Libraries uphold a strong professional ethic regarding the privacy of the individuals making use of their collections and services. The library must strive to be a safe haven where individuals can access information of any sort without the fear of reprisals. In contrast, most commercial destinations do not necessarily offer such privacy protection. Protecting user privacy adds layers of complications for libraries, both in terms of technology as well as policies and procedures.
To the extent possible, libraries avoid collecting extraneous personal information and to carefully control and secure identifiable details in those cases where it is required. A classic example involves the details needed for a patron to borrow an item. Systems used by the library require a link between the borrower's profile and the record for the item borrowed, a technical representation of a private transaction that must be treated carefully. Once returned, that link is removed, any residual traces of that borrowing event discarded or at least anonymized.
The privacy of library transactions may apply differently in some contexts. In a corporate environment, an employee's use of materials from its library or information center may not be considered private. Public libraries, in contrast, protect privacy to the fullest extent possible. Even when children borrow materials, the library will not reveal information about borrowed items even to parents. School libraries may be a bit more complicated, but the overall privacy expectations still apply.
The privacy expectations for school libraries are increasingly put to the test. Many states and local school districts are pressing forward with legislation and policies that assert the rights of parents, school boards, or other individuals to review materials held in school libraries and request removal of items they consider inconsistent with their values or inappropriate for children. Another thread of this movement asserts that parents should have more control of the items their children read or borrow form the school library. In many cases, school librarians fear the consequences of not responding to these pressures. Such fears promoted some libraries or school districts to request that their automation systems add new features to enable increased parental control. An example of this scenario can be seen in a recent series of events where schools approached Follett School Solutions to adjust the functionality of Destiny, the most used automation system among public school libraries in the United States. Announcements that Follett was considering this type of change stirred considerable concern in the library community, especially among privacy experts. Follett subsequently withdrew their consideration of any such changes to Destiny.
This issue of Library Technology Newsletter includes two related articles. The first provides some context of the concerns that drove libraries to request new capabilities in Destiny and the types of changes that Follett was considering. The second covers the decision to rescind such consideration. Though the first article was rendered somewhat moot by the second, both are provided in this issue since they convey the important scenarios that continue to play out during this critical time when there is increasing efforts to remove targeted library materials and to increase parental control of student access to library materials.