Proposed Resolution to Protect Library User Confidentiality in Self Serve Hold Practices

Intellectual Freedom Committee, Intellectual Freedom Issues, Privacy

The Intellectual Freedom Committee plans to ask ALA Council to approve the proposed “Resolution to Protect Library User Confidentiality in Self Serve Hold Practices” at the ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans.  The resolution, printed below, was developed by the IFC and the IFC’s Privacy Subcommittee after receiving requests from librarians and library users to examine the issue of reader privacy and self-serve holds.

Resolution to Protect Library User Confidentiality in Self-Service Hold Practices (REVISED DRAFT, 6/25/2011)

WHEREAS, the ALA Code of Ethics states, “We protect each library user’s right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted”; and

WHEREAS, the American Library Association affirms that rights of privacy are necessary for intellectual freedom and are fundamental to the ethics and practice of librarianship (ALA Policy  Manual, 53.1.16,  Privacy: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights); and

WHEREAS, the lack of privacy and confidentiality has a chilling effect on users’ choices (ALA Policy Manual, 53.1.16, Privacy: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights);

WHEREAS, the American Library Association strongly recommends the adoption of policies recognizing circulation records and other records identifying the names of library users to be confidential (ALA Policy Manual, 52.4, Confidentiality of Library Records) ; and

WHEREAS, confidentiality extends to (but is not limited to) database search records, reference interviews, circulation records, interlibrary loan records and all other records of personally identifiable uses of library materials, facilities, or services that associate the names of library users with specific materials (ALA Policy Manual, 52.4.2, Confidentiality of Personally Identifiable Information About Library Users); and

WHEREAS, the confidentiality of library records is protected by law or by attorney general opinion in all fifty states and in the District of Columbia; and

WHEREAS, U.S. courts have upheld the right to privacy based on the Bill of Rights of the US Constitution; 1 and

WHEREAS, U.S. courts protect privacy when there is a reasonable expectation of privacy; and

WHEREAS,  U.S. courts have ruled that when an individual’s personal data is shared with a third party or the public, the individual no longer has an expectation  of privacy in that data;  and

WHEREAS, keeping a library user’s personally identifiable information and circulation records absolutely confidential is essential for preserving the library user’s expectation of privacy in his or her reading history; and

WHEREAS, many libraries across the country are instituting self-service hold systems that fail to adequately protect library users’ confidentiality because the hold systems reveal personally identifiable information linking specific users to specific items; and

WHEREAS, the practice of using truncated user names or other personally identifiable information does not adequately protect library users’ privacy nor preserve the legal expectation of privacy, and may violate a state’s library confidentiality law; and

WHEREAS, there are cost-effective solutions that conceal a borrower’s identity while permitting the library to continue its use of open-shelf, self-service holds, such as the use of pseudonyms, codes, numbers, or other means that do not require personally identifiable information; and the use of methods that obscure the identity of patron requests and the items requested through the practice of packaging the items inside an envelope or reusable bag to hold the items, wrapping them in a full sheet of paper, or an equivalent option.

Now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, that the American Library Association

1. Urges all libraries to reject library practices and procedures for self-service holds that place a library user’s personally identifiable information or requested materials in public view;

2.  Urges all libraries to protect patron identity by adopting self-service hold practices and procedures that conceal the library user’s identity and obscure the materials being borrowed;

3. Urges the responsible bodies of ALA to work with vendors to incorporate applications into integrated library systems that enable libraries to conceal a library user’s identity in a cost-effective manner.

1. US Constitution, 4th, 5th, and 9th Amendments and case law, including NAACP v. Alabama, 357 U.S. 449 (1958); Griswold v. Connecticut 381 U.S. 479 (1965); Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967); and Stanley v. Georgia, 394 U.S. 557 (1969).


The IFC will provide an opportunity for members to comment on and make suggestions for changes to the resolution via an open hearing at the ALA Annual Conference.  The hearing will be part of the IFC/FTRF Issues Briefing on Sunday, June 26, 2011 from 4:00-5:30 p.m. in Room 354 of the Morial Convention Center.  Members also are invited to submit comments to the IFC via email.  Comments should be sent to Nanette Perez, IFC Staff Liaison at