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Patron Privacy & Confidentiality
Article Number: 618 | Rating: Unrated | Last Updated: Thu, Nov 19, 2015 at 12:15 PM
Patron Privacy & Confidentiality
In our last Info & Action paper entitled Patron Privacy and New Jersey Public Libraries, we provided trustees with historical background that influenced the creation of the New Jersey statute (N.J.S.A. 18A:73-43.2) protecting the confidentiality of records created when library patrons utilize NJ libraries. Since the creation of this statute in 1985 American public libraries have evolved to become so much more than brick and mortar repositories of information. Our library patrons now have the ability to access technology and digital resources which make issues of privacy and confidentiality far more complex than they were in the past. In today's digital world we cannot guarantee the complete privacy of our library users but we can do our best to understand the impact that new technologies have on patron privacy and create policies and procedures appropriate for a 21st Century NJ public library.
Board Education Component:
Privacy vs. Confidentiality - When we discuss patron privacy we really are talking about two issues that go hand-in-hand – privacy and confidentiality. The distinction between the two is explained in the American Library Association (ALA) Policy concerning Confidentiality of Personally Identifiable Information about library users:
N.J.S.A. 18A:73-43.2 addresses the issue of confidentiality:
What is a Library Record? - In the past a patron's “library records” primarily consisted of registration and circulation information. Technology has advanced the scope of what may now be considered a patron's library record. See below the ALA statement outlining the personally identifiable information (PII) associated with an individual's use of library resources:
Sample Confidentiality Policy – New Jersey Library Association (NJLA) provides direction for creating a confidentiality policy based on the New Jersey statute.
BCCLS Website and Confidentiality – BCCLS library users have access to multiple vendors who have contracted with the cooperative to provide collections and services to card holders. It may be appropriate to consider additional verbiage to your current policy to highlight the central role BCCLS plays in protecting patron privacy and confidentiality. In addition, many libraries have contracted with third-party vendors for digital services and collections. Incorporating information about your vendor's privacy policies should also be considered to create as comprehensive a policy as possible for your library. A sample statement regarding BCCLS is provided by BCCLS Executive Director Marie Coughlin:
Privacy Policies and Illegal Activity – When discussing the role that libraries play in protecting patron privacy the question inevitably arises – “Are we also protecting criminals when they use our library's digital resources?” Because libraries offer open access to the internet the potential for criminal activity does exist. Libraries should consider it their responsibility to make “acceptable use” policies well known to the public. The ALA has a good webpage entitled ALA Questions & Answers on Privacy and Confidentiality. You may wish to utilize the association's recommended wording on a “splash page” (intro page) before your patrons access the internet services you provide. See below:
Surveillance Cameras & Public Libraries – Video surveillance systems have become increasingly common in all areas of public life. Cameras are now standard in schools, public buildings, parks and increasingly in public libraries. Surveillance systems may potentially pose a challenge to patron privacy and confidentiality in a library setting. The ALA provides some guidance in this area:
As always, consult with your library's attorney when drafting policies involving the public's use of your building and resources. It may be advisable to list your procedures along with the policies. The entire document can then be provided to local law enforcement and municipal officials alerting them to N.J.S.A. 18A:73-43.2 and the constraints this may place on the library when responding to law enforcement requests. Procedures can be found on the NJLA website at:
On the bottom of the main page of the BCCLS website is a link About BCCLS – Policies and Legal Notices. The page contains extensive information on third party vendors, network privacy, email and other issues that affect the (PII) of BCCLS patrons. There is also an excellent presentation by Eileen Palmer, Executive Director, Libraries of Middlesex Automation Consortium entitled “Maintaining Confidentiality – It's Everyone's Business” which can be found at http://www.slideshare.net/empalmer/maintaining-confidentiality-34490488
Hopefully the information provided in this paper helps your trustees understand the responsibilities and challenges libraries face in maintaining patron privacy and confidentiality.
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