Policy on the Confidentiality of Library Records

Recognizing that intellectual growth and learning thrive best in an atmosphere conducive to the free flow of ideas, that a major source of exposure to new ideas is through library resources, and that open access to libraries includes protection against unwarranted intrusion into personal privacy.

And in Consideration of:

  1. The Council of the American Library Association’s strong recommendation that the responsible officers of each library formally adopt a policy with regards to confidentiality of library patron records.
  2. ALA Policy Manual 54.16—Code of Ethics, which states "Librarians must protect each user’s right to privacy with respect to information sought or received, and to materials consulted, borrowed, or acquired."
  3. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, which prevent schools from distributing students’ educational records to third parties with out a student’s consent.

And in the Spirit of:

  1. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution which provides for freedom of speech
  2. Luise V. Hanson Library recognizes that:
    • All records identifying the names of library patrons and ID numbers are confidential in nature,
    • The confidentiality of patron records requires that such records should be consulted by library employees only for legitimate purposes such as locating or recalling library materials, processing overdue notices and fines, adding or deleting names form special user lists, and making collection development decisions, and
    • Such records are not to be revealed to anyone other than the patron in question without either the express written permission of the patron in question or adherence to proper legal and College procedures regarding required access to such information,
    • Library staff are encouraged not to keep records with personally identifiable information, unless that information is necessary, and to destroy such records as soon as possible.
    • To support the above stated policies, the Waldorf College System has formally adopted a policy on confidentiality of library records.

Confidentiality of Library Records

Luise V. Hanson Library follows the American Library Association Code of Ethics adopted January 20, 1971; revised July 4, 1975, July 2, 1986; regarding the confidentiality of records.

  1. Luise V. Hanson Library recognizes circulation records and other records identifying the names of library users to be confidential in nature.*
  2. Luise V. Hanson Library advises all library employees that such records shall not be available to any agency of state, federal, or local government except pursuant to such process, order, or subpoena as may be authorized under authority of, and pursuant to, federal, state, or local law relating to civil, criminal, or administrative discovery procedures or legislative investigative power.
  3. Luise V. Hanson Library will resist the issuance or enforcement of such process, order, or subpoena until such time as a proper showing of good cause has been made in a court of competent jurisdiction.**

* ALA CODE OF ETHICS 54.16 "Libraries must protect each user’s right to privacy with respect to information sought or received, and materials consulted, borrowed, or acquired."

** Upon receipt of such process, order or subpoena, the library administrators will consult with their legal counsel to determine if such process, order or subpoena is in proper form and if there is a showing of good cause for its issuance; if the process , order or subpoena is not in proper form or if good cause has not been shown, then such defects shall be cured.

Patron's Right of Privacy - April, 1992

The foremost relationship the library must foster is that between the library and the patron. The patron is the reason for our being and we must continually be responsive to her/his needs.

This relationship is similar to that of a lawyer and client or a doctor and patient. Thus the feeling of trust and privacy must be maintained between the library and the patron.

WHEREAS Waldorf Library and the Library Committee appreciates the difficulty experienced by many law enforcement agencies in the pursuit of justice; and WHEREAS, the Library and the Library Committee recognizes and approves the goal of bringing criminals to justice but not at the sacrifice of basic personal liberties enjoyed by all the population; and, WHEREAS the library director believes that the releasing of any information concerning a patron would amount to an invasion of privacy which would result in a direct betrayal of trust between the library and its reading public and that a subpoena from an appropriate court should be required from any individual or organization wishing to examine said records; and, WHEREAS, the said Library and Library Committee endorses this position,

Now Therefore Be It Resolved as Follows:

  1. That once a book is placed in the library, the reading and examination of said book becomes a private matter with each individual and is not subject to review by this Library, Library Committee or any other body;
  2. That this Library’s duty to protect the basic rights of readers takes priority over all requests of the above nature;
  3. That the intent of this resolution is to clarify the library’s position, to reassure library users that no information of this nature has been revealed to date, and that the above policy will apply to all cases in future;
  4. The right to privacy also includes the information contained in city directories. City directories are available in each branch for use by the public, but no information from a city directory may be given over the phone by any Library staff member.

Implementation of Confidentiality of Library Records Policy

  1. The library staff member receiving the request to examine or obtain information relating to circulation or other records identifying the names of the library users, will immediately refer the person making the request to the library director, who shall explain the confidentiality policy.
  2. The director, upon receipt of such process, order, or subpoena, shall consult with the appropriate legal officer assigned to the institution to determine if such process, order, or subpoena is in good form and if there is a showing of good cause for its issuance.
  3. If the process, order, or subpoena is not in proper form or if good cause has not been shown, insistence shall be made that such defects be cured before any records are released. (The legal process requiring the production of circulation or other library records shall ordinarily be in the form of subpoena duces tecum [bring your records] requiring the library director to attend court or the taking of his/her deposition and may require him/her to bring along certain designated circulation or other specified records.)
  4. Any threats or unauthorized demands (i.e., those not supported by a process, order, or subpoena) concerning circulation and other records identifying the names of library users shall be reported to the appropriate legal officer of the institution.
  5. Any problems relating to the privacy of circulation and other records identifying the names of the library users which are not provided for above shall be referred to the library director.

Confidentiality and Copying with Law Enforcement Inquiries - May, 1989 ALA

Guidelines for the Library Administrator

Visits to libraries by law enforcement agents, including FBI, state, county, and municipal police, have reached a high level of public awareness and concern, particularly as a result of revelations about the FBI Library Awareness Program. Prompted by inquiries about how to respond to visits by law enforcement officials, the ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee developed the following guidelines. These guidelines should be used with ALA’s Policy on Confidentiality of Library Records and Statements on Professional Ethics to assist libraries and library employees in dealing with law enforcement inquiries.

Fundamental Principles

* Librarian’s professional ethics require that personally identifiable information about library users be kept confidential. This principal is reflected in Article III of the Code of Ethics which ALA adopted in 1981. Article III states: “Librarians must protest each user’s right to privacy with respect to information sought or received, and materials consulted, borrowed or acquired.” This includes borrower registration information.

All state library associations have adopted the "Statement on Professional Ethics," which includes the Code of Ethics.

Moreover, as of August 1, 1989, such library records are protected by state law in 41 states and the District of Columbia, and by attorneys-general opinions in two additional states.

Confidential records should not be made available to any agency of state, federal or local government or any other person (outside the minimum necessary access by library staff), unless a court order requiring disclosure has been entered by a court of competent jurisdiction, after a showing of good cause by the person or agency requesting the records.

General Guidelines

Confidentiality of library records is a basic principle of librarianship. As a matter of policy or procedure, the library administrator should insure that:

The library staff and governing board are familiar with the ALA Policy on Confidentiality.

The library staff and governing board are familiar with the state’s library confidentiality statute (or attorney general’s opinion) if one exists.

The library adopts a policy on confidentiality.

The library consults legal counsel to make counsel aware of these guidelines.

The staff is familiar with the "specific guidelines "which follow.

Specific Guidelines

Library Procedures Affect Confidentiality

Law enforcement visits aside, be aware that library operating procedures have an impact on confidentiality. The following are recommendations to bring library procedures into compliance with ALA’s Statement on Professional Ethics and Policy on Confidentiality, and internal library confidentiality policies. Confidentiality statutes vary from state to state, but these suggestions may also assist in compliance with the requirements of such statues: For example, Avoid unnecessary records. Think twice before committing a name to a written record.

Check with your local governing body to see if the city, county, school board, or other agencies set a time limit on record keeping, then determine what it should be for the library, and destroy records as soon as possible.

If your library uses names on borrower cards, consider using numbers or blacking out the names.

Be aware of information in public view owing to library procedure; e.g., overdue notices or filled-request notices mailed on postcards, names of patrons with overdue fines posted by the circulation desk, or titles of interlibrary loan or reserve request provided over telephone to family members.

Law Enforcement Visits

Recommended steps to take when law enforcement agents visit:

If a library staff person is approached by a law enforcement agent requesting information on a library user, he/she should immediately ask for identification and refer the agent to the library administrator or responsible officer of the institution.

The library administrator should explain the library’s policy or, if lacking an internal one, ALA’s confidentiality policy, and the state confidentiality law where applicable. Most important, the library administrator should state that personally identifiable information about library users is not available under any circumstances, except when a proper court order has been presented.

In response to appeals to patriotism (e.g., "a good American wants to help us"), explain that as patriotic, good citizens, library administrators and library staff value First Amendment freedoms and the corresponding privacy rights of library users.

Compliance with FBI requests made without a warrant or court order is strictly voluntary. The library administrator must stress to agents that maintaining professional ethics and complying with state law are principles which are not “voluntarily” surrendered.

It is illegal to lie to a federal law enforcement officer. Without a court order, however, the FBI has no independent authority to compel cooperation with an investigation or to require answers to questions (other than name and address of the person to whom the agent is speaking). The best thing to say to an agent who has asked for confidential information is, "I’m sorry, but my professional ethics (and state law where applicable) prohibit me from responding to your request."

Notify the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (312-944-6780 or 1-800-545-2433) 50 East Huron Street Chicago, IL 60611.

Procedure

The library administrator should:

Meet with the law enforcement agent and a library colleague in the library.

Be cordial, and explain that libraries support the work of law enforcement agencies and their ethical standards are not intended to be obstructionist; rather affirm the importance of confidentiality of personally identifiable information in the context of First Amendment rights. Should an agent be persistent, state again that information is disclosed only subject to a proper court order, and that the library’s governing body firmly supports this policy, and terminate the interview.

Report any threats or coercion to legal counsel. Repeated visits by law enforcement agents who have been informed that records will be released only upon receipt of a proper court order may constitute harassment or other grounds for legal action. Seek advice of legal counsel on whether relief from such action should be requested from the appropriate court.

Immediately refer any subpoena received to the appropriate legal officer for review. If there is any defect in the subpoena, including its form, the manner in which it was served upon the library, the breadth of its request for documents, or insufficient evidence that a showing of good cause has been made to a court, legal counsel will advise on the proper manner to resist the subpoena.

Repeat the entire process, should the party requesting the information be required to submit a new subpoena.

Through legal counsel, insist that any defects in the subpoena be cured before records are released. Insist that the subpoena be limited strictly to required release of only specifically identified records or documents.

Together with the library’s legal counsel, review any information which may be produced in response to such a subpoena prior to the release of the information. Construe the subpoena strictly and exclude any information which is arguably not covered by a proper subpoena.

Ask the court, if disclosure is required, for an order that any information may be kept confidential and that it may be used only for the limited purpose of the case at hand. Ask that access to it be restricted to the agents working on the case. Sometimes these terms may be agreed to informally by the party seeking the information, but even if such an agreement is reached, ALA strongly recommends that this agreement be entered as a formal order. Anyone breaking the terms of the protective order might be subject to sanction for contempt of court.

Keep in mind that a polite but firm response is the best way to deflect attempts at persuasion, coercion, or misguided appeals patriotism. When a law enforcement officer realizes that he/she simply will not succeed by such methods, most likely he/she will abandon the effort and take the appropriate course of action by proving to the proper court that he/she has good cause to receive access to such confidential information.

Be prepared to communicate with local news media. Develop a public information statement which may be distributed to interested members of the public and law enforcement officers detailing the principles behind confidentiality. Such a statement should include an explanation of the chilling effect on First Amendment rights which public access to personally identifiable information about what library patrons use would cause. Emphasize that the First Amendment protections of free speech and a free press guarantee the corresponding freedom to read what is written, hear what is spoken, and view other forms of expression. The protection of privacy preserves these rights. An individual’s reading habits cannot be equated with his or her character or beliefs. The First Amendment does not apply only to pre-approved or popular beliefs. The First Amendment guarantees the right to hold and espouse unpopular beliefs and ideas. The First Amendment protects dissent. The First Amendment protects against the imposition of a state or community-approved orthodoxy as well as an enforced conformity of expression and belief. The First Amendment protects all Americans’ rights to read and view information and decide for themselves their points of view and opinion.

The freedom to read and to consider all types of information without fear of government or community reprisal or ostracism is crucial to the preservation of a free democratic society. The freedom to read fosters and encourages responsible citizenship and open debate in the market place of ideas.

The library is a central resource where information and differing points of view are available. Library users must be free to use the library, its resources and services without government interference.

Endnotes

  1. Usually, a motion for a protective order, or to suppress or quash the subpoena, is the vehicle used to resist. A showing of good cause is normally made in a hearing on such a motion, and the court hearing such a motion will decide whether good cause exists for the subpoena or if it is defective, and will then comply. Be aware that some states require the unsuccessful party on a motion for a protective order or to quash a subpoena to pay the costs for responding to and hearing such a motion. Check with legal counsel on this issue as well.
  2. Legal counsel should draft the particular protective language, and the library administrator should review it to be sure it adequately protects the information to be produced.

Examples of Requests

For Library Information that is Confidential

  1. A request for the circulation records of a faculty member, student, staff member, or other library card holder by someone else.
  2. A request by a faculty member for the identity of students who borrow reserve items.
  3. A request for the name of the person who has signed out a particular item.
  4. A request for addresses, phone numbers, I.D. numbers or other personal information contained in the computer record.
  5. A request to review the circulation records of a student who is suspected of plagiarism.
  6. A request to see the interlibrary loan borrowing records.
  7. A request to reveal the nature of a patron’s reference request or database search.
  8. A request for the names of persons who have used audio visual materials.
  9. A request for a list of items photocopied for or tele-faxed to a particular patron.
  10. A request to see a list of individuals who are not members of the college community but who have been given permission to use the library.
  11. A request for a list of suggested acquisitions submitted by a particular patron.
  12. A request by a parent for information such as fines or other charges by the library to student’s account without the student’s permission.
  13. A request from law enforcement authorities for the identity of anyone conducting research on a particular subject.