Patron Privacy for Library Trustees

Nov 1, 2019

The Trustee Corner from the Colorado Virtual Library is a monthly series featuring information of interest to public library boards. This information from their September 2019 issue was written by Crystal Schimpf, Public Library Specialist, Leadership & Community Development at Colorado State Library.

The theme of this month’s Trustee Corner is patron privacy in libraries. Patron privacy is a core value of library service, and is an essential component of intellectual freedom, protecting our first amendment rights to access information. Issues of confidentiality and protecting library patron data continue to arise as personal information is increasingly collected, stored, and shared online. Library policies related to privacy and data collection help protect the privacy of patrons by providing guidance and direction for library operations. Trustees play a critical role in helping the library to adopt and develop policies related to patron privacy and confidentiality. The information in this month’s newsletter may help inform the work of the library board in developing, adopting, reviewing, and revising patron privacy policies for the library.

Library Bill of Rights

American Library Association LogoThe American Library Association (ALA) adopted the Library Bill of Rights in 1939. This document serves as an affirmation of library values, stating that “libraries are forums for information and ideas, and that the following basic policies should guide their services.” The document goes on to list seven articles that outline the foundations of library service, including statements on the provision of books and materials, access to information, use of library spaces, and freedom of speech.

The final article is related to patron privacy, and is a recent addition to the Library Bill of Rights, adopted by the ALA Council on January 29, 2019. Some public libraries have chosen to formally adopt the Library Bill of Rights as part of their library policies. For boards who have previously adopted this document, it may be necessary to make a motion or resolution to adopt the current version.

In addition to the Bill of Rights, ALA provides a series of Interpretations of the Library Bill of Rights. One of these interpretations specifically addresses Privacy, while others address topics including Challenged ResourcesEquity, Diversity and Inclusion, and Meeting Rooms. These interpretations can be helpful resources when developing, reviewing, and updating library policies.

Privacy Policy Review

For libraries that need to develop a new policy, or review and revise an existing policy, there are several resources available to guide you through the process. The ALA provides guidelines for Developing or Revising a Privacy Policy as part of their Privacy Toolkit. The Choose Privacy Everyday website includes some Sample Policies & Documents from major metropolitan libraries in the United States. The Colorado State Library includes examples for privacy and confidentiality on their Public Library Sample Policies page. For general guidance on policy development, review these free online training materials from the Mid-Hudson (NY) Public Library System.

Public library boards should work with their library director on review and drafting of new or revised policy to ensure that the policy aligns with library operations and values. In county, municipal, or joint libraries, the library board may also need to work with the governing authority. In the case of public libraries that also serve K-12 schools, there may be additional laws and regulations related to parental access to school records of minors. It is important to remember that the library director is responsible for implementing the policy from an operational and procedural perspective.

Wyoming Law

Wyoming’s public records statutes include provisions for patron privacy. W.S. 16-4-201(d)(ix) protects from inspection, “Library patron transaction and registration records except as required for administration of the library or except as requested by a custodial parent or guardian to inspect the records of his minor child.” This information is included in Wyoming Library Laws, an annual ready reference produced by the Wyoming State Library. Please note that the custodian of records in the WYLD system is the Wyoming State Librarian, currently Jamie Markus. Contact him at (307) 777-5914 or with any questions.

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