SJ Libraries Waste Money with New Screening of Volunteers

The San Jose Public Library system received an additional $2 million dollars for the current budget year to hire staff, extend library hours and provide extra funds for existing programs. Instead of using all of this money for pressing library needs, however, the administration decided to fingerprint all library volunteers—including people who have no contact with the public, as well as all of the tutors in the award-winning Partners in Reading program.

Jill Bourne, director of the San Jose Public Library system, wrote in a memo last winter to the Neighborhood Services and Education Committee:

“Partners in Reading (PAR) delivers adult and family literacy services to the San Jose community. Established on July 1, 1989 with a grant from the California State Library’s Literacy Services, PAR has been providing literacy services to adults for over 25 years. The primary source of instruction has been one-on-one and small group classes with volunteer tutors from the community. PAR and its volunteers have instructed approximately 5,351 adults in reading, writing, problem solving, computer, and life skills. Currently, PAR has 299 volunteer tutors and has had 4,186 tutors since the program began.”

The program is effective because adult volunteers with a high school diploma (or GED) who can read and write in English attend 14 hours of training and then are assigned an adult to tutor. All tutoring is done in public and everyone in the program is over 18 years old. The program has been so successful that there is a four-month wait for tutors.

It makes sense for the program’s goal to be recruiting and training more tutors to satisfy the demand. Is it possible to screw this up and create a situation where there will be less tutors? You bet.

The library director has decided that all volunteers—including the 10-plus volunteers who have been in the PAR program for over 10 years, and the 30-35 PAR volunteers who have been in the program for over five years—must be fingerprinted.

I expressed my concerns to Ms. Bourne and she responded that the rationale for fingerprinting adult volunteers was that it would make the library safer. She also noted that other nonprofit agencies were doing it. I found it curious that she didn’t mention one instance where there was a problem with an adult volunteer and that fingerprinting would have kept such a person out of the program.

Ms. Bourne explained the process as such: The fingerprint reports would come back to the library and if someone had a questionable item, as determined by an administrator’s judgment, the application would then be reviewed. Information from the report would never be recorded. Apparently, there would also be no written policy concerning: what constitutes a questionable entry, confidentiality of the records and how the written reports from the Department of Justice would be handled. Additionally, there would no written appeals process.

This whole procedure seems arbitrary and capricious. The library administrator would have no legal confidentiality requirement, so that information could be shared with anyone.

Ms. Bourne also forgot to mention that the Santa Clara County Sherriff's Office and the DOJ charged a total of $32 per person that would be paid by the library.

A couple of days before Christmas, the volunteers received an email that contained the forms for the live scan fingerprinting process. The justification stated that fingerprinting was necessary to check and see if a person lied on the application form concerning their criminal record.

The demand for PAR tutors is great, and because of the improved economy the number of tutors has dropped to around 200. Instead of making it easier to enlist new tutors, the library administration has decided to fingerprint all PAR tutors, including the 30-45 who have been in the program between five and 10 years. The cost to fingerprint all of the existing PAR tutors would be $6,400, and this sum does not include the staff resources needed to implement the policy. That money could be used to buy quite a few new books.

The Partners in Reading model has worked for 25 years without a problem. The old adage, “If it isn’t broke, don't fix it” is not something that the San Jose Public Library Administration can easily comprehend.

Robert Miller is a retired educator who lives in Los Gatos. In addition to being a PAR tutor, he is the author of the Rick Podowski and The Hefty Trio amateur detective series.


  1. It is good public policy to ensure individuals who work with children aren’t sexual predators and that anyone handling money aren’t crooks.

  2. This is unbelievable! What the #@%&*%#$@*!?! are they thinking? This is right up there with video cameras on garbage trucks and asking requiring (asking?) business owners to turn over their security video to the police dept., even when no one has burgled the business…

    • $6,400 of $2,000,000 doesn’t seem like a lot for a little bit of security where lots of small children are daily. Nice to see they are thinking ahead about risks to their customers and the risk of liability to the city which would be dramatically higher if something did happen. Unfortunately, it’s the world we live in now.

      • I should clarify that the $6400.00 is for just one program. The library system has many volunteer programs and the total cost is far greater.. On any given day, the main library has eight floors filled with college students, anyone wanting to use the library , and lots of homeless people. None of these other groups are screened or fingerprinted. Also the majority of library systems in California only require fingerprints for individuals who work with children.

      • The PAR tutors don’t work with children. I agree that there are far more harmful influences throughout the King Library, but we can’t very well fingerprint everyone.

  3. The people who complain about spending a few thousand dollars to fingerprint volunteers are the same people who would be OUTRAGED if a tutor with a record were accused of molesting a child and the City was liable. That liability would far outweigh the cost of fingerprinting, if dollars and cents are all that motivates you. It’s nice to screen out predators, too.

    • While I don’t support frivolous spending, I agree with RuralJuror. School districts have fingerprinted for years. Non profits have often done the same. Having worked in a district and been one who screens those fingerprinted for years, there are simple protocols to ensure confidentiality. Some of it will be arbitrary. Case in point are two fingerprints that came back in the last 6 months at my work place:

      Fingerprints come back on Volunteer A – DUI in 1997. Clear since then.

      Fingerprints come back for Volunteer B – Solicitation of a prostitute in 2013, DUI in 2012, Resisting arrest in 2011.

      Do you really feel secure with Volunteer B? I wouldn’t. And I’d be happy to inform that person that the record being that recent and serious isn’t what we are looking for in volunteers.

      And you know what? Half of those fingerprints that came back on those we printed who had police records signed forms stating they had never been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor. I have news for you – adults lie. Really!

      A lawsuit for NOT fingerprinting could run the City millions. And you’re worried about $6400 that provides another level of protection and better ensures my tax dollars will be for programs that need it and not justified lawsuits because we didn’t want a basic level of protection?

      Face it – we live in a litigious society. Anyone who thinks they can get a dime will try it. And adults do stupid things. Just look at the police blotter in the Merky News. Let’s do our due diligence to ensure that volunteers have some history of the ability to make good decisions.

        • Exactly how will fingerprinting volunteers safeguard against something happening? Something that has never happened in the history of this program? And, why is the city spending so much money on this?

        • Sure, but there is unlikely to be a precedent for fingerprinting library volunteers who only work with adults. Especially volunteers who have been around for many years with no problems.

    • Just reading this article. Find it fascinating so many were opposed to the change.

      For clarification: It’s not just sexual predators one hopes to weed out with fingerprinting.

      “Vulnerable populations” is a more encompassing description & it definitely applies to anyone that’s illiterate. It would be easy to take advantage of someone cannot read. Background checks help avoid this situation. It’s not perfect and likely still happens, but it’s a reasonable precaution.

      • Anthony, does fingerprinting really protect people? You need to volunteer so that you can see that these are not weak and helpless people. I have nothing but admiration for people who are poorly educated and working to get ahead. They work all day and fill our adult schools and tutoring programs at night.

        We have two library systems in the San Jose area. One is the San Jose Public Library system that requires volunteers to provide fingerprints. The other is the Santa Clara County Library system and they don’t require fingerprints even though the programs are the same. I was tutoring a Russian woman in the San Jose system and when they required fingerprints, I quit. Now i tutor a woman from China and I facilitate the beginning conversation group at the Campbell library. San Jose is wasting its money on an issue that’s irrelevant.

  4. I was supposed to tutor tonight at the library, but it’s closed because someone fell from the sixth floor and died. To be safe maybe we should put fences on each floor so that people can’t get near the atrium. This is the same tired logic that you are using with the fingerprints.

    In response to your comment, Volunteer B was arrested tried and convicted of these crimes. Why is it a problem for this person to tutor another adult in a public place? Do you think that this could be Step 12 of an AA program?

    The law is clear that you have to fingerprint adults that work with children, but there are no requirements to fingerprint adults who work with adults. PAR tutors are mostly senior citizens or practicing professionals. These groups are very low risk as evidenced by the twenty-five years of no problems with the tutors. In terms of being sued the city should worry about the dead man I mentioned above and the fact that there are no metal detectors in the library. It’s crossed my mind that I might be gunned down because the library is basically an unprotected open space.

    This foolish policy will do nothing to make the program safer. Instead it will decrease the number of volunteers and the poor will pay the price.

  5. While I understand that this will impact the volunteers, it seems to me that adults who have low literacy or are English as a second language (like those that use PAR) could be seen as vulnerable by those desperate or opportunistic enough to take advantage of them. I think organizations like this need to protect people to the best of their ability, including running background checks.

  6. Now I know why Ms. Light–former head of San Jose Library–retired! And, my father, a former Librarian, is rolling over in his grave right about now! What a waste of money.

  7. My heart goes out to you. This is utter insanity and it’s thoroughly disappointing to read the comments here in support of this insanity. I guess it’s true that no good deed goes unpunished.

    I can’t help but wonder if this a push by Sacramento, as I (and thousands of others), were recently required to provide prints (which I had to pay $75 dollars for) to renew a professional license I’ve had for over twenty years with no offenses claimed against me (and despite having provided my full prints upon being initially licensed) which would be fed into the same Department of Justice System you referenced.

    Can’t help but state that I don’t remember all of the Banker Swindlers having to be retroactively fingerprinted, despite the countless lives they destroyed, and are still destroying. Same for all of the Billionaire Tech Moguls – with vast fortunes made on the backs of billions – whose net effect on society has been utter inequality and a horrifying dehumanizing.

    Lastly, this vaguely reminds me of the recent news that residents of five states (Illinois (Land of Lincoln!), Minnesota, new Mexico, Missouri and Washington) may, very soon, need a passport in order to fly out of their home state, due to the mysteriously murky requirements of the ten year old Real ID Act (12/29/15 Driver’s licenses from these states may not work on domestic flights ) .

  8. In 1977 two visionaries, San Jose Mayor Susan Hammer and SJSU President Robert Caret developed a plan to unite the citizens of San Jose with the university students. The award winning Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library was the result of this endeavor. Hammer, Claret, and Light provided the leadership to make this library one of the best in the nation. Unfortunately this vision has been replaced by bureaucrats whose only interest is to protect their backsides. It is very sad.

  9. Mr. Miller, based on the ridiculous comments that you have expressed in this “article,” I can safely assume that you live in a bubble where only your distorted reality exists. Do you even have children?

    In case that you were not aware, we live in a jungle full of rabid animals ready to pounce on the most vulnerable among us – the children: pedophiles, kidnappers who sell the children as sex slaves (and – it must be plainly stated, those individuals should be identified, hunted, and killed on sight as the terrorists that they are), criminals, dangerous and mentally unbalanced people who our elected officials allow to run loose in our society, and other assorted weirdos that have come out of the woods in droves and are harming our children’s view of themselves, their family members, others, and the world around them. Thus, it is CRUCIAL that ANYONE to whom our elected officials give access to our children be background-checked. And yes, Mr. Miller, since the library is run by the city (and the city doesn’t run itself – it is run by our elected officials and those who they appoint and hire), our elected officials are ultimately responsible.

    I am shocked that our children have been exposed to people whose backgrounds were never checked. It is GROSSLY NEGLIGENT not to have done so! I, for one, “vote” for the background checks, as should anyone with even half of a working brain!

  10. As a clarification, I am aware that the PAR is for adult literacy; however, even though under present law an 18 year-old is considered an adult, the fact remains that someone that young is still immature, gullible and trusting. Turning 18 doesn’t simply also turn on a switch in the brain and presto – the person is now all-knowing, mature and a critical thinker who can appropriately assess a situation.

    Furthermore, because our library system recruits and brings the volunteers onto city facilities (the libraries), it is giving them access to children of all ages, from toddlers to teens. We cannot control – at least not yet, who enters a city library, but we can certainly control who the city recruits and INVITES to enter the library!

    • You said, ” I can safely assume that you live in a bubble where only your distorted reality exists. Do you even have children?
      In case that you were not aware, we live in a jungle full of rabid animals ready to pounce on the most vulnerable among us – the children: pedophiles, kidnappers who sell the children as sex slaves (and – it must be plainly stated, those individuals should be identified, hunted, and killed on sight as the terrorists that they are), criminals, dangerous and mentally unbalanced people who our elected officials allow to run loose in our society, and other assorted weirdos that have come out of the woods in droves and are harming our children’s view of themselves, their family members, others, and the world around them.”

      Yes, I have two well adjusted children. In fact, one is a youth minister.At the least you should never go into the main public library because it is filled with homeless people and since the patrons are not fingerprinted and there are no metal detectors, the pedophiles, kidnappers and the terrorists may be hiding in the book stacks. Assuming that you believe what you have written, you need to get some help.

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