Role of Librarians in Protecting Patron Privacy


An Educational Service of the American Library Association

Office for Information Technology Policy


Prepared by Leslie Harris & Associates - in conjunction with OITP staff -



As the Internet grows in complexity and the means of collecting information online become more sophisticated, a librarian's role in protecting patron privacy continues to evolve.  While librarians seek to define their role in protecting patron privacy, it becomes critical for librarians to recognize the changing nature of privacy violations in an online library setting.


Perhaps one of the most important roles that librarians play in protecting privacy online is an educational one, particularly for young users.  Library staff training is critical to the success of this role - only when librarians and other library staff understand the implications of protecting privacy can they communicate the importance of doing so to library users.


Libraries should consider a multi-pronged approach to educating users about privacy.  Visual displays in the library such as posters or bookmarks can be effective, as can electronic resources such as links on the library home page or pop-up "Privacy Tip of the Day."  Alternatively, librarians might hold special library workshops or integrate privacy information and education into other computer and Internet related workshops.  Attached is a one-page "top tips" sheet libraries can personalize and post near computers in their library.


Additionally, as library services have moved online, librarians, to some extent, have taken on the roles of both technology "monitors" and advocates.  In a modern library, librarians must now work closely with the library technology support staff and technology vendors to ensure that the library's technology is implemented and used in a manner that is consistent with the profession's ethical obligation to protect patron privacy and yet mindful of the potential exposure of patron information to law enforcement inquiry.  Librarians must act to develop procedures to ensure that the library's software, computer systems, records, and Internet communications are maintained in a manner that protects patron privacy. 


Further information:


Office of Information Technology Policy, ALA, Principles for a Networked World:


Privacy Tips from the Federal Trade Commission:


Top Ten Online Privacy Tips from


Privacy Tips from the Better Business Bureau Online


The Electronic Frontier Foundation Top 12 Privacy Tips:


The Center for Democracy & Technology Top 10 Ways to Protect




Copyright 2002, American Library Association, Office for

Information Technology Policy




This Online Privacy Tutorial is a service of the American Library Association. The content of this tutorial is primarily the work of Leslie Harris & Associates in Washington, DC. The views expressed in these messages are not necessarily the views of ALA or Leslie Harris & Associates. This tutorial is for information only and will not necessarily provide answers to concerns that arise in any particular situation. This service is not legal advice and does not include many of the technical details arising under certain laws. If you are seeking legal advice to address specific privacy issues, you should consult an attorney licensed to practice in your state.