Show us who you are before we show you the books

by Joska Ottjes.

About the obligation to show your identification papers within the University Library of Utrecht

Why should we identify ourselves to the security of the University Library of Utrecht while entering the library after 5 o’clock in the evening and in the weekends? Regular visitor of the University Library, Ruben van Luijk, asked himself the same question but could not find any satisfying answer.

About one year ago, the University of Utrecht has implemented a new security policy at the Uithof Library and the Library of Language and Literature in the city center.  Until now this new policy of being obligated to show identification papers to access the library has not been subject of heated discussion. Finally an online petition has been set up one month ago by Ruben van Luijk with the goal to exert pressure on the University to reverse this policy and make the library freely accessible again.

The argument that lies at the heart of this policy is presented to the library visitor as ”necessary means to prevent annoyance in the library and inconvenience to other visitors”. But the argumentation reveals an unjust positive causal relationship between the obligation of identification and reducing annoyance. In this respect, the foundation ‘Meldpunt Misbruik ID-plicht’ (Check-in point for the abuse of the obligation of identity papers) concluded, based on practical experience concerning the enlargement of obligation of identification in 2005, that it does not prevent any ‘criminal’ intentions or acts whatsoever.

Apart from refuting the pro-argumentation of this policy, there are many reasons that speak clearly against it and give us reason to not accept the obligatory identification. The library is a public space that, among other things, states its mission as to be flexible, customer oriented and contributory to education, research and the rendering of social services. In practice they do not seem to live up to this statement. At first, a library should be a public space for everyone to use, while with this policy the library becomes less accessible – note that the law does not oblige you to carry an ID all the time – or not accessible at all for those that don’t possess an ID or do not carry one because of principled objections.  Secondly, this policy bombards every visitor to be a potential criminal which does not make you feel really welcome at all and infringes your privacy.

But probably most important is that we should recognize that the library shows us a tendency of increased obligatory identification within our society and the lack of resistance against it. Acceptance and co-operation dominates this debate while obligatory identification stems from a system implemented by the German occupiers during the Second World War. With the present biometrical passports and ID’s, electronic patient files, public transport cards, face scans and extensive camera supervision, the Netherlands has the best registration of personal data in Europe. As Loesje, a Dutch free speech organization, states on a poster: ‘Identificatieplicht – Ik identificeer mij het liefst met vrijheid’ (Obligation to carry identification papers – I rather identify myself with freedom). A statement we should think about twice as the library security asks us to identify ourselves once again.

To sign the petition, go to:

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