By Magee Kloepfler
Recently a teacher came to me looking for a particular book. I informed her it was checked out, but that I would get it to her as soon as it was returned. She asked me for the name and said she would talk to whomever had the book. When I told her I would not share that information with her, she told me I was being “a little ridiculous” as she angrily walked away. At first I was taken aback by her reaction. I took some time to reflect upon the situation and it reaffirmed what many of us already know- our patrons do not fully understand what it means to be a librarian. Parents and people in authority positions sometimes feel they are entitled to this information, but the truth is they are not.
Today everything relating to our students is online. Parents can access grades, lunch accounts, attendance records, and homework assignments all in real time. Access to this information is wonderful and useful, but it has led to what I like to call the “instant gratification generation.” People want information now and don’t want to wait for it. As school librarians, how can we compete with this when it comes to circulation records and keeping information private? This can be especially challenging when you use an integrated library system (ILS) that is shared by a multi-type consortium. Staying informed of the laws and regulations regarding this matter is our first line of defense.
The Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) requires institutions to protect the privacy of education records. Whether or not this includes library records is still up for debate. However, each state has their own laws and regulation in regards to this matter. If you are not sure what your state regulations are, the American Library Association (ALA) maintains an online listing of individual state laws. “Every state—except for Florida, Maine, Connecticut, and Massachusetts—and even the District of Columbia safeguards the confidentiality of school library records when it comes to minors. Although these protections vary greatly, no state law gives teachers or principals the right to access a student’s library circulation record.” (Adams 2011).
Additionally, the American Library Association’s Code of Ethics, Article III declares “we protect each library user’s right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted.” Likewise, the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) “Position Statement on the Confidentiality of Library Records” states that “the library community recognizes that children and youth have the same rights to privacy as adults” (AASL 2012). Don’t we want our libraries to be a judgement free zone? One should not be judged by the books they choose to read. Personally, as a mother of school aged children I know I would not want my children to be judged by the books they are checking out.
Our ILS currently does not have a specific policy in regards to student records (they are in the process of developing one). Nonetheless, there are some simple steps that we have taken in our library to ensure student privacy. First, in our circulation system the school’s address is listed in place of personal addresses. If we need to send a letter home about an overdue book we get the information from our guidance department. On a similar note, we don’t keep student phone numbers or emails in our records.
We also have no Social Security numbers in our system. Public libraries have long used Social Security numbers to find patrons who have outstanding fines, however they are by law required to inform the patron they are doing so. In school libraries, this is not necessary. There are other ways of identifying students and tracking their lost books. When it comes to overdue books, we contact the student themselves. If that doesn’t work, we send a letter home stating that the student has an overdue book. These letters never reveals the book title, only stating when the book was originally due and how much it will cost if not returned.
One of the most important things we do is password protect our circulation records. Only the adult library workers know the password. No one sees circulation records other than us. Even though we are a shared ILS, outsiders cannot access our records. In fact, if there was ever a need for someone other than the library staff to see the records, I would insist on a subpoena. Additionally, we have the program set so that only the last two patrons who checked out a particular book are listed. Records are automatically deleted beyond that.
When I first came to my school our students helpers sat at the circulation desk and checked out books. Although this was a huge help, some students may not want their peers knowing what books they check out. Some student may not want their peers knowing they check out books at all. This was one of the first things I changed. Student helpers no longer sit at the circulation desk. They completely understood my reasoning and appreciated that we were making an effort to protect not only their peer’s privacy, but ultimately theirs too.
As librarians, not only should we be making every effort to protect privacy, but we should also be taking steps to educate our community. Having only been at my school since September, it is already clear to me that our Board of Education needs to adopt a policy. Once a policy is adopted it will be added to the faculty and student handbook. I will also post it to our library website. Additionally, I plan on presenting at faculty meetings to educate our staff. Another great resource is ALA Choose Privacy Week (www.chooseprivacyeveryday.org). The website includes program ideas, blogs, and lesson ideas. The steps we take in our library may seem simple and common sense to the library community, but that’s not always the case for our patrons. We must continue to make an effort to keep student records safe and educate those around us about why it’s important.
Adams, H. R. (2011, April 1). The privacy problem. Retrieved April 18, 2016.
American Association of School Libraries. (2012, February 6). Position statement on the confidentiality of library records. Retrieved April 18, 2016.
American Library Association. (2006, July 7). Code of ethics of the American Library Association. Retrieved April 18, 2016.
Magee Kloepfer, M.Ed, NBCT is the librarian at Bolton High School in Bolton, Connecticut. She taught social studies for 15 years before deciding to change careers. She absolutely loves being a librarian and cannot believe she waited so long to make the move. She currently attends Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia and is a member of AASL, YALSA, VAASL, and CASL.