Public Records Access Model of the Future – Your Local Library

Guest Columnist – Barbara Petersen

Editor's Note: Articles written by citizens reflect their own opinions and not the views of the Winter Park Voice.  

Public Records Access Model of the Future – Your Local Library

Barbara Petersen 1FAFAs Winter Park discusses the library services of the future, many opportunities come to mind.

Informed Citizens Are Key to Civic Wellbeing

The Florida First Amendment Foundation (FAF) believes the library has an important opportunity to partner with local government to enhance access to public information and to more efficiently manage public records requests.

Library Supports Citizens’ Need for Public Information

We believe there is a natural synergy between the Winter Park library and the Winter Park municipal government. Libraries are known to be apolitical and non-bureaucratic. Highly skilled in information management, the library is uniquely suited to assume more responsibility to support the public information needs of the community under Florida’s open government laws, known in the vernacular as our Sunshine Laws.

Library is Ideal Repository of Public Documents

The 21st-century library can be a digital community center which helps foster an informed and engaged community. The library of the future can add tremendous value by increasing access, adding credibility and generating valuable public information that contributes to the civic understanding and institutional memory of a community like Winter Park.

Working with organizations like the First Amendment Foundation, the Winter Park library could serve as custodian of public documents and answer public records requests. The library could catalog and hold public records in a cloud-based repository accessible by the entire community.

Investigative reporters, community-based organizations, and business entities would be encouraged to deposit information into the repository that they’ve obtained through the public records requests.

Cloud-Based Repository Most Efficient

A citizen’s request for public records through a central library repository removes layers of bureaucracy, reduces the escalating costs of accessing public records and leads to a more informed and engaged citizenry.

The Florida First Amendment Foundation would willingly join this partnership. Through Winter Park’s leadership, this could become a national model. What a wonderful value-added component to a library’s 21st- century services.

Editor’s Note: Barbara Petersen is President of the Florida First Amendment Foundation, which works to preserve and protect open government laws ( She is past Chair of the National Freedom of Information Coalition and served as Chair of the Commission on Open Government. Petersen is based in Tallahassee.

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6 replies
  1. Susan C says:

    It is ironic that Barbara provided a guest column, I have found the Winter Park Library, during elections, has been a most hostile location and not supportive of freedoms and liberties – such as free speech. I am sure the First Amendment Foundation, of which I am a member, would be disappointed to find this out. A convenient location for early voting but certainly not one on the side of the citizen. Change is needed.

    • Anon says:

      The real irony is the first point in the article
      Informed Citizens Are Key to Civic Wellbeing

      Clearly the citizens were not well informed as to the entire project that the tax raising bond inititative supports.
      Public records are governed by state law. This is clearly not a function of a traditional library or a civic center.
      Why do ideas seem to never come with cost projections?

    • j ramer says:

      I am a poll deputy of many years experience. Our right to vote without hindrance is enforced by me and my fellow deputies according to long standing laws without consideration of location.
      If elections laws are a problem to some, our Tallahassee representatives need to know what change is needed.

  2. First Sense says:

    I believe the writer doesn’t understand the full implications of what she is saying. If say, a reporter had a freedom of information request in this 21st century imagined library, he would go to a librarian, not City Hall.

    So that would give the politicians the ability to point the finger at the librarian when they failed to produce the information requested.

    How does that make any sense?

    We want to keep the heat where it belongs. Right at City Hall. If they are covering up something, they shouldn’t be required to pass the buck to a poor librarian only trying to do her job. Besides, libraries are supposed to be quiet places. That would not be the case with hoards of reporters demanding public records to meet their print deadlines.

  3. Anonymous says:

    From Barbara Petersen, President, Florida First Amendment Foundation

    Under our model, the library public record repositories will provide an alternative means of accessing non-exempt public records. The library will not replace City Hall as the custodian of public records — the city will be legally responsible for providing access to its public records under ch. 119, Florida’s public records law. Under this model, a citizen will have two options for accessing public records — make a “traditional” public record request at City Hall or access the public record repository online through the local library.

    As an active and dynamic repository, the media, businesses and individual citizens can contribute to the growing document archives per previous requests and active searches. We continue to build a useful, cumulative resource for our citizenry.


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