Libraries ordered to destroy US pamphlets

The federal Government Printing Office has ordered libraries across the country to destroy five US Department of Justice pamphlets that provide how-to instructions on prosecuting asset forfeiture cases, invoking a rarely-used authority to order the removal of items the government routinely sends to hundreds of libraries.

The pamphlets are among the material the office sends each year to about 1,300 depository libraries. Those facilities, at least two in each congressional district, are designated by Congress to receive and make available copies of virtually all documents the federal government publishes.

Representatives of the 65,000-member American Library Association said they did not know why the pamphlets were ordered destroyed, and they pledged yesterday to challenge the order as an infringement on a century-old guarantee of public access to unclassified documents that the government publishes each year.

Patrice McDermott, the association's deputy director of governmental affairs, said 20 to 30 instances have occurred since the middle of the 19th century in which the printing office, acting on behalf of a federal department or agency, has asked for documents to be returned or destroyed. Most previous recalls were for materials found to contain a factual error or determined to be out-of-date, she said.

Bernard A. Margolis, president of the Boston Public Library, said the Government Printing Office distributes documents with the approval of the Justice Department and other federal departments and agencies. Although the documents are kept in libraries, he said, ownership is retained by the federal agencies that produce the materials and they may ask for the materials to be returned.

For example, in the months after Sept. 11, 2001, the Government Printing Office ordered libraries to return a compact disc containing detailed information on the country's public water works systems.

Still, Margolis said the e-mail order to destroy the pamphlets "came out of the blue" Thursday. He said much, if not all, of the materials -- such as statutes on asset forfeiture -- are "the law of the land" readily available online and in law books.

Margolis said the pamphlets will remain available at the Boston Public Library while he prepares a challenge to the directive.

Calls to the Government Printing Office seeking comment were not returned yesterday.

The office's one-paragraph directive listed the five pamphlets, with titles such as "Civil and Criminal Forfeiture Procedure" and "Select Federal Assets Forfeiture Statutes," and instructed librarians to "withdraw these materials immediately and destroy all copies by any means to prevent disclosure of their content," according to a copy of the e-mail sent to the Boston Public Library and all other depository libraries.

The directive concluded that "the Department of Justice has determined that these materials are for internal use only."

Casey Stavropoulos, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, said the pamphlets were written by Justice Department attorneys who intended them to be law enforcement tools for federal prosecutors.   Continued...

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