In Se7en there was the FBI library register, do/did such things exist IRL?

In the film Se7en Pitt and Freeman are able to get information about library lending from a contact in the FBI. Was this part of the story based on a real system? Are certain books actually flagged if they’re taken on loan from a library or bought online or whatnot? I can imagine that if a system like that didn’t exist when the film was made that something like it would have been implemented post-9/11. Forgive me if there have been threads on this before, I did a search and found nothing.

[del]I think it is unlikely. Back in middle school I worked in the library during a free period, and the policy was to cross out the name of the person borrowing a book because of some legal case where evidence of someone having borrowed a certain book was obtained from a library’s records. I think you can see my point of view on the practice.[/del]

Anyway, keeping track of all books in all libraries seems crazy. I can’t imagine librarians uploading such information, even on a limited basis. My perception of librarians is that they would be hostile to such a system and would likely ignore it – not feasible.

I haven’t seen the movie, but it sounds pretty ridiculous from your description.

After 9/11, there was in fact quite an uproar about new legislation that would allow the FBI to demand records from libraries without a subpoena or warrant. The American Library Association recommends that librarians adopt a policy of confidentiality and not provide information unless under subpoena, and only then after consulting with counsel.

No. Absolutely not. Imagine the infrastructure that would take. Now think about the last time you had to fight your local library’s catalog. Yeah.

Now, the FBI under the Patriot Act can get your library records, which is surely partly why all libraries I’ve worked at don’t keep them. In other words, we know that right now you have Mein Kampf checked out, but once you bring it back we won’t.

If real-life agencies had one-tenth the computer abilities that television and movies give them, we would never need to worry about terrorists again. In reality they have one-hundredth.

I bought a reprint of “Steal This Book” online many years ago, and I’m sure the FBI has it in my file.

And the idea that we used to could do it is absolutely hilarious - can’t you imagine the junior-most G-man having the job of going around to all the libraries and, what, taking a copy of their microfilm thingies they used to have? Making copies of all the cards people wrote their names on?

The other part is that keeping records like that would double the load on the library’s computer system. Just going back six months or a year, you’d be talking about a database with several hundred thousand to several million entries (depending on the size of your county). The average library computer system is a nightmare to maintain now, with this kind of system you’d have sys admins crying in the stacks.

That’s comforting! But is that your library, or the policy of your county, or state, or libraries anywhere in the US?

True! But once computers are involved, logs are negligible. And honestly, even during the time of that film, computers and barcodes were already involved (though the internet was not yet a big player). And let’s be frank, adding a million withdrawals of a book is not any kind of stress on a database that is already recording a library’s complete catalog and userbase.

And before that… it was easy enough to get the info… just take out that book yourself (if it’s request needed) or just look at it (if shelves are user accessible) and there’s no warrant needed to see the card of previous readers…

A bit off topic, but I remember some commercial years ago apparently warning about this kind of thing – a young man comes up to a librarian’s desk with a book. She looks at him severely and intones, “you can’t check this out,” and then demands, “What’s your name?” The guy gets spooked, puts down the book and turns to leave–but his way is blocked by two men in suits who’ve suddenly appeared behind him.

Anybody remember that? I thought it was chilling, but when I try to describe it to people they think it sounds hilarious.

It’s the policy of the American Library Association. And I’d wager that upwards of 99% of the library world follows it.

It would be a huge stress on the system. In my library system, there is a huge slowdown in system resources at two times: in the morning when everyone is doing their book drop and between 3 and 5 PM when kids are getting out of school. You add a rule where the libraries keep track of who checked out what and it’s going to cause more slowdowns.

I remember in the movie Conspiracy Theory (with Mel Gibson, Julia Roberts and Patrick “Gravy For The Brain” Stewart), the bad government guys had a system that would raise an alarm any time some schmuck in a bookstore bought a copy of Catcher In The Rye.

I can’t remember the last time a library put somebody’s name in the book. Did they used to have a card in them that the librarians would write peoples’ names on? I remember for a time that they’d put a card in the book with a date stamped on it so you’d know when to bring it back.

For the last few years, most libraries I’ve been to will just give you a printed receipt with the due date on it so you don’t forget to bring the book back.

Edit: Forgot to provide a link to this t-shirt I have which says, in English “Guild of Radical Militant Librarians”, and in Latin: “We know what you read, and we aren’t telling!”

Thanks for your responses. I have a supplimentary question, do American libraries routinely carry many books that would help people who wanted to get up to no good (e.g. bomb making books)? I suppose there are possibly some legal, wholesome uses for books of this nature.

And it’s apparently quite a rare occurrence, else there’d be black helicopters depositing commando teams in downtown Manhattan on a daily basis.

That was a seriously dumb movie, redeemed only in the parodies that sprang from it (“Mister Vice President! Somebody finally bought a copy of your book!”)

What makes you think the FBI even has a file on you?

Be very detailed and specific.

I’m sure some do, but it’s not routine, no. There’s just no money in the budget to buy The Anarchist’s Cookbook when you’re struggling to satisfy everyone’s Stephen King/John Grisham/James Patterson/Janet Evanovich itch.

I would guess that the system in Se7en was at least partly inspired by the paranoia that arose within the profession after the FBI’s Library Awareness Program (Surveillance in the Stacks is a book I read on the subject back in library school, the program was in operation for about 15 years) came to light in the late '80s. In that counterintelligence effort they didn’t have hooks into circulation systems but they did try to get librarians to act as “spies” on their patrons and report the library usage activities for people of interest as well as any other usage that they felt was odd.

It was in the aftermath of that that the ALA and member libraries began formalizing data retention policies as well as how to formally react when the government asks for information (the days of a cop flashing a badge at a circulation tech and asking “did Bob check out Charlotte’s Web” and getting an immediate response were mostly over. Then various provisions of the Patriot Act prompted an even firmer response.

But with it relatively recent history it probably didn’t seem too paranoid to think that the FBI might still be monitoring things.

Many libraries responded to this by simply ceasing to keep any long-term-stored records of any user’s borrowing (which records it would be very easy to keep, with modern information technology). If you checked out The Anarchist’s Cookbook a year ago, and if you have returned it since then, then there is probably no way for your library to verify you ever borrowed it.