The Privacy Expert You Need to Meet: Your Local Librarian

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by Barbara M. Jones, Director, ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF)

Originally posted on the OIFBlog on May 1, 2012

I am honored to be the first of a blogger series celebrating ALA’s Choose Privacy Week.  Thanks to funding from the Open Society Foundations, this is our third year and we are so pleased to share with you our campaign’s growth.  Get to know www.privacyrevolution.org!  There you can view the very latest news on how YOU can get involved as a library privacy expert.  Soon you can view our newest video on immigrants and privacy rights.  Your community needs you!

April 23’s Chicago Tribune featured a front-page story:  “Health data protection vulnerable: theft, privacy breaches abound in decade since patient law began.”  The article tells the story of Elizabeth Page, whose mammography records were hacked.  Before that she had no idea that North Carolina had a statewide mammography registry—and that this information had been forwarded to a national database.   And there is no way for the health consumer (you!) to know that this information is being used illegally and how it might have affected your being turned down for insurance or a job.

So what is the problem?  Aren’t health registries helpful?  After all, think of the life-saving value of organ transplant databases.  To me, the problem is that the public does not know what information is being collected and how it is being used—not to mention whether it is being secured. 

That’s why ALA celebrates Choose Privacy Week.  All surveys show that the general public does care about their personal privacy.  But they feel powerless and unable to keep up with all the potential invasions of their personal data.  Librarians, let’s step into that void!  We already deal with privacy issues daily when we protect the confidentiality of user circulation records.  We require OPAC vendors to include privacy considerations in the RFP’s.  We support the Campaign on Reader Privacy because the USA PATRIOT Act threatens our constitutional rights to read without the government looking over our shoulder.   We did this long before the privacy was in the headlines.  Librarians were there from the beginning.  Let’s build on that professional expertise and ethical concern—and the public’s trust in us.     

We now need to take this experience and use it strategically in our communities.  When our libraries sponsor small business workshops, we need to include a session on privacy.  When I attended March’s SXSW I was inspired by the enthusiasm of all those young tech entrepreneurs, but shocked at their lack of information about privacy laws that could make or break their bottom line. 

We need to have Privacy Pizza Parties for young people, like our recent event at a Lexington, KY public library branch.  Teens need to understand that they can make smart choices when it comes to their school, health, Facebook, and other personal records—so that they aren’t blocked from getting scholarships, health care, or a job because of a misplaced or mismarked Facebook photo or unfounded gossip. 

This week the Privacy Revolution website will be filled with information and energy, but our campaign is forever.  Just like Banned Books Week, libraries can sponsor programs year round.  We need to hear from you about what works and what doesn’t.  Let’s take the public concern over privacy and bring it into our libraries in the form of our collections, content, community forums, workshops—all our programming.  And in this election year, this is a perfect topic to bring both Republicans and Democrats into the same room to address a topic of mutual concern.  

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