Recently there has been discussion on the Facebook group Library Think Tank (#ALATT) about running background checks on outside performers. It has been a rather animated debate, and caused me and my coworkers to do some serious pondering.
The subject under debate: Should all performers have background checks run before they appear at a library?
There were two incidents that sparked the discussion. One was a Drag Queen Storytime that was held at the Houston Public Library. After the performance, it was discovered by a pro-family activist group called MassResistance that one of the performers was a registered sex offender. The group brought the criminal status of the performer to the attention of the media.
HPL didn’t run a background check on the performer, although Library policy does require checks be run on all performers.
(It should be noted that Since March 2008, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has listed MassResistance as an active anti-gay hate group.)
The second incident discussed involved a children’s musician from New Jersey who was sentenced to 82 months in prison for receiving child pornography.
Most school systems, and many libraries already have policies in place that mandate checks. And for those library professionals working at these institutions the answer seems like a no brainer. This raised the usual hue and cry that comes with a social media post: what was wrong with Houston for not running the check? Cue outrage and anger.
For others library professionals, (including me and my colleagues), it was more of an a-ha moment. One coworker messaged me, tagging the discussion: “Alexa do we do this?”
I was immediately like : “uhhhhh……. No? Wait, what?” I hire many of our outside performers, so my adrenaline kicked in, and I began running a host of worst case scenarios in my head.
The current practice cited by several libraries is that they run checks on adult volunteers. This is what my library does. But, to date, we have not run checks on outside performers. As many other posters shared , we never leave performers alone with children, and do not allow physical contact without parental oversight.
Additionally, we do collect much of the information needed to run a basic background check if we decided to start doing so.
One of the primary concerns mentioned in the discussions is the potential costs involved. From some rudimentary research it appears that a simple background check would cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $15-$20 per person. And, while on initial consideration, that might not seem like much, those fees quickly add up. For libraries with limited programming funds, this can, potentially, be prohibitive. Another concern is that it just adds another layer of protocol. The process of finding and booking quality performers is already rather arduous: checking availability, negotiating rates, creating, exchanging, and collecting contracts and W-9s, completing payment requisitions.
One possible solution that I am considering is to deduct cost of fee from what we would pay the performer. I would most probably negotiate a rate with them that will take the fee into consideration. And, of course, we would have to get the written permission to run the check, and make the booking and contract contingent on a clean report.
Questions. I have questions for you all:
- Does a new check need to be run every time a performer is booked?
- What is your library’s practice? Is there a policy in place?
- Has anyone had a potential performer come back with a negative check?
- Who is in charge of running the checks at your library?
- What do you do with the information after your library gathers it?
- Do you keep it on file with their contracts, W-9s, and payment information?
- How long do you keep them?
We book (nearly) all of our paid performers through a library cooperative so they are responsible for arranging contracts, payment, and background checks. There are dozens of libraries using the cooperative agency for this service (among their other services) so the cost per library per show is basically nil.
Our youth department does not currently have a practice of doing this, but I am interested in making it standard procedure. Did you get feedback from any other librarians? Do you know of any libraries that are doing this?