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Accessing Public Records

   Wednesday, April 4th, 2007 - by: Brian Herzog, Head of Reference

Seal of the State of MassachusettsIn response to the recent local press coverage of "Sunshine Week," the Chelmsford Police Department held a public records seminar on 4/4/07. The seminar was led by Rebecca Murray, an attorney in the Public Records Division of the MA Secretary of the Commonwealth's Office.

The seminar outlined generally what kind of information is available to the public, and how MA government offices should interact with the public when information is requested.

The library was given a copy of A Guide to the Massachusetts Public Records Law [pdf], which answers most public records questions. However, some highlights from the seminar are below (and on our Public Records handout [pdf]):

  1. Anyone can get public records upon request
  2. Requests can be written (letter, fax, email) or oral (in person only, not over the phone), and must be explicitly stated as a request for public records (although written requests are not required, they are a good idea)
  3. If information in a public record is redacted, the records official must cite the exemption that applies, as well as explain how the exemption applies
  4. A records official cannot ask the requestor their identity or their motivation for requesting the records (however, for practical purposes, providing your contact information will be helpful in delivering the requested records to you)
  5. There may be a reasonable fee charged for providing records, including reproduction and labor costs
  6. A response must be provided in writing within ten days of the original request
    • The response does not need to be the requested records - it may just be an acknowledgement of the receipt of the request
    • Responses should include an estimated timetable for fulfilling the request and any associated fees, or else an explanation of why the request was denied
    • In the case where a fee is assessed, records will not be provided until after the fee has been paid
  7. Any denied request may be appealed to the Public Records Division of the Office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth
    • Appeals must be filed in writing, and must include a copy of the request, a copy of the response, and a cover letter explaining the situation
    • At this stage, the requestor may need to explain why the request was submitted
    • An appeal may be turned down for privacy issues, safety issues, or rejected for commercial or harassment reasons

Library staff can assist patrons in requesting public records, but we have no more right to access them than the general public. Although we may assist in locating the office that holds particular records, it is best if the patron makes the request for records directly. Additional information about this process can be answered by the Public Records Division.

Library Records as Public Records
Up until 1988, Exemption (k) excluded patron records from public libraries from public record. In 1988, the commonwealth repealed this exemption in order to make it a separate law until itself. MA General Law chapter 78 section 7 reads in part:

"...[T]hat part of the records of a public library which reveals the identity and intellectual pursuits of a person using such library shall not be a public record..."

This is also covered by the library's policy on Providing Patron Information. Requests for non-patron records will be handled along the guidelines above and in A Guide to the Massachusetts Public Records Law publication.

If you have questions on this, or would need help requesting public records, please contact the Reference Desk.

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   Posted in Resources | No Comments »

One Book Chelmsford Banners

   Friday, March 30th, 2007 - by: Brian Herzog, Head of Reference

One Book Chelmsford bannerTo promote our One Book Chelmsford community reading program, featuring Richard Russo's book Empire Falls, the Library is using banners to get the word out.

As you drive around town (especially in the Town Center and around Vinyl Square), keep an eye out for the banners (or check out some photos in the Library's flickr account).

And, keep an eye on the Library's One Book Chelmsford programs webpage, for upcoming One Book Chelmsford events. These include live music in the coffeehouse, book discussions, lectures and talks, walking tours, and more.

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   Posted in Books, One Book, Programs | No Comments »

On File at the Library

   Thursday, March 29th, 2007 - by: Brian Herzog, Head of Reference

A new public document has been given to both the Town Hall and the Library to be made available to the public. This document (a large 3-ring binder) is a copy of the Montgomery Energy Billerica Power Partners, LP Energy Facility Siting Board Petition for the Billerica Energy Center.

The petition concerns the development of a 134-acre site at the intersection of Town Farm Road and Billerica Avenue in North Billerica. Their intention is to build a new power generation facility, to be called the Billerica Energy Center.

To review this document at the library, please contact the Reference Desk.

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Changes in Museum Passes at the Library

   Tuesday, March 27th, 2007 - by: Brian Herzog, Head of Reference

Museum iconIn case you didn't already know, discounted passes for many area museums and parks are available through the library. You can reserve passes through the library's website or by calling the Reference Desk (978-256-5521). There are 17 museums and parks in all, with some of the most popular being the Museum of Science, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Discovery Museums in Acton, and the New England Aquarium. And, the library just added a new pass - the Davis' Farmland & MegaMaze in Sterling.

Also, starting April 1st, 2007, there will be a new system for reserving passes online. All of the same passes and guidelines still apply, but the screens will look a little different. The new system will allow people to view multiple days at a time, and can also send and email to remind you to pick up your pass. Another new feature is that people will be able to delete reservations for passes they no longer want - just click on the "My Passes" link to manage all of the passes you have on request.

Funding for these passes is provided by the Friends of the Chelmsford Library, as well as from individual patrons. Passes are available to all Chelmsford residents and any member of the Friends group. To reserve passes online, you will need your library barcode number (from your library card) and your PIN. Anyone with questions or problems should contact the Reference Desk for assistance.

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   Posted in Friends of the Library, Resources | No Comments »