For immediate release | August 16, 2011

ALA resolution promotes library user confidentiality in self-service hold practices

NEW ORLEANS - The American Library Association (ALA) Council, in a resolution passed at its Annual Conference in New Orleans, urges all libraries that implement self-service holds to protect patron identity by adopting practices and procedures that conceal the library user’s personally identifiable information in connection with the materials being borrowed.

The resolution also urges “libraries, librarians and the responsible bodies of ALA to work with vendors to incorporate applications into integrated library systems that enable libraries to conceal a library user’s identity in a cost-effective manner.”

In passing the resolution on June 28, the Council based its decision on its own policies and code of ethics.

The ALA 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."

The ALA also affirms that rights of privacy are necessary for intellectual freedom and are fundamental to the ethics and practice of librarianship.

The Council stated that the lack of privacy and confidentiality has a chilling effect on users’ choice, noting that the ALA strongly recommends the adoption of policies recognizing circulation records and other records identifying the names of library users to be confidential.

Confidentiality would extend to, but not be limited to, database search records, reference interviews, circulation records, interlibrary loan records and all other records of personally identifiable uses of library materials, facilities, or services that associate the names of library users with specific materials.

Keeping a library user's personally identifiable information and circulation record absolutely confidential is essential for preserving the library user's expectation of privacy in his or her reading history, the resolution states.

But it warned that many libraries across the country are instituting self-service hold systems that fail to adequately protect library users' confidentiality because the self-service hold systems reveal personally identifiable information linking specific users to specific items. It also revealed that some methods of truncating user names or other personally identifiable information do not adequately protect library users' privacy, nor preserve the legal expectation of privacy, and may violate a state's library confidentiality law.

It recommended effective solutions that conceal a library user’s identity while permitting the library to continue its use of open-shelf, self-service holds, such as the use of pseudonyms, codes, numbers, or other means that mask personally identifiable information. Other methods of protecting identity include packaging the items inside an envelope or a reusable bag to hold the item.

The American Library Association is the oldest and largest library association in the world, with more than 61,000 members. Its mission is to promote the highest quality library and information services and public access to information.


Steve Zalusky