Library Privacy Talking Points

In an age of “sound bites,” in which the media may only provide ten to fifteen seconds for a response, the ability to succinctly talk about privacy is crucial for all library workers.


Why do libraries protect privacy?

  • Libraries are a cornerstone of democracy and help ensure their users are able to read, research, and speak freely. Privacy is essential to this exercise of free speech, free thought, and free association (See Privacy: An Interpretation to the Library Bill of Rights).
  • Privacy is vital to free inquiry in the library because it enables library users to select, access, and use information without fear of embarrassment, judgment, punishment, or ostracism. 
  • If library users are to be truly free to make individual choices about what they read and view, they must have a reasonable expectation that their library use will be kept confidential and not disclosed to third parties or the government. (See Library Bill of Rights, Article VII).
  • Library workers operate under a Code of Ethics that calls for the safeguarding of privacy. 
  • Privacy protects an individual’s creativity, including their rights to intellectual property. 


How do libraries protect privacy?

  • Forty-eight states and the District of Columbia have statutes declaring library records as confidential documents. The two remaining states, Hawaii and Kentucky, have opinions issued by their attorney general’s finding library records to be confidential documents.
  • States created these confidentiality laws to protect the privacy and freedoms the public holds dear. These laws provide a clear framework for responding to law enforcement demands while safeguarding against random searches, phishing expeditions, or invasions of privacy.
  • Library systems retain the minimum amount of information required to conduct library business. Library workers achieve this through contract negotiation with vendors and/or collaboration with open source development communities. Additionally, library workers can disable the circulation history function and regularly purge unnecessary user records.
  • Library workers advocate for digital privacy through instruction and outreach. This can be done at a community scale (e.g., hosting user information sessions on digital privacy tools) as well as a national scale (e.g., advocating on behalf of the public’s right to privacy in front of governmental bodies).


Whose privacy do libraries protect?

  • ALA members believe “all people, regardless of origin, age, background, or views, possess a right to privacy and confidentiality in their library use.” (See Library Bill of Rights).
  • Library workers recognize that “children and youth have the same rights to privacy as adults.” (See Privacy: An Interpretation to the Library Bill of Rights).
  • Surveillance and privacy-violating practices disproportionately disadvantage marginalized groups. Therefore, upholding privacy in libraries contributes to greater societal equity. 


Revised by the IFC Privacy Subcommittee December 2021