Last September Fairfax Library Director William Whitesides got an unusual request - a court order demanding that he supply a female patron's records to Fairfax Circuit Court.
According to the woman's attorney, Paul G. Varoutsos, the request was made on the behalf of her husband, who was trying to prove in court that his wife had been contemplating divorcing him long before he filed for a divorce in 1977.
The husband requested a list of the titles of books his wife had checked out of the Dolley Madison Library in McLean. Specifically, he wanted to know if she had checked out "Getting A Virginia Divorce" and "Getting Yours," a book on careers for women, said Robert H. Hovis, attorney for the husband.
Whitesides said that he provided the list of book titles because of the court order. Under the county library policy, patron's records are confidential and may only be released under court order, he said.
The release of the records has upset Richard O'Keefe, a member of the library board, which governs the country's library system.
"This is a fairly serious matter," said O'Keefe, who said he learned last week about the release of the patron's records. "This is administratively bad."
O'Keefe said the library board should have been consulted by Whitesides before he delivered the patron's records to the divorce court. The board should have been able to discuss the matter and talk it over with the country attorney, he said. O'Keefe concedes that even if the library board had discussed the matter, the patron's records would have been released since they were requested under court order.
O'Keefe had planned to bring the matter up for discussion at a meeting of the 11-member library board this week. Some guidelines should be set so that the board will be consulted on similar situations in the future, he said.
"I'don't really think private individuals have a right to this information," said O'Keefe.
Whitesides said that he had not discussed the divorce case matter with the library board because he felt it was administrative and did not warrant the board's attention.
He said it was the first such request he had encountered in his 13 years with the county library system.
"Libraries throughout the country have policies which resist the investigation of reading records, except under court orders," Whitesides said.
Whitesides said when he first was approached by Hovis on behalf of the husband in the court matter, he refused to release the patron's records.
After the court order, however, he had no choice but to release them, he said.
Two library employes worked after hours searching the library records for the book titles, he said. The woman's husband paid for the employes' work.
As for the divorce case, the attorneys said the names of the books were mentioned at the court hearing, but did not become an issue.
Varoutsos said the book titles did not become an issue in the divorce because the couple decided to allow the divorce to proceed as an uncontested matter.
Some members of the library board interviewed last week said they believed Whitesides made the right decision.
"What he did is proper," said library board Chairman Edward Nicholas.
"I don't think it was necessary for the library board to be told," said Kenneth Meiklejohn, vice-chairman of the library board.
However, Meiklejohn said he was surprised that the court had requested the records. "I can't imagine somebody wanting to know what books his wife read."