Library staff has an obligation to protect the privacy of patrons and keep their informational needs confidential. Frequently, it is necessary to consult with other staff members when conducting circulation and reference transactions. However, in these discussions, staff members should respect their patrons' privacy by keeping the consultations confidential and revealing only as much information to their colleagues as is needed to respond to the patron's request. In addition, library staff has a professional obligation not to discuss specific library users with friends or colleagues in or out of the workplace.
In addition to protecting circulation records, don't forget interlibrary loan. Patrons' names and other personally identifiable information usually appear on interlibrary loan forms that go to the lending library. Make sure that the minimum amount of information necessary for record keeping is included on the forms.
Patrons have a right to find and use information without having it observed by others - either staff or other patrons. This is often an issue for public computers. Evaluate the physical setup of your library. Are your public computer workstations positioned to give the maximum amount of privacy possible? You may want to consider using privacy screens on the monitors if computer privacy is not possible otherwise. Also, remember that for staff to routinely monitor patron use of library materials and resources is inappropriate unless it is done for the purpose of protecting library property.
Another privacy issue, again often related to computers, is the issue of persons - either staff or patrons - who are offended by what someone is viewing. Information does not have to be illegal to be offensive to others. However, when lawsuits result, the courts have generally ruled in favor of the right of the person using the material - unless it was impossible for the offended person to avoid seeing the information. This is an added reason to provide as much privacy as possible for library users.
Privacy and confidentiality rights do not extend to illegal activities. If library staff members observe illegal behavior, it should be reported immediately to the appropriate law enforcement agency. Your library should have written procedures for responding to criminal behavior, as well as for behavior that violates library policies. Your policy for conduct in the library and your policy for Internet use should contain statements that illegal acts will not be permitted; for example, "Any activity or conduct that is in violation of federal, state, or local laws is strictly prohibited on library premises." You may also wish to include in your policy the definition of obscene material that is in the Idaho Code Title 18-4101.
Privacy and confidentiality for children is a different matter. There is a difference in the roles of public and school libraries with respect to privacy and confidentiality for children. In the public library, parents should be held responsible for their children's use of the library and should be notified about the privacy and confidentiality policies of your library as a standard procedure when issuing library cards to children. School libraries may assume more of a parental role for the students, though this varies from school district to school district.
In addition to federal laws, many states have privacy and confidentiality laws specifically directed at protecting children. When creating or revising your library's privacy and confidentiality policies, check with your library's attorney (this may be the attorney for your city, county, or school district) to find out if any state and local laws, in addition to federal laws, apply.
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