Surveillance in the School Library

Choose Privacy Week, School Libraries

By: April Dawkins

Recently, a discussion on a school librarian listserv reminded me of the need to advocate for student privacy. A school librarian explained that her administration would be installing security cameras in her school library, and she wondered if she should voice a protest to the decision. An interesting discussion evolved from her initial inquiry. Some of the concerns raised were the following:

  • Are there cameras in classrooms? Why would the school library be any different?
  • What are the purposes of cameras in a school library? Is it for security, student safety, or monitoring?
  • Where would they be placed?
  • How can the privacy of what students are accessing be protected if the decision is made to install them?
  • Who has access to the footage and how is it archived?
  • Is there a policy about student privacy that addresses surveillance (through cameras, through computer tracking, through patron history) in your school library?

Privacy of patrons in libraries is a major component of intellectual freedom. This is especially true of students who use school libraries. Students should be afforded the same level of patron privacy in a school library as they would receive in a public library. This statement from the Library Privacy Guidelines for students should be the foundation of a school library student privacy policy:

Safeguarding user privacy requires that staff keep all in-library use and reference questions confidential and assure that there is no monitoring by staff or peers of what students are reading, viewing, or researching while in the library.

If there must be security cameras in a school library, they should be placed so they do not monitor the circulation desk so that student use of materials can be kept confidential. Additionally, if cameras are placed to view computers, they should not be placed in a way that the screens of monitors can be viewed. Most importantly, there should be clear policies that safeguard student privacy and specifically outline cameras and their usage in the school library setting.

The Choose Privacy Week website has excellent resources to help school librarians as they advocate for their students’ right to privacy. The Library Privacy Guidelines for Students in K-12 Schools provide guidance for school librarians about data management and security. The Library Privacy Checklist for Students in K-12 Schools prioritizes actions that can be taken to protect student privacy including removing patron history and developing school and district level privacy policies for school libraries. While the checklist and guidelines do not specifically address camera surveillance of students in the school library settings, they can be used to develop policies about student privacy and surveillance. In addition, ALA has developed guidelines for developing a library privacy policy that include information for school libraries.

April DawkinsApril Dawkins is a doctoral candidate in the School of Library and Information Science at the University of South Carolina. Her research focus for her doctoral dissertation is understanding the factors that influence decisions around selection in school libraries and the role of self-censorship. April is part of the NxtWave program funded by an IMLS grant, a national cohort of Ph.D. students whose focus is school librarianship. As a graduate teaching assistant with SLIS, April is teaching Information Literacy and Young Adult Materials. Prior to her doctoral studies, April served for 15 years as a high school media specialist in North Carolina. She is also a past president of the North Carolina School Library Media Association. April also serves on the Intellectual Freedom Committee of the South Carolina Association of School Librarians. Find her on Twitter @aprldwkns.

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