New Survey Confirms Librarians’ Commitment to Protecting Privacy Rights

In celebration of Choose Privacy Week, the American Library Association‘s Office for Intellectual Freedom has released preliminary findings from a new survey on “Librarian Attitudes and Behaviors Regarding Informational Privacy” that I conducted on their behalf with generous support from the Open Society Foundation. The press release with preliminary results is copied below; the full report will be released in the coming weeks.

New survey confirms librarians’ commitment to protecting privacy rights

For Immediate Release
Tue, 05/01/2012 – 15:55

Contact: Jennifer Petersen
Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF)

CHICAGO – In conjunction with Choose Privacy Week, the American Library Association’s (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) released preliminary findings from a new survey measuring librarians’ views on privacy rights and protecting library users’ privacy.

The survey, which builds on an earlier 2008 survey assessing librarians’ attitudes about privacy, provides important data that will help ALA evaluate the state of privacy in the United States and libraries’ role in protecting library users’ privacy. The data will help guide ongoing planning for Choose Privacy Week and similar initiatives aimed at engaging librarians in public education and advocacy to advance privacy rights.

Some of the highlights from the 2012 survey include:

  • Librarians remain concerned about privacy and individuals’ desire to control access and use of personal information. Ninety-five percent agree or strongly agree that individuals should be able to control who sees their personal information, and more than 95 percent of respondents feel government agencies and businesses shouldn’t share personal information with third parties without authorization and should only be used for a specific purpose.
  • Librarians affirmed their commitment to the profession’s long-standing ethic of protecting library users’ privacy. Nearly 100 percent of respondents agreed that “Libraries should never share personal information, circulation records or Internet use records with third parties unless it has been authorized by the individual or by a court of law,” and 76 percent feel libraries are doing all they can to prevent unauthorized access to individual’s personal information and circulation records.  Overall, nearly 80 percent feel libraries should play a role in educating the general public about privacy issues.
  • When compared to the 2008 survey, the results showed that the responses given by the 2012 respondents generally mirrored those of the 2008 respondents, with data showing a slight decline in the level of concern over privacy. For example, in both surveys, the vast majority (95 percent in 2008, 90 percent in 2012) of respondents expressed concern that “companies are collecting too much personal information about me and other individuals.”  However those who “strongly” agreed dropped from 70 percent in 2008 to only 54 percent in 2012.

The 2012 survey also revealed some limitations in libraries’ handling of privacy issues.  While nearly 80 percent of the responding librarians said libraries should play a role in educating the general public about privacy, only 13 percent said their library had hosted a privacy information session, lecture, seminar or other event addressing privacy and surveillance. Similarly, while 100 percent agree that libraries should not release library records without a court order, only 51 percent indicate that their libraries offer training on handling requests for user records and only 57 percent indicate that their libraries effectively communicate the library’s privacy policies to their patrons.

The 2012 study is funded by a generous grant from the Open Society Foundations and is managed by Dr. Michael Zimmer, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s School of Information Studies, and co-director of its Center for Information Policy Research.

The survey is part of ALA’s Choