Introducing the Library Privacy Field Guides!

Privacy, Professional Development, Professional Ethics

The American Library Association and the Institute for Museum & Library Services have collaborated on a long awaited project called the Privacy Field Guides. The concept of privacy is nothing new to information science, however its importance has steadily increased over the years as much of our society has migrated online. Our library users are trusting us with a lot of their personal, private information from mortgages to schoolwork to taxes. 

Privacy can seem daunting since so much of it is digital and therefore seen as incredibly complex. Many folks in our field are technologically proficient but there are just as many that are not as techy or do not have the funding to do so. Accessible privacy was one of the main goals of this project. Maybe we cannot all be the New York or Los Angeles Public Library but we can definitely do something to protect and advocate for our library users’ privacy. And of course, that being said, these guides were developed for all types of libraries, big and small; rural and urban.

After securing the IMLS grant, Erin Berman and Bonnie Tijerina partnered up to write these guides for all members of our profession. Berman and Tijerina gathered input from American library stakeholders in the form of surveys, training sessions, workshops, and focus groups. They ended up focusing on seven different aspects of library privacy. Each guide includes an introduction to the topic and several exercises for library workers to implement change within their library. All of these exercises have all been tested in the real-world too.

Digital Security Basics - Privacy Field Guide Cover

Each topic has its own 9-13 page guide and are totally free to access online, right here. Or here, down below! 

  • Digital Security Basics:  Learn basic digital security concepts and where to go for more help.
  • How To Talk About Privacy: Communicate about privacy by understanding the people you are trying to reach.
  • Non-Tech Privacy: Navigate areas in your physical library space to help protect users’ privacy.
  • Data Lifecycles: See how user data travels through the library and what you can do to protect it.
  • Privacy Audits: Build an audit framework, perform an audit, and tell the audit story.
  • Privacy Policies: Read, understand, and write privacy policies.
  • Vendors and Privacy: Key strategies to employ while protecting user privacy when engaging vendors.
Non Tech Privacy - Privacy Field Guide Cover

If you are not as much of a PDF person, there are multiple ways to access the Privacy Field Guides. They have also developed an interactive website version of the guides, which may be found here. I encourage you to check them out! They are great resources to help us help library users and also to help ourselves. Privacy issues come up on a daily basis at my library, so I’m sure your library is similar. 

To hit the issue home, a very real issue of library user privacy came up literally while I was writing this blog. It is 20 minutes to closing at my public library on an unusually snowy March night in the Chicagoland area. A Circulation staff member approaches me as the “Person in Charge” for the night with a situation. The Evanston Police are on the phone with a man who has memory loss – Alzheimer’s or otherwise – and I kid you not, the only thing he had on him was his library card to my library, a good 40 miles away from Evanston. Could we take the card number and give the Evanston Police this man’s address and contact information? 

I take this in as I’m writing about privacy in libraries. This is most definitely a situation posed to library school students. It is not legal for us to simply divulge our library user’s private information even if it is to the police. As for me, I called the Library Director who talked the staff through what to do over the phone. The police were also doing their jobs and were able to get a first name from the man. It corresponded to the library card and after some back and forth, the police got a last name. With help from us about how to spell the last name (without divulging anymore of this guy’s info), the police were then able to pull up a record on their end. And that was that with 5 minutes until the library closed.

Ultimate Privacy Field guide by Erin Berman

I’m sure we all have stories like that, so don’t get caught unaware! Checkout the American Library Association’s official Privacy Field Guides today (and coming soon, the Ultimate Privacy Field Guide)…or at least for your next all staff training. 

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