Maintaining Confidentiality – It’s
Eileen M. Palmer
President, New Jersey Library Association
Libraries of Middlesex Automation Consortium
Privacy vs. Confidentiality
• These words are often used
interchangeably but mean different things
• Privacy is about people
– In a library, the right to privacy is the right to
open inquiry without being examined or
scrutinized by others.
– But libraries are public places. We can and do
try to protect the privacy of inquiry. But we
also have people and (sometimes) cameras.
We cannot protect against all observation.
Privacy vs. Confidentiality
• Confidentiality is about data
– Extension of privacy
– Identifiable data
– “Privacy” notices abound -- but they are really about
confidentiality (or lack of it). (ex. doctors, grocery stores, credit
card companies and, yes, libraries).
• The law says library users have the legal
protection of confidentiality regarding
identifiable data about how they use the library.
How Private Should Patrons Expect
the Library to be?
– Public building where people tend to expect to be
– Visitors may come and go with an expectation that
no record exists of their visit
• Do we have a responsibility to set
expectations for our users – both physical and
Elements of a Patron Disclosure Policy
• What you collect, why you collect it and how
long you retain it.
• What is protected by law. What rules the
library must follow for disclosure.
• When (and under what circumstances) you
will disclose data and to whom you will
• How data is protected and secured.
• 3rd party vendors.
• New Jersey Library Confidentiality Law
– Library records which contain the names or other personally
identifying details regarding the users of libraries are confidential and
shall not be disclosed except in the following circumstances:
• a. The records are necessary for the proper operation of the
• b. Disclosure is requested by the user; or
• c. Disclosure is required pursuant to a subpoena issued by a court
or court order.
• Delaware – exception to public records law
– Any records of a public library which contain the identity of a user and
the books, documents, films, recordings or other property of the
library which a patron has used.
(a) In general. -- Unless otherwise provided by law, a custodian shall deny
inspection of a public record, as provided in this section.
< … >
(e) Circulation records, or other item, collection, or grouping of information about
an individual. --
(1) Subject to the provisions of paragraph (2) of this subsection, a custodian shall
prohibit inspection, use, or disclosure of a circulation record of a public library or
other item, collection, or grouping of information about an individual that:
(i) is maintained by a library;
(ii) contains an individual's name or the identifying number, symbol, or other
identifying particular assigned to the individual; and
(iii) identifies the use a patron makes of that library's materials, services, or
(2) A custodian shall permit inspection, use, or disclosure of a circulation record
of a public library only in connection with the library's ordinary business and only
for the purposes for which the record was created.
• What’s a record?
• When can we disclose confidential information?
• Law enforcement
• What is our responsibility
• Get legal counsel
• Put policy in place
• Assure that procedures are in place and that
training is provided for staff
• BE CONSISTENT! Follow policy when/if the need
• Compliance with the law is about more than what
you do when the police knock at your door!
• How often in the last year have you discussed with
staff what it means to have access to confidential
Know what records you collect
• In-house use of materials
• Computer workstations
• Hold requests
• ILL requests
• Database logins
• Website use
How do you safeguard data?
• Protecting patron confidentiality is about more than
knowing what to do when the police come to the
• Do you treat confidential data as confidential?
– If you don’t no one else will
• Do you have an employee policy on handling
• Policies on backups, data handling and retention?
• What about 3rd party vendors?
What information do you keep and
how long do you keep it?
• Integrated Library System
– Log files
– Borrowing history
• PC Reservation System
• Calendaring / Program Registration System
• Paper records (Reference, holds, meeting rooms,
• Privacy Audit
3rd Party Vendors
• Patron data in the cloud?
• Vendors with access to patron data?
– SIP connections?
• Overdrive, Freading/Freegal, EventKeeper, etc.
with more to come.
• Amazon / Kindle
• Insert language protecting your patrons’
confidentiality as much as possible.
– Vendors willingness to include such language varies.
– Making this issue part of your negotiation may result
in contract language that is favorable.
• Have your own data handling/confidentiality
agreement that vendors must sign.
• Make your patrons aware of when they are
creating data with a third party vendor that you
do not control
Elements of a Data Confidentiality
• What data is to be covered
• Prohibition on unauthorized use or disclosure
• Adherence to industry standard safeguards
• Return or destruction of data
• Maintenance and/or security of data
• Reports of unauthorized disclosure or misuse of
• Subcontractors or agents
• Terms and Termination
What Happens When Someone
Asks for Library Records ?
• Is it a record?
• Is the record protected?
• Do you have a policy and procedures?
• Who is asking? Does one of the exceptions
– Staff from other libraries (ILL, Consortia)
– Law Enforcement
How Do You Handle:
• Access to children’s records
– Parental signature ?
• Picking up holds
• Providing a mailing list to the Friends
• Is my daughter at the library?
• Request from Board Member or Municipal
• My library destroys records, is that OK?
• What if I see someone break the law?
• Can I tell another staff member what his/her
child has out.
• What if I see someone do something illegal on
What Would You Do?
What Would Your Staff Do?
• Police have just arrested a juvenile in town. The only ID the
kid has is a library card. The police call and ask you to look up
who he is. Can you?
• A reporter stops by on a Saturday afternoon and wants to
interview someone who attended the library-sponsored
lecture on protecting civil liberties. You have a list of
attendees. Do you share?
• The mayor calls and wants the library to prepare a set of
mailing labels so he can send his newsletter to library users
(he was responsible for the new library after all!). Should
• ALA Privacy Resources
• NC State University Policy for Staff
• Privacy and Confidentiality Issues: A Guide for Libraries and Their
Lawyers, ALA 2009
• NJSL Library Laws