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216 N Marshall Ave
Litchfield MN 55355

(320)693-2483

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Friday & Saturday 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
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Friday, July 15, 2011

Your Privacy, A Librarian's Duty

by Beth Cronk, Litchfield head librarian
I’m going to take the same route as my last column and give you a quick explanation to a common question first.  We have changed the link on our Chamber of Commerce library page so that it now leads you to our blog.  I know this has confused some people, because the “Litchfield Public Library” link used to lead directly to the Pioneerland catalog.  But it makes more sense for a link about the Litchfield Library to lead you to further information on our library, and I’d like our patrons to get familiar with going directly to http://litchlibrary.blogspot.com/ as our primary website.  On our blog, you’ll see “Library Catalog” as a choice on the right side of the screen.  This link will lead you to the catalog and the ability to view your account.  You can add either the Litchfield Library site or the Pioneerland catalog, or both, to your favorites on your computer, and then you can go directly there without following such a long path.
The main topic I want to cover today is privacy and how it applies at the library.  Maybe you’ve gotten frustrated in the past about not being able to check out a family member’s books with your card or without a card at all.  Part of the reason we require a card is to make sure that the person checking things out is the person to whom the library account belongs.  If someone comes in and claims that they’re you or that they’re checking things out for you, and we go along with that, you could have books or movies checked out on your card without your knowledge.  The other risk is that we could check things out to the wrong John Smith if we look you up instead of using your card.  If you think of it like a credit card, it may make more sense that you need to have the card with you.  You’re financially liable for the materials you check out.
But beyond identity issues, there are also privacy issues.  The books you order with your card are your business.  Most of the time spouses wouldn’t need to keep library books a secret from each other.  But can you imagine a situation in which someone is looking into divorce without having brought it up to their spouse?  Or a woman who is in an abusive relationship who is checking out self-help books on getting out of such a situation?  We certainly wouldn’t want to hand those items over to their partners, not knowing whether or not they need to be kept private.   Or just imagine that, when we call your house, we tell the person who answers which books have come in for you  --  but it’s your mother-in-law who answers and you’ve ordered books on pregnancy when you haven’t yet shared the fact that you’re pregnant.  Or if someone’s child is in the library picking up their own books and they ask, “Does my dad have any books in?”, we could be violating his privacy by saying yes and handing over a book that he ordered on cancer or another health concern that he has not told his child about.  Now if that child comes in with Dad’s card and says, “My dad has a book in and he asked me to pick it up for him”, we can certainly send that with the errand runner.  
Pioneerland Library System has a patron confidentiality policy in place, and all of our employees are bound by that.  We cannot share with anyone, not our spouses or our best friends – or yours--, what you checked out at the library, what materials you ordered or looked at, or what reference questions you asked us.  If you have to worry that we’ll tell people what you’re researching or reading, you might not come to us to find information.  That would be a barrier to your freedom to read and to your access to information. 
The American Library Association’s 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. 

Librarians are ethically required to keep your information requests and your check-out history private.  It is no one’s business what you research, what you order, or what you’ve checked out from the library.  This is why we cannot bring up a list of what you’ve checked out in the past.  Unless you enable check-out history on your account, once you return it, it disappears so that no one could ever access it. 
ALA’s statement Libraries: An American Value says, “Free access to the books, ideas, resources, and information in America’s libraries is imperative for education, employment, enjoyment, and self-government.”  I take that principle of protecting your privacy to protect your freedom very seriously.  It’s important for our democratic society.  Librarians don’t have quite the same legal privilege as lawyers and doctors as far as protection of the professional-client relationship.  But if you come to me with an information request, I promise I’ll keep it just between us.  It's my duty as your librarian.