. thedonofpages Says:

    Librarians sometimes want to use their own judgement in place of the District Attorney. We elect politicians as legislators to make the laws, not librarians. The laws of the land apply to librarians. Most librarians know this, but some think their own interpretation of the Constitution supercedes the criminal justice system.

  3. Afrocity, thanks, as always, for featuring my post on your blog (and making it even better with illustrations!)

  4. HT Says:

    Afrocity, I’m a lurker by nature, and have been here since you started. While I agree with a lot of your posts, quite frankly, I have not commented since your beginning and now feel unwelcome. I am a liberal, I have always been a liberal, and will always be a liberal. We are not evil, we are not stupid, we are people who have a lot of beliefs in common with you and yours, but diverge in other areas – that does not make us paedophilic enabling morons. One person does not represent the entire spectrum of liberal, or conservative thought but what one person does makes a good story to tar and feather millions doesn’t it. By the way, TEd Bundy was a Republican, does that mean that I consider all republicans serial killers? Not at all.
    I have no problem with the contention that the library structure was at fault for not reporting this incident, but to blame all liberals….that’s a stretch, a huge stretch. Conservatives have just as many nasty situations committed by other so-called conservatives that they would not want to be associated with, so this has become a partisan situation.
    Every day I come here, I am greeted with another manifestation of “liberals are evil” and today’s heading is one that I consider scurrilous.
    You started off by wanting to bring divergent groups together, an endeavour that I applauded. I’m not sure what happened, but will wish you well in your future endeavours and bid you goodbye.

    • HT, did you even read this piece? Perhaps you overlooked the part that said “my concern is that a subset of librarians continue to aid and abet pedophiles in the name of free speech and privacy.” That’s not an indictment of all liberals by any stretch of the imagination.

    • afrocity Says:

      HT, I have always valued your comments and I am sorry that you feel that way. I respect your honesty and you are always welcome here. I am a PUMA but ALS is a conservative blog and my ABOUT page has a bit of a disclaimer:

      This blog is a place for women, men, democrats or conservatives, gay, straight, religious or not. But I will warn you that this is a CONSERVATIVE blog.

      No one has ever been turned away from ALS for their political beliefs. The blog has a pretty diverse following and averages about 800 hits a day. Not bad for a blog that only started a month ago. I encourage dissent here and believe that we have actually had some good thread discussions between liberals and conservatives; libertarians and conservatives, etc, etc.

      HT I hope you would reconsider and continue to lurk here but I would rather lose you because of what I am than for you to stay for what I am not.


  5. HT Says:

    Jenn, yes I read the piece, and BTW I worked in a library for many years as a librarian. Oddly, most of the people I worked with were conservative.
    Did you read the title of this post?
    Liberals, Libraries, and Child Pornography by Jenn Q. Public
    I don’t see some Liberals, or subset of Liberals. Do you?

  6. manbearpig68 Says:

    I thought this was a conservative blog!! I’ll listen to a liberal point of view if they have something good to say..

  7. bydesign001 Says:

    Excellent article.

    To be honest, it never occurred to me that other that the confidientiality cloak would somehow extend its way to librarians. I am not trying to take anything away from librarians, it is just that I never realized the extent of the reach.

    In such a case, one’s conscious should clearly override all else.

    Pedophiles do not stop at viewing child pornography. Therefore, if one is bold enough to search, view and download child pornography in a public forum, what else are they capable of?

    That alone should override the confidentiality cloak. Our children need to be protected from these animals.

    • boldandbald Says:

      There is also the fact that there are often many young children, and young teenagers, at libraries. Having these pedophiles be able to hang out there and view that sort of thing is like having it happen at a middle school. The librarians that would use the notion of protecting the privacy of their patrons, need to remember that they also have a responsibility to protect their juvenile patrons. Even more of a responsibility, in my opinion.

      Very good commentary Jenn.

