Article III of the 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.
Privacy and confidentiality are important issues in the library
profession. The underlying principle behind protecting patron privacy and
confidentiality is tied to the commitment to intellectual freedom. The
American Library Association's web page on privacy states:
"What people read,
research or access remains a fundamental matter of privacy. One should be
able to access all constitutionally protected information and at the same time
feel secure that what one reads, researches or finds through our Nation's
libraries is no one's business but their own.
There are many privacy bills that have been introduced into recent Congresses relating to business, health, student and other records. The expansion of e-government, e-commerce, and other forms of electronic transactions, including library services, raises serious questions for the library community in protecting individual privacy, especially the privacy and confidentiality of library patron records."
While privacy and confidentiality go hand-in-hand, there are some differences in their meanings. The ALA, in its Questions and Answers on Privacy and Confidentiality states:
"In a library, the right to privacy is the right to open inquiry without having the subject of one's interest examined or scrutinized by others. Confidentiality exists when a library is in possession of personally identifiable information about users and keeps that information private on their behalf. Confidentiality is a library's responsibility."
(Quoted statements reproduced with permission of the American Library Association from the ALA web site, in "Issues and Advocacy," under the link to "Privacy.")
What is meant by "personally identifiable information?" It is information that not only identifies a particular individual but can also tell you something about that person; for example, what books he or she checks out. In libraries there are many forms of personally identifiable information that are used daily, such as circulation records, computer sign-up sheets, overdue and reserve notices.
The best way a library can protect the privacy and confidentiality rights of its patrons is to limit the amount of personally identifiable information it collects. There are three practices a library can adopt that will reduce the risk of having patrons' personal information disclosed:
Evaluate the information collected about individuals, and limit it to only what is absolutely necessary.
Know the legal requirements for keeping this information, and destroy it as soon as possible.
All staff should be aware of their privacy and confidentiality responsibilities; only appropriate staff should have access to patrons' records.
Some specific issues relating to privacy and confidentiality in libraries will be discussed in the next section.
Click the arrow below to continue to the next page