Patron Privacy and New Jersey Public Libraries

Patron Privacy and New Jersey Public Libraries

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Patron Privacy and New Jersey Public Libraries


As technology allows for the increased procurement of data on library patron use it is important to have privacy policies in place that encompass not only patron circulation records but computer/wifi use, third party vendors and surveillance cameras in public libraries. This paper provides some information on the foundation on which library policies on privacy and confidentiality are based so your trustees are better informed about this basic tenet of librarianship. Future papers will build on this foundation to address the formation of policies that are as comprehensive as possible in addressing patron privacy in a 21st Century library.

Board Education Component:

Background on Patron Privacy

“The American Library Association (ALA), the voice of America’s libraries, is the oldest, largest and most influential library association in the world. Its approximately 56,000 members are primarily librarians but also trustees, publishers and other library supporters. The Association represents all types of libraries; its mission is to promote the highest quality library and information services and public access to information.” (

Library Bill of Rights – 

The ALA adopted the Library Bill of Rights in 1939. It is a basic statement of principles that should govern the service of all libraries. The document was amended several times with the most recent being in 1996. It reads: The American Library Association affirms that all libraries are forums for information and ideas, and that the following basic policies should guide their services.

  1. Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.
  2. Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.
  3. Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.
  4. Libraries should cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to ideas.
  5. A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.
  6. Libraries which make exhibit spaces and meeting rooms available to the public they serve should make such facilities available on an equitable basis, regardless of the beliefs or affiliations of individuals or groups requesting their use.

Ok, that’s interesting but where is patron privacy specifically mentioned in the Library Bill of Rights?

Interpreting the Library Bill of Rights – 

The Library Bill of Rights is interpreted by the Intellectual Freedom Committee (IFC) of the ALA. The IFC is charged with making recommendations to the association and the ALA in turn creates policies based on these recommendations. The policies addressing patron privacy are based on the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution and number IV of the Library Bill of Rights.

The ALA Policy concerning Confidentiality of Personally Identifiable Information about Library Users states:

In a library (physical or virtual), the right to privacy is the right to open inquiry without having the subject of one’s interest examined or scrutinized by others. Confidentiality exists when a library is in possession of personally identifiable information about users and keeps that information private on their behalf.

Library Code of Ethics – 

The Library Code of Ethics was also established in 1939 by the ALA with several revisions to the code since that time. Following is the opening statement of the code and Section III addressing patron privacy.

As members of the American Library Association, we recognize the importance of codifying and making known to the profession and to the general public the ethical principles that guide the work of librarians, other professionals providing information services, library trustees and library staffs.

III 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.

The ALA encourages public libraries to work with their local legal counsel to ensure they understand federal and state laws regarding confidentiality and patron privacy so they may respond quickly to any requests from law enforcement for information in regards to library patrons.

(Above information obtained from the ALA’s website –

New Jersey Laws –

Library policies in the area of privacy must be in compliance with all applicable federal, state and local laws. In New Jersey there is a specific statute addressing library confidentiality in regards to patron records:

N.J.S.A. 18A:73-43:2 – Confidentiality of Library Records –

Library records which contain the names or other personally identifying details regarding the users of libraries are confidential and shall not be disclosed except in the following circumstances: a. The records are necessary for the proper operation of the library; b. Disclosure is requested by the user; or c. Disclosure is required pursuant to a subpoena issued by a court or court order.
L.1985, c 172, s. 2, eff. May 31, 1985

The NJ library confidentiality law supersedes the Open Public Records Act (OPRA). OPRA specifically provides that records should not be disclosed if the records are protected by another law like the confidentiality statute. – See NJSA 47:1A et seq

S967/A1396 Reader Privacy Act –

Passed in September 2014, this act prohibits service providers (both bookstores and e-Book retailers) from sharing a customer’s information without the customer’s permission unless there is a court order or circumstances involving criminal activity. The following is testimony of Pat Tumulty, Executive Director of the NJLA to the State Commerce Committee in support of the legislation.

The “Reader Privacy Act” is modeled after the current confidentiality of library records law which was enacted approximately 30 years ago. That act has been extremely important in protecting the reading records of individuals in our libraries. This bill would extend similar protections to the readers and purchasers of books and e-books thus ensuring the residents of New Jersey that they can read and view information in any format without the fear that their reading preferences would be available to others except with their permission.”

New Jersey Library Association –

The NJLA’s policy on Confidentiality of Library Records states: Confidentiality exists when a library is in possession of personally identifiable information about users and keeps that information private on their behalf

The NJLA has issued guidelines for the creation of policies and procedures to address N.J.S.A. 18A:73-43:2. These guidelines can be located at:

Director’s Role

When reviewing the background for “why” privacy policies exist in public libraries it is important to emphasize that the Library Bill of Rights and Library Code of Ethics make clear that it is the responsibility of trustees to ensure that they are doing all they can to protect patron privacy within the constraints of the law. This responsibility is echoed in the NJLA’s policy

Examine your library’s privacy policy for the following elements:

  • Is it posted in your building and on your website?
  • Does it inform patrons how their information is being utilized?
  • Does it inform patrons when their information may be disclosed?
  • Is it in conformance with all state and federal laws regarding the collection and retention of “personally identifiable information” (PII)?
  • Did it have legal guidance in its formation and in its procedures?

It is our assumption that most BCCLS libraries have policies in place to address N.J.S.A. 18A:73-43:2. These policies focus on important procedures regarding subpoenas and search warrants for information requested by law enforcement. Future Info & Action sheets will cover this basic policy found in many libraries. In addition we will seek to expand on this current framework to more comprehensive guidelines covering use of third party vendors (i.e. Zinio, Hoopla, Overdrive), technology recording wifi use, and surveillance systems recording patrons’ use of the library.