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.
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.
* 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.
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,
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.
* 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For Library Information that is Confidential
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