Responding to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Requests


Recently, libraries across the country have been receiving requests seeking information concerning “patron and staff complaints about patrons accessing inappropriate material on public Internet terminals.” There are appropriate steps to take when receiving a freedom of information request concerning “inappropriate material” on the Internet. FOI laws vary from state to state, and they change regularly. Therefore, it is important to seek legal advice considering particular situations and the current state laws affecting compliance with FOI requests.

Here are some general guidelines for handling FOI requests:

  1. Consult your state FOI and open records laws. In general, if there is a written record of the complaint, it is covered by FOI laws.
  2. Identify possible exemptions:
    1. Out-of-State requestors - some states have citizenship requirements.
    2. Library Privacy—many states have statutory exemptions for the disclosure of certain library records.
    3. Personnel Records
    4. Ongoing Investigations
  3. Redaction

    In most states, libraries will be required to produce redacted (edited to eliminate identifying information such as name and address) versions of Internet-related complaints even if the complaint falls under an exemption.

  4. Conclusion

    Libraries receiving FOI requests should consult their attorneys who will determine whether they can or must provide the information requested.