      • bydesign001 and boldandbald: Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. It’s all too common for people in librarianship and beyond to allow job descriptions (or in our President’s case, pay grades) to determine the extent to which they fulfill moral responsibilities. This is just one of many illustrations of the moral bankruptcy gripping our society.

  8. kimberly Says:

    seems like just common sense is no loger tolerated….

  9. Chimp Says:

    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.

    • boldandbald Says:

      “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.”

      Most of us have something called morality that obligates us to report such a crime.

      The fact that the patron, assuming you are correct, does have a mental handicap does not change the fact that they could be a danger to young children; In fact it just might increase that likelihood. Such a handicap may affect the course of action taken by the courts, but does not affect a person’s moral obligation to report the incident. We are not talking about someone speeding or littering here. We are talking about child pornography. I would think that most people could recognize the difference.

    • Chimp, 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.

      My other thoughts on your comment are captured quite nicely by boldandbald. 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.

      • Chimp Says:

        I am showing up now, because I just found this article.

        I am local to the incident, and you can rest assured there is a profound developmental issue involved, This is not “just a deaf guy”.

        The reason I commented in both place I found the article is because the same misinformation, and opinion derived from it, is present in both, and readers deserve to have the proper information so that can make an informed decision.

        And since I just found the article (don’t recall how now), I assume others get there from time to time too.

        You are factually wrong that ordinary citizens are obllgated to report a crime of any sort, and viewing materials in the library is not a crime.

        Some professionals are in fact mandated to report certain crimes they suspect when they arise in the course of their duties. The mental health providers of the accused is one such person. Teachers are another set of such folks. There are many more.

        If you think librarians ought to be required to be mandated reporters, fine. Take it up with your local legislators, that is your right, and if you feel so strongly about it, your moral responsibility.

        I predict you won’t get far if you try to embed what you want in the law, but you will find it is not part of the law now.

        Until you at least try, you are just shouting populist crap without having even researched the facts. Educated people yawn at your claims, they are so ridiculous.

      • Oh, okay, well as long as “Chimp” says there’s a profound developmental issue involved, it must be so.

        Don’t put quotes around “just a deaf guy” when that phrase wasn’t written by anyone here. But as I made clear, no mental, developmental, or physical disability exempts someone from following the laws about possession of child pornography.

        You wrote, “You are factually wrong that ordinary citizens are obllgated (sic) to report a crime of any sort.” Chimp, I clearly indicated that it is a moral obligation. At no point was it suggested that librarians are court mandated or state mandated reporters.

        But go ahead and troll the Internet spewing logical fallacies and battling straw men of your own fevered imagining. It just gives the rest of us ample opportunity to strengthen our points.

  10. Tallis Says:

    Two comments:

    First, you should know that the charges aganst Chrisler were dropped for lack of evidence. There was no evidence of child porn on the library computer, and Biesterfeld’s testimony was not specific enough to uphold the charges. (Chrisler remains in custody on other charges based on alleged child porn images found on his home computer. The last article I read stated that the court was still determining if Chrisler was competent to stand trial.)

    Second, many states have library confidentiality laws that require libraries to keep user records confidential and require a court order before library records can be released to the police. Thus, many libraries keep records private because they are obligated to do so by state law.

    • Tallis, the piece above actually includes the information that Chrisler is awaiting trial because child porn was found at his home. The fact that the charges from the original arrest have been dropped since the article was written (thank you for the update) is worth noting, but doesn’t change the thrust of the piece.

      Regarding your second point, state confidentiality laws usually do not supersede federal laws about receiving and possessing child pornography. When the Internet is involved, the feds nearly always have the ability to assert jurisdiction because the images have crossed state lines.

      In addition, reports indicate Brenda Biesterfield did not hand over records to the police, she called them when she observed the commission of a crime. She may have violated library policy and ALA standards, but she acted morally and did not break the law. If this was about the release of confidential records, I would hope law enforcement would obtain a court order to collect the information, and hopefully the records would not be destroyed by privacy crusaders before the court order came through.

      • Tallis Says:

        Federal child pornography laws do not conflict with, and therefore do not supercede, state records confidentiality laws and the duties they impose on libraries.

        Moreover, even the feds need to use court orders or subpoenas to obtain records. Being charged with viewing child pornography, no matter how repugnant we find the crime, doesn’t do away with basic Constitutional protections.

        Improperly obtained evidence can be excluded at trial – thereby allowing a criminal to go free.

        And I noted the fact that the charges against Chrisler were dismissed to raise the question about Biesterfeld’s “heroics.” Lots of attention for Biesterfeld, but no evidence and no reliable testimony demonstrating that Chrisler actually accessed child pornography on the library.

        By the way, you should be fair enough to report Judi Hill’s side of the story – that Biesterfeld told her that Chrisler was accessing pornography, rather than child pornography, which is why Hill told her to give Chrisler a note, rather than call the police.

      • Tallis, your first paragraph is a straw man. I never stated that federal child pornography laws supersede state confidentiality laws. I argued that the aforementioned state laws could not be construed as superseding federal child porn laws. But Biesterfeld did not violate confidentiality laws in contacting police, so this portion of the discussion is irrelevant anyway.

        And of course the feds need proper documentation to demand access to library records. It’s something all law enforcement officers should be concerned with. But why the focus on court orders and subpoenas and records? Those things have nothing to do with what we’re discussing here because Brenda Biesterfeld simply called the authorities, she didn’t provide them with confidential patron records. The issue is whether a library staff member should follow her moral compass or workplace policies when a patron is observed viewing child pornography.

        That some charges against Chrisler were eventually dropped could be due to anything from lack of evidence to improperly collected evidence to lost or damaged evidence. Charges get dismissed all the time even when witnesses are credible. You are speculating in an attempt to discredit someone who risked her job to report a crime. Classy.

        And if you’re going to get into Judi Hill’s bizarre account of what happened, let’s quote her. After stating that Biesterfeld only mentioned “pornography,” here’s what she wrote, grammatical errors and all:

        During this conversation she kept talking about being a ‘Mother of boys, and at one point she asked if I read about the Porterville couple that was arrested this week on drugging their children and then taking pornography pictures of them. I believe I stated ‘yes’ I heard about that but what did it have to do with this situation. She kept saying this ‘Hits to close to home.’

        After checking the cutomers record a note was placed on his borrowers record on 2/28/08 the day of the incident at 2:06pm( caught viewing porn of little boys)

        Could there have been a miscommunication between the two women? Sure, but it seems to me there was a lot of talk about kids if the conversation was about plain ol’ porn. Furthermore, a week after the incident the county librarian told Visalia Times Delta reporters, “Not everybody sees [pornography] the same way,” suggesting that this was about differing perceptions, not miscommunication.

        In addition, California penal code prohibits showing any pornographic material in view of the general public, meaning that whether the subjects were underage or not, it was still illegal to view at the library and reportable as a crime.

        Why are you so concerned with painting Biesterfeld as the bad guy here? I wonder, if Afrocity looks up your IP address location, will it be somewhere near Tulare county?

  11. KFCSP Says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. As the founder of a grassroots group in Kansas whose efforts are to protect children from access to “harmful to minors” material in our public libary, our biggest challenges have been the ACLU and ALA bullies. The libraries shroud themselves in first amendment rhetoric, slippery slope arguments and claim they are not to be “parentis loci”. As a parent of 3, I am saddened that there are folks out there who think so little of children and their civic duty.

    The problem in Kansas is that libraries are not held to the same standard as the citizenry. You or I would be charged with a crime for providing some of this material, but libraries are given special protection known as an “affirmative defense.
    We will continue to work to protect kids from these types of irresponsible libraries.

    • Chimp Says:

      Isn’t Kansas the state where it is illegal to teach some basic science to kids in school, and there has been a tremendous back and forth battle at the state school board level for years now?

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