Library workers everywhere, whether academic, public, special, or school share a certain pride: the ability to assist anyone who walks through their doors. We take all comers, and we help them in a variety of ways, directly or indirectly. Because young queer users who are questioning or aren’t out may be especially hesitant to approach staff and ask for assistance, below are some things you can do to make sure these users can still find what they’re looking for in your collection without violating their privacy.
“I am using my innocence and the trust upheld by my local librarians as a benchmark for best practices in our current privacy standards. So when the next generation of young and mighty Sapphos-to-Be come out or try and find answers to their unknown, they can do so with as much security, safety, and innocence that I was afforded.”
Librarians always have good intentions when they create a program, but may not be fully weighing the outcomes for patrons. We make some noise about new work to get people in our doors and engage with the public; to show our solidarity with our patrons. But what if drawing attention to the library isn’t the best strategy to protect the privacy of the very people you want to serve? It’s difficult to know the precise answer.A lot of what we might think about in librarianship about privacy is through the lens of what are more traditional library services, conducting personal research on a computer, borrowing materials, signing up for a computer class or using the library catalog, and through the lens of education and privilege. How do we convey library values to our communities when they are vulnerable?
Over a long timeline of interacting with the same people, library workers can start to develop a running knowledge of a large amount of information about the people that come in all the time. Housing status, health, financial wellbeing, personal issues, and so much more that is casually revealed gets added to the growing body of what is known of the user. This is information has privacy concerns attached to it, and the onus of maintaining the user’s privacy lies with every library worker who inadvertently gains details from incidental revelations from library users.
Privacy in libraries isn’t just about safeguarding patron records or internet usage. It’s about making patrons feel welcome when they enter the building, that they know that their pursuits are their own, and that we’re there to assist them without judgment. Privacy matters. Privacy allows us free movement across the intellectual spectrum. It allows us the freedom to pursue whatever topic we find call to us. Privacy gives us the ability to pursue our passions without fear of surveillance or oppression. What can be more liberating and inclusive than that?