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What is a First Amendment Audit?

  • When individuals or groups (“auditors”) film on government property to test their rights to film or enter a public space.  
  • Confrontational audits, or ones where government employees interfere with filming, are often posted online (mainly YouTube and TikTok).
  • The goal of an audit is to create an interaction that is worthy of going viral.

What does a First Amendment Audit look like?

  • You will likely know if there’s an auditor in the library because a recording device will be prominently displayed and noticeable.
  • Auditors usually act in one of two ways:
    • Boisterous: in your face, vocal, or obnoxious.
    • Non-responsive: silent and staring.

What to do ahead of time:

  • Become educated on the topic.
  • Review your library’s filming policy. If your library doesn’t have a policy, now is the time to draft one. Examples: 
  • Milwaukee Public Library: Photography and Video Requests
  • Kaukauna Public Library: Photography and Film Policy
  • Irvin L Young Memorial Library: Photography, Filming and Videography
  • Identify and label nonpublic forums (staff areas) in library spaces. 
    • Examples include workspaces, staff lounge, hallways, and garages.
  • Preserve security. 
    • Only allow staff into “staff only” areas. Enforce these areas every day with all patrons.
    • If entrance through a door is restricted, then close it.
  • Know your library’s policies and be able to explain them. Auditors like to attempt to “trip” staff up in their explanations.

What to do when an audit occurs:

  • Stay calm!
    • Don’t allow yourself to be provoked.
  • Focus on good customer service.
    • “How can I help you?”
  • Treat the auditor like any other library user.
    • Be polite and patient.
    • Make the interaction mundane and boring with a business-as-usual approach.
  • Leave the auditor alone when recording unless patron privacy is compromised. 
    • A patron’s privacy is breached if an auditor videotapes materials that a patron is using or recording in the restrooms. 
  • Comply with library policies.
  • Help your co-worker, if possible, with your presence and support.

What not to do:

  • Overreact. This gives the auditor great video footage.
  • Share your personal information.
    • It’s OK to keep your private information private. (“I’m sorry, I don’t answer personal questions at work. Thank you for understanding!”)
  • Debate the First Amendment or someone’s “right” to record others.
    • This conversation is exactly what the auditor seeks and will likely provide great video footage.
    • There’s no need to share your view of the First Amendment. (“I’m sorry, I don’t discuss personal opinions at work. Thank you for understanding!”)
  • Attempt to take the recording device.
  • Follow or intimidate the auditor.

For More Information:


Contact Kristie Hauer for further guidance and support at khauer@wvls.org