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Privacy Policies

The American Library Association is a good source for guidance in circulation and privacy policies .  State statues are also important to consider.

ALA 52.4 Confidentiality of Library Records.  The ethical responsibilities of librarians, as well as statutes in most states and the District of Columbia, protect the privacy of library users. Confidentiality extends to "information sought or received, and materials consulted, borrowed, acquired" and includes database search records, reference interviews, circulation records, interlibrary loan records, and other personally identifiable uses of library materials, facilities, or services.

ALA Code of Ethics 54.15.  Librarians must protect each user's right to privacy with respect to information sought or received, and materials consulted, borrowed, or acquired.

Wisconsin Statues.  In a recent incident in the Green Bay Schools, Jim Bowen summarized the Wisconsin standards (March 5, 1999):

Chapter 43 of the Wisconsin Statutes restricts access to library media center patron circulation records to only a few people. It states:

Records of any library which is in whole or in part supported by public funds, including the records of a public library system, indicating which of its documents or other materials have been loaned to or used by an identifiable individual may not be disclosed except to person acting within the scope of their duties in the administration of the library or system or persons authorized by the individual to inspect such records, or by order of a court of law (Section 43.30, Wisconsin Statutes)

DPI Legal Counsel noted that the Wisconsin Attorney General's Office "has issued an opinion that the confidentiality provision of the law covers circulation records of public school libraries as well as other public libraries." (Donald Lamb, Channel DLS, October 1989, p. 6; Robert J. Paul, Law News, p. 17). Furthermore, "only school library and public library administrators - not school or municipal administrators - and person granted permission by the borrower or ordered by a court of law may inspect a public or school library's circulation records." (Lamb, p. 6)

DPI's Legal Counsel also noted that the laws allow "non-library personnel, whether school or non-school connected such as a teacher or parent, to know how many times a certain volume has been withdrawn from the library over a certain period of time, so long as the individual identification of the person withdrawing the material is not made available to the teacher or the parent." (Paul, p. 17)

Think about what these mean for your circulation practices:

bulletLists of materials checked out, including overdue materials, should not contain titles connected with a specific user's name.
bulletAutomated systems should not retain the name of the person who has checked out a book after it is returned.
bulletParents should not get a list of what their child has out of the library.

There is currently a bill in the legislature that would allow parents access to their children's circulation records. While this is not yet law in Wisconsin, the feeling is that it will pass in the current session.

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