SHERIDAN — The Sheridan County Public Library Board of Trustees approved the use of external security cameras, provided by the city of Ranchester, at the library’s Tongue River Branch during its meeting Wednesday. The board will consider the activation of internal cameras and branch-wide security camera policies at their next meeting.
During a November town council meeting, Ranchester appropriated $68,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funding to install 22 new security cameras for the town. According to Ranchester Mayor Peter Clark, nine of the program’s 22 cameras have been installed so far.
Clark said Ranchester offered two video-only security cameras to the Tongue River Branch Library, the wiring for which has been installed. As Library Director Cameron Duff explained at the board’s November meeting, one of the cameras will be inside the library while the other will be outside.
It is up to the library’s board whether the cameras will be activated and what policies will be implemented regarding the use and disclosure of camera footage. While the board decided to move forward with the outdoor camera at the Tongue River Branch, the library’s security camera policy and approval of internal cameras will be determined in early 2022.
The security camera issue, Library Director Cameron Duff explained before the board, is one of patron privacy, a value paramount to library operations and a library tradition dating back more than 100 years.
“All people, regardless of origin, age, background or views, possess a right to privacy and confidentiality in their library use,” the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights states. “Libraries should advocate for, educate about and protect people’s privacy.”
The same goes at Sheridan County Public Libraries. Duff said the library maintains policies to protect patron privacy from government interference, including limiting access to patron account information, check-out habits and other library records.
“The idea of the government saying what you can and cannot do while you’re in the library is part of that freedom of information, freedom of reading…we just don’t turn over information,” Duff said.
The exception to patron privacy, Duff explained, is when something goes wrong, whether that’s a criminal act, property damage, or accident on library grounds. If Sheridan County libraries were to install security cameras inside library facilities, their footage would be referenced after an incident, to assist library staff and, if relevant, law enforcement.
The essential question before the board of trustees, Duff said, is whether cameras will be installed inside library buildings — starting with the Tongue River Branch — and under what conditions footage from those cameras would be turned over to non-library staff, including law enforcement.
According to a draft security camera policy, cameras inside library branches will be placed in locations where individuals lack a reasonable expectation of privacy, including parking lots, book stacks and entrances. Footage would only be accessible to law enforcement, the draft policy states, with a subpoena or court order.
Trustees Angie Knutson and Emily Hawkins said they largely approved of indoor and outdoor security cameras, and the cameras could protect …….