What is a First Amendment Audit?
- When individuals or groups (“auditors”) film on government property to test their rights to film or enter a public space.
- Confrontational audits, or ones where government employees interfere with filming, are often posted online (mainly YouTube and TikTok).
- The goal of an audit is to create an interaction that is worthy of going viral.
What does a First Amendment Audit look like?
- You will likely know if there’s an auditor in the library because a recording device will be prominently displayed and noticeable.
- Auditors usually act in one of two ways:
- Boisterous: in your face, vocal, or obnoxious.
- Non-responsive: silent and staring.
What to do ahead of time:
- Become educated on the topic.
- Review your library’s filming policy. If your library doesn’t have a policy, now is the time to draft one. Examples:
- Milwaukee Public Library: Photography and Video Requests
- Kaukauna Public Library: Photography and Film Policy
- Irvin L Young Memorial Library: Photography, Filming and Videography
- Identify and label nonpublic forums (staff areas) in library spaces.
- Examples include workspaces, staff lounge, hallways, and garages.
- Preserve security.
- Only allow staff into “staff only” areas. Enforce these areas every day with all patrons.
- If entrance through a door is restricted, then close it.
- Know your library’s policies and be able to explain them. Auditors like to attempt to “trip” staff up in their explanations.
What to do when an audit occurs:
- Stay calm!
- Don’t allow yourself to be provoked.
- Focus on good customer service.
- “How can I help you?”
- Treat the auditor like any other library user.
- Be polite and patient.
- Make the interaction mundane and boring with a business-as-usual approach.
- Leave the auditor alone when recording unless patron privacy is compromised.
- A patron’s privacy is breached if an auditor videotapes materials that a patron is using or recording in the restrooms.
- Comply with library policies.
- Help your co-worker, if possible, with your presence and support.
What not to do:
- Overreact. This gives the auditor great video footage.
- Share your personal information.
- It’s OK to keep your private information private. (“I’m sorry, I don’t answer personal questions at work. Thank you for understanding!”)
- Debate the First Amendment or someone’s “right” to record others.
- This conversation is exactly what the auditor seeks and will likely provide great video footage.
- There’s no need to share your view of the First Amendment. (“I’m sorry, I don’t discuss personal opinions at work. Thank you for understanding!”)
- Attempt to take the recording device.
- Follow or intimidate the auditor.
For More Information:
- Wisconsin Counties Association: First Amendment Auditing
- Intellectual Freedom Blog: Auditing the First Amendment at Your Public Library
- American Library Association: Privacy: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights
Contact Kristie Hauer for further guidance and support at email@example.com.