Children and the “Language of Privacy”

A guest blog post from ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) Director, Barbara Jones

Yesterday I had one of those amazing days that, I am happy to report, one is never too old to have! I was the guest of three school librarians in the Evergreen School District in Vancouver, Washington. My goal is to visit as many libraries as possible, in order to see intellectual freedom and privacy protection in action—on the ground—and to be able to speak to library users and staff as well. I want to figure out if the current “language of privacy” is resonating with the children we want to reach.

The Evergreen School District is not wealthy. It is blue collar middle class—many people moving from Portland to Vancouver because the cost of living is cheaper. Around half of the children qualify for school lunch subsidies. But the school libraries are as rich as any in their ambience. Each of the three libraries is total eye candy—plants, posters, photos, computers, and, of course—BOOKS and PEOPLE. As Carol Mackey at the Mountain View High School Library said, “I want every child to see his or her image in this library.“ Each of the librarians is on the floor almost every moment. (My visit was apparently an excuse for them to use their office!) All of them are totally on board with privacy protections for their users. All of them have all their books on the shelves—nothing hidden in the back. They have dealt with challenges (attempts to remove or restrict access to library materials) and have a process in place for doing so. I was struck by how the librarians in that district support each other during challenges—they talk to each other about strategy, and attend public meetings to offer moral support.

One of my favorite moments was in Ms. Mac’s elementary school library. She called over several students to talk to me about what privacy meant to them. Two eleven-year olds said that their older siblings had warned them about not giving out personal information on their Facebook pages. I learned that—when I asked them what they thought about “privacy,“ they drew a blank. But, the minute I asked about Facebook, they understood immediately. Some, unhappily, must be aware of predators living in their neighborhoods and their parents have alerted them. (These kids seemed to me to be mature beyond their age, which made me sad but glad at the same time!) They told me that poster contests or acting out plays would be good ways to teach kids about privacy. Another told me that “The Lovely Bones” had taught him that privacy of one’s body is important. (Yet another reason not to ban books like “The Lovely Bones”!)

I am bringing home with me a poster from “Dustin.“ It is Uncle Sam pointing to us: “I Want YOU to keep your personal information private.“ They get it. It is up to us to help them learn even more and to apply privacy to their daily lives.

Thanks again to my library heroes—Carol, Jone, and Judy—for sharing your day with me. Judy, your point-by-point account of the challenge for “Feed” really helped me understand what a challenge looks like at the grass roots.