40 Association of Research Libraries Research Library Issues 297 2019 Foundations of Privacy in Libraries Libraries facing these challenges can look to the principles of the profession to understand how to collect and disseminate information about their patrons. Since 1939, the American Library Association (ALA) has affirmed the right of privacy for library patrons. Article 11 of the original Code of Ethics for Librarians states, “It is the librarian’s obligation to treat as confidential any private information obtained through contact with library patrons.”1 The current 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.”2 Patron privacy is crucial to freedom of inquiry and access to library resources for all users. ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee and its Privacy Subcommittee have worked to provide forums and guidelines, and act as a clearinghouse for library privacy issues and ideas, including the annual Choose Privacy Week, a privacy section in the weekly Intellectual Freedom News,3 and a website: chooseprivacyeveryday.org. Beyond the principles of the profession, all libraries are subject to state laws that dictate how personal data can be collected and used within libraries specifically. In the 1980s, states began passing statutes protecting the confidentiality of library records. New York State passed such a statute in 1981 that prohibits the disclosure of library records and prohibits their use “except when necessary for the proper operation of the library” and in response to subpoenas, warrants, and law enforcement requests. The legislators who wrote the bill noted in their supporting documentation: The library, as the unique sanctuary of the widest possible spectrum of ideas, must protect the confidentiality of its records in order to insure its readers’ right to read anything they wish, free from the Since 1939, the American Library Association (ALA) has affirmed the right of privacy for library patrons.
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