Reference librarians are on the front line when it comes to protecting the privacy of patrons. Their charge comes from the ALA Code of Ethics: "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."
Living up to that provision has become increasingly difficult since the passage of the USA Patriot Act. Because the act expands the authority of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and law enforcement to gain access to library records, librarians are now rethinking the types of records they maintain and are examining their policies and procedures.
The Reference and User Services Association (RUSA), representing more than 5,000 reference and user-services librarians working in all types of libraries, has a myriad of reference guidelines that may help. The Guidelines for Information Services (www.ala.org/rusa/stnd_consumer.html) cover the resources, personnel, accessibility, and evaluation needed to deliver high-quality reference and readers' advisory services.
If medical and legal questions concerning privacy have you stumped, the Guidelines for Medical, Legal, and Business Responses (wwxv.ala.org/rusa/stnd_general_ref_desk.html) can help. Prominent among the suggestions is: "Confidentiality of user requests, both in-person and off-site, must he respected at all times."
Protecting digital chats
The advent of digital reference, particularly services using chat software, has not made privacy protection any easier. Although the software deletes patron information from transaction logs, concerns persist. If patrons fear that their transactions can be monitored, they may decide not to use the service. …