VLA Members Craft ALA Resolution to Enhance Reader Privacy Protections

VLA members Trina Magi,  UVM Bailey Howe Library,  Gail Weymouth, Director of  Killington’s  Sherburne Memorial Library and Nancy Wilson, Director of Bristol’s Lawrence Memorial Library played  major roles in the creation  and adoption of  an ALA Resolution to better protect reader privacy.

  The Intellectual Freedom Committee and the IFC Privacy Subcommittee developed the “Resolution to Protect Library User Confidentiality in Self-Service Hold Practices” after receiving requests from librarians and library users to examine the issue of reader privacy and self-service holds.  Prior to last month’s ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans, the Office for Intellectual Freedom distributed the resolution for comment, and an open hearing was held during Conference for comments.  That process led to a revision of the resolution and what the IFC believes to be an improved version.

The final resolution as presented by the Intellectual Freedom Committee was adopted by the ALA Council on June 28.

Resolution to Protect Library User Confidentiality in Self-Service Hold Practices

WHEREAS, the ALA Code of Ethics states, “We protect each library user’s right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted”; and

WHEREAS, the American Library Association affirms that rights of privacy are necessary for intellectual freedom and are fundamental to the ethics and practice of librarianship (ALA Policy Manual, 53.1.16, Privacy: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights); and

WHEREAS, the lack of privacy and confidentiality has a chilling effect on users’ choices (ALA Policy Manual, 53.1.16, Privacy: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights); and

WHEREAS, the American Library Association strongly recommends the adoption of policies recognizing circulation records and other records identifying the names of library users to be confidential (ALA Policy Manual, 52.4, Confidentiality of Library Records); and

WHEREAS, confidentiality extends to (but is not limited to) database search records, reference interviews, circulation records, interlibrary loan records and all other records of personally identifiable uses of library materials, facilities, or services that associate the names of library users with specific materials (ALA Policy Manual, 52.4.2, Confidentiality of Personally Identifiable Information About Library Users); and

WHEREAS, the confidentiality of library records is protected by law or by attorney general opinion in all fifty states and in the District of Columbia; and

WHEREAS, U.S. courts have upheld the right to privacy based on the Bill of Rights of the US Constitution; 1 and

WHEREAS, U.S. courts protect privacy when there is a reasonable expectation of privacy; and

WHEREAS, U.S. courts have ruled that when an individual’s personal data is shared with a third party or the public, the individual no longer has an expectation of privacy in that data; and

WHEREAS, keeping a library user’s personally identifiable information and circulation record absolutely confidential is essential for preserving the library user’s expectation of privacy in his or her reading history; and

WHEREAS, many libraries across the country are instituting self-service hold systems that fail to adequately protect library users’ confidentiality because the self-service hold systems reveal personally identifiable information linking specific users to specific items; and

WHEREAS, some methods of truncating user names or other personally identifiable information do not adequately protect library users’ privacy, nor preserve the legal expectation of privacy, and may violate a state’s library confidentiality law; and

WHEREAS, there are effective solutions that conceal a library user’s identity while permitting the library to continue its use of open-shelf, self-service holds, such as the use of pseudonyms, codes, numbers, or other means that mask personally identifiable information; and the use of methods that obscure the identity of library user requests and the items requested through the practice of packaging the items inside an envelope or a reusable bag to hold the item, or wrapping them in a full sheet of paper, or an equivalent option. Now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, that the American Library Association

  1. Urges all libraries that implement self-service holds to protect patron identity by adopting practices and procedures that conceal the library user’s personally identifiable information in connection with the materials being borrowed;
  2. Urges libraries, librarians, and the responsible bodies of ALA to work with vendors to incorporate applications into integrated library systems that enable libraries to conceal a library user’s identity in a cost-effective manner.

1.US Constitution, 4th, 5th, and 9th Amendments and case law, including NAACP v. Alabama, 357 U.S. 449 (1958); Griswold v. Connecticut 381 U.S. 479 (1965); Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967); and Stanley v. Georgia, 394 U.S. 557 (1969)