Choose Privacy Week 2014: Privacy All Year Long with the New ALA Privacy Tool Kit

Choose Privacy Week, Intellectual Freedom Committee, Privacy

By Helen Adams and Ann Crewdson
Co-Chairs, ALA-IFC Privacy Subcommittee

After a two year effort, the 2014 ALA Privacy Tool Kit is now available online in time to celebrate Choose Privacy Week. The Tool Kit gives librarians immediate any time/anywhere access to information on our core values of privacy and confidentiality. The revision was completed by the ALA Privacy Subcommittee, consisting of Carolyn Caywood, Barbara Fiehl, Kent Oliver, Dee Venuto and co-chairs Ann Crewdson and Helen Adams. Assisting in the effort were volunteers Bradley Compton, Robert Hubsher, Eldon Ray James, Candace Morgan, and Michael Zimmer.

The first Privacy Tool Kit was created by the American Library Association in 2005 in an effort led by past ALA President Nancy Kranich. Many changes have occurred in the intervening years, most notably the explosion of technology and social media use which has impacted the privacy of users in all types of libraries. Consequently, in 2011 the ALA Privacy Subcommittee, representatives from civil liberties groups, and privacy experts met in Chicago to look at emerging technologies and their potential threat to privacy. One fact became clear: when using next generation technologies, people’s choice of convenience was trumping privacy; yet users did not know or understand the full implications. The group brainstormed various scenarios and projections for the future, and the result is a new Emerging Technologies section in the Privacy Tool Kit. It does not comprehensively list all the available emerging technologies but rather describes those technologies which are most relevant to public, school, academic and special libraries.

What’s new about the 2014 Privacy Tool Kit? The revised Tool Kit has:

  • more concise, easier to locate information for quick reference;
  • increased visibility of information about library privacy for children and young adults including updated sections on the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA);
  • a substantial section on the impact of emerging technologies on library users’ privacy;
  • the Association of Specialized & Cooperative Library Agencies (ASCLA) Board’s statement affirming the privacy rights for all persons regardless of physical, psychological, intellectual, social, or political condition;
  • updated privacy policies for public and academic libraries; and
  • new and updated links to privacy resources.

Still to come is a separate document detailing the history of privacy and confidentiality in all types of libraries.

The Privacy Tool Kit joins other ALA privacy resources for librarians including:

These privacy tools should be of assistance in advocacy and programming not just during Choose Privacy Week but all year long.

In Michael Zimmer’s article “Librarians’ Attitudes Regarding Information and Internet Privacy,” published in the Library Quarterly, Vol. 84: 2014, we learn that concern about government and business data collection practices has “dampened” over time among library workers. And only thirteen percent of the respondents have “hosted or organized information sessions, lectures or other public events related to privacy and surveillance in the past five years.” As domestic drones spread their wings, delivering goods and virtual assistants that track every move a user makes and the potential for further erosion of personal privacy accelerates, we are amused and mesmerized by the possibilities of drones picking up our overdue books. If virtual assistants assess your comfort, gather books of your favorite reading genres and dim the lights, flip them on again, exercise free will and make your own choices. “The future is now”–however it does not have to be dystopian if we remain proactive and vigilant. Privacy is still our legal and natural right.

Helen Adams is a former school librarian in Wisconsin and currently an online instructor for the School Library and Information Technologies program at Mansfield University in Pennsylvania, and a trustee for the Freedom to Read Foundation; Ann Crewdson is a Children’s Specialist at the Issaquah Library, King County Library System, Washington, Chair of the Intellectual Freedom Interest Group for the Washington Library Association, and a member of the ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee.


  • Why no mention of the 21st century wholesale E-book reading invasions of privacy for library patrons, which is not even referred to in either of the ALA 2015 intellectual freedom manuals?

    E-book publisher contracts with US libraries have made US library patron privacy expendable.

    Some states, such as California (2012) have enacted reading privacy legislation, but that doesn’t get a mention, either, in the above two books.

    It is essential that ALA explains this bizarre omission, and the sooner, the better. The publishers’ invasions of library reading privacy are Orwellian, unfortunately. It is especially tragic that the reading privacy of our children and teenagers has been sacrificed.

  • In fact, the 9th edition of the Intellectual Freedom manual addresses privacy issues raised by libraries’ use of third-party vendors, like e-book providers, in its materials and checklists concerning privacy and confidentiality. In particular, please see page 197, which includes a discussion of the issue of vendor-provided library services and the methods libraries can use to insure that vendors comply with the library’s privacy policies.

    Unfortunately, the new Library Privacy Guidelines for E-book Lending and Digital Content Vendors, online at, were completed after the submission of the IF Manual manuscript to the printers. It will be included in future editions of the IF Manual.

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