At the Library, Privacy Rights Rule

July 18, 2019

Patron privacy is a core principle of ethical librarianship. To help crystallize what privacy means in the age of rapid information sharing, two librarians at Lavery Library created a workshop to help others “navigate the intricacies involved in protecting patrons from infringements.”

Kate Ross, Nancy Greco

Kate Ross, head of technical services and acquisitions librarian, and Nancy Greco, instruction and archives librarian, delivered their workshop, “Library Confidentiality: Your Privacy is Our Business,” during the American Library Association’s 2019 Annual Conference and Exhibition, held earlier this summer. Their presentation was the topic of an American Libraries blog.

Weaving historical context with today’s digital world, Ross and Greco explored how privacy rights have evolved over time and vary by state, how the American Library Association has instituted policies to protect users, and what processes and systems can help libraries keep private information confidential.

“Our privacy rights are a hodgepodge of federal and state laws that don’t cover much of what concerns us today, specifically data mining and data security,” Greco explained. “We are all rather vulnerable as most organizations don’t adhere to the strict privacy standards that libraries have adopted.”

To ensure standards of privacy are kept, librarians follow the ALA Code of Ethics, which states that a library user has a “right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted.”

And, while patrons may have no concerns about sharing their favorite book cover on Instagram or leaving a review on Goodreads, Ross said librarians care a great deal about not taking away the choice of privacy without knowledge or consent.

 “One reason why you should feel safe in asking us questions or using our resources is that you have the right to an expectation that the Library staff are ethically and legally obligated to keep that information confidential,” Ross said.

Greco agreed. “If you consult with a librarian, we would never share that information with anyone, and we would not make judgments based upon what you want to read or study or learn about,” she said.