The city speaks: Libraries have a duty to protect your privacy
By Lori Belongia
Marshfield Public Library Director
Some time ago, I received a complaint in the library’s suggestion box. It was well thought out, and the writer’s frustration was clear. The individual was upset that the library could not share specific information about overdue materials on a family member’s account, creating an inconvenience for the family member.
In addition, the person was concerned that the library was viewing the family as a secretive, unfriendly grouping. Unfortunately, the complainant did not leave contact information so that I could explain the Library’s policy. However, this column is the perfect forum for me to address these concerns.
The Marshfield Public Library takes your privacy and confidentiality very seriously. The library’s Confidentiality Policy is not solely a local choice.
It is based on chapter 43.30 (1m) Wisconsin Statutes, which states that records “indicating the identity of any individual who borrows or uses the library’s documents or other materials, resources, or services may not be disclosed except by court order or to persons acting within the scope of their duties in the administration of the library or library system, to persons authorized by the individual to inspect such records, to custodial parents or guardians of children under the age of 16 under sub. (4), to libraries under subs. (2) and (3), or to law enforcement officers under sub. (5).”
Without a cardholder’s written permission specifically naming to whom the records may be disclosed, the library may not share that information with anyone unless the situation meets the law. It also means that no library employee will be talking about what you read, listen to, or view with your friends, neighbors, or anyone else.
Without privacy and confidentiality, the examination of ideas—when under possible surveillance by anyone—may be suppressed as a user avoids what could be perceived as controversial or threatening to the ideas, needs, or wishes of others. The idea of keeping open access to speech, research, and exploration is essential to a democratic society.
Anything that jeopardizes free thinking and free speech casts a pall on the right to open inquiry. Lofty words, yes.
In a perfect world, all families and people would be open, trusting, and supportive of others exploring a vast array of ideas. However, no matter how much we want the ideal family, the reality is that sometimes they are not. The library’s duty is to protect the right of confidentiality for each cardholder.
Give this situation a thought. A battered spouse is checking out information on domestic violence. That person’s safety could be endangered if the records are shared with the abusing spouse. There is no way for the library to know which families are trusting and friendly. In addition, the “trusting and friendly” situation can turn on a dime.
For all of these reasons, the Marshfield Public Library issues cards to individuals, not to families. We seek to preserve confidentiality for everybody, every time. Maintaining confidentiality rights are so important that at the Marshfield Public Library our jobs depend on it.
If you have questions or would like to share your thoughts with me, please contact me at 715-387-8494 ext. 214 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or stop in to see me at the Library.