State Privacy Provisions


An Educational Service of the American Library Association

Office for Information Technology Policy


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


In addition to the patchwork of federal law governing privacy issues, state law and/or state Constitutions may also directly cover privacy issues.  Most states, either explicitly or implicitly, recognize to some degree a "right to privacy."  At least forty-eight states and the District of Columbia have laws specifically recognizing and protecting the confidentiality of library records.  Because these laws are enacted on a state-by- state basis, the specific protections vary widely.  Some state laws apply only to publicly funded libraries, while other laws apply to any library that is available to the public.  Consequently, librarians must review the law in their states to complete the picture of privacy protections and obligations for their particular institutions...


For example, Montana has a library record confidentiality law that requires a judge to weigh the privacy interests of an individual library patron against the state's interest in obtaining the record.  By contrast, in Kentucky, library record confidentiality is less explicit.  Without a clear statute covering library record confidentiality, in 1981, the Kentucky Attorney General issued an opinion extending a public information exemption to library records.  This exemption prevents mandatory disclosure of "public records containing information of a personal nature where the public disclosure thereof would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy".


Despite the protection afforded library records under the various state laws, state criminal laws often override the confidentiality of patron records.  In many circumstances, state criminal laws provide exceptions to confidentiality and mechanisms for compelling libraries to disclose patron records.  Therefore, librarians should be well versed in the implications of collecting and storing information about patrons relative to the law enforcement process.  The need for patron information should be carefully balanced with the risk to personal privacy.

(Law enforcement access to library records will be covered in a future tutorial.)     


Further information:


ALA - State Statutes on Confidentiality:


State Laws on the Confidentiality of Library Records:


Arlene Bielefield and Lawrence Cheeseman, Maintaining the

Privacy of Library Records: A Handbook and Guide, (New York:

Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc., 1994)


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.