More on Libraries & Privacy

A couple of weeks ago, I was horrified to discover that during the early days of library automation, some libraries routinely collected data that they did not need to:

[In 1942, at the library in question],

Each borrower [was] asked name, home address, telephone number, occupation, business address, and [was] also checked as to sex, color, nationality of parents, marital status, place of birth, amount of schooling and specialized training, and each is asked at the end of the interview, “What kinds of books interest you most?”

I went on to note my relief that we live in a time and place governed by privacy legislation that protects us from over-collection of data like this.

Yesterday, I discovered the Public Library Services of British Columbia, which provides resources to libraries across the province. In 2006, PLS published a guide to help libraries protect patrons’ privacy. (Also available as a hard copy from the Greater Victoria Public Library [GVPL]).

Section 2(a)(i) (page 4) reads:

Only collect personal information that is required

Libraries may only collect personal information that is necessary for the library to offer its services and operate its programs or otherwise authorized by FOIPPA (Act, s. 26). For example, if knowing the first language of a patron is not necessary, it should not be collected.

When libraries wish to collect information for statistical purposes or to learn more about their patrons for the purpose of planning or managing their programs and services (such as reading preferences and preferred language), separate forms should be used with no personal identifiers.

Once the statistical information is compiled, the original forms should be shredded.

GVPL’s Privacy Policy seems to accord with these instructions and other sections of the PLS publication. I’m glad that one of our city’s most important public spaces takes our privacy so seriously.

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