As so much of life has been ‘closed down’ due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many libraries have begun to reach out to their users directly over the phone. These calls, sometimes referred to as wellness checks, come from our professional tradition of service and a genuine concern for the well-being of the users we have come to know so well and care for so deeply. This desire for checking in on our users can come into conflict with our ethical charge to protect user privacy and confidentiality regarding library use. Before jumping into action, take time to think about the purpose of the calls and how they will be done. The guidelines below were developed to help libraries consider if, and how, staff can make calls to users.
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.
Let’s have conversations to find a way to bridge this gap between privacy and reasonable accommodation, not just for our coworkers but also for our clientele.
When library school ideals, professional ethics and the reality of managing a school library collide: the author describes how her students are being surveilled when searching for information on school-issued devices and argues that those who have taken an oath to preserve privacy and uphold intellectual freedom, must continue to ask as many questions as possible when administrators collect sensitive student data and offer to help write policies that both protect rights and support safe schools.
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.