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.