Vermont Enacts New Library Confidentiality Law
Trina Magi is the former chair of the Vermont Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee, and a current member of ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee
This spring the Vermont Library Association and the Vermont School Library Association succeeded in getting a new state law enacted to protect the confidentiality of library patrons. Previously, Vermont offered protection of library circulation records only through an exception to the open records law.
The new law, “An Act Relating to the Confidentiality of Library Patron Records,” covers all types of libraries (public, academic, school, archives, and others open to the public) and affirmatively declares library patron registration and transaction records confidential. It prohibits sharing those records except 1) with the written permission of the library patron, 2) to library officers, employees, volunteers, and agents as necessary for library administration, 3) in response to an authorized judicial order or warrant, and 4) to custodial parents or guardians of a student in accordance with the federal law Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) by the library at the school the student attends.
The law also allows any library to release information to custodial parents and guardians of patrons under age 16, a compromise provision written into the bill by a Senate committee after hearing testimony from parents, some of whom wanted the law to protect the confidentiality of all minors, and others of whom wanted full parental access to records of their children under 18.
The Vermont Library Association initiated work on this legislation more than a year ago to address widespread and longstanding confusion in the state about library records. While the state’s open records law said that library records were not public documents, it fell short of explicitly saying that they were confidential. This led to various and conflicting interpretations by state officials, law enforcement officers, librarians, and others. A 2006 survey of directors of public and academic libraries in Vermont found that they received at least 1,200 requests for patron information in the year before the survey. With the new law in place, librarians and library patrons across Vermont have greater assurance that their reading habits and research interests are private matters that they alone can decide to share with others.