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Cameras in Widener Anger Employees

By Jonelle M. Lonergan, Crimson Staff Writer

There are four copies of the futuristic novel "1984" on the shelves on Widener Library. And lately, some Widener employees feel as though Big Brother himself is over their shoulders.

Almost a month ago, surveillance cameras were installed in the light courts where construction is currently occurring.

And sitting under monitors in the staff room which show live feed from the cameras, library workers say they are not happy that construction workers are being constantly watched.

"It has a very Orwellian feel for us in the library," said Geoffrey Carens, a library assistant and one of the Widener employees' representatives to the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical workers (HUCTW). Library workers, who say they are kept largely separate from those on the construction site, show concern that contractors won't speak out against the cameras for fear of losing their jobs.

Surveillance cameras mounted on the roof of the building also beam a live feed to the staff room, which also displays a "bulletin board" of announcements about the status of the construction.

Library administrators say the cameras were installed so library employees would have a birds-eye view of what was happening to their building, not to keep tabs on workers.

"The challenge at the library is that all this work is going on inside the light courts, which are blocked off," said Beth S. Brainard, the communications and public information officer for the Harvard College Library.

Brainard said the cameras serve as a substitute for the windows, which normally allow those in the staff room to see out in the light court. Most of those windows have been boarded up for the construction.

"The monitors are up to let the employees know what is going on," Brainard said.

But many library workers said they are more disturbed by the presence of cameras on the construction site than they would be if they could not see the work in progress.

"As far as a legal issue, an employer can probably do this, but as an ethical and moral issue, who would want to work like this?" said Karen L. O'Brien, also a representative to HUCTW.

"It's a slap in the face. They're saying 'This is our way of keeping you informed,'" said library employee Jeffrey Booth.

O'Brien said some workers are also concerned that the surveillance system may create safety hazards.

"If I was walking on a scaffolding and there was a camera watching me, I'd definitely be nervous," she said.

"[The cameras] are a waste of money," Booth added. "There are much bigger issues at stake."

Both Carens and O'Brien left messages in a suggestion box in the staff room, asking if the cameras were appropriate. But both said the responses they got over an employee e-mail list were unsatisfactory.

"The only time we get any response is when we put pressure on them," Booth said. "They don't usually respond to requests."

Brainard said she had received no complaints from construction workers about the system.

"We made a special point of getting permission from each of the contractors," she said.

"As long as it's a live feed with no tape... they said it was fine," she added.

Brainard said safety and privacy issues have "all been discussed."

"It's the same thing as having a window," she said. "It's exactly the same thing."

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