Debatable topic #6: Privacy issues: How far should confidentiality go?

First let me say how very much I enjoyed the COMO Conference last week. It is always refreshing to hear new ideas and to connect with old friends and make new ones! Kudos to the entire group that put the event together. Now…for the topic at hand…

How many times during your career as a school library media specialist have you asked a teacher a question such as the following: “Have you found that copy of The Library Dragon that Johnny checked out 2 months ago?” Or have you sent notes home asking “Mrs. Jones, can you find that copy of The Wednesday Wars that Sally has had out for 6 weeks?” It would be interesting to know just how many media specialists across our state have acted in this manner consistently over the years. However, it is totally illegal!

The question is, how strict should we be in protecting the rights of our students in keeping checked out titles confidential?

Official Code of Georgia 24-9-46 reads: “Circulation and similar records of a library which identify the user of library materials shall not be public records but shall be confidential and may not be disclosed except: to members of the library staff in the ordinary course of business; upon written consent of the user of the library materials or the user’s parents or guardian if the user is a minor or ward; or upon appropriate court order or subpoena.” This means that no one in the school should be informed of what any student has checked out. It also means that if a student asks for a particular title for a research project, and you know Johnny has it, you cannot tell the student to chat with Johnny about when he will be finished with it and return it so he/she can use it. One side argues that scholarly pursuit should not be diminished because details of who has specific resources checked out cannot be shared at the point of need. The argument also exists that the inability to let parents know titles that their high school children have checked out leads to an astounding number of lost materials, and can possibly contribute to other, more personally negative family situations.

The other position, as stated by AASL, states that children and youth have the same rights to privacy as adults. The ALA Code of Ethics “protects each library user’s right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted.” Confidentiality of library use records is fundamental to free and open inquiry for all library users, including children and teenagers. Children, in particular, should be assured their intellectual freedom will remain private in order to support their learning and to aid in the process of creating lifelong learners.

No matter the stand taken on this issue of privacy, Georgia law is clear: circulation records must remain confidential (except in the case of potential harm to self or others). Many other states in the U.S. do not even allow parents to be informed of titles their children have checked out. As always, IF you wish to see laws and position statements of professional organizations changed, get involved and contact leaders!

NOW, enter the world of social networking!! Consider DOPA (Deleting Online Predators Act) which denies E-rate funding to schools that allow students to access social networking sites; CIPA (Children’s Internet Protection Act) which requires libraries and schools to install filters on their Internet computers to retain federal funding and discounts for computers and computer access; ALA position statements which strongly support use of social networking sites in educational settings; wikis (such as Wikipedia) where students could interact in sharing of information; etc. I suggest that we begin to embrace this newer aspect of patron privacy so that the great resources available through social networking can be tapped in a supervised setting in our schools. What powerful tools at our disposal! And our students are connecting to them!! Just seeds for a future discussion…


Adams, H. (2007). The troubled student and privacy. School Library Media Activities Monthly, 24(4), 34. Retrieved July 10, 2008, from Research Library database.

American Library Association. (2007).

Phyllis R. Snipes,

University of West Georgia


Posted on October 23, 2008, in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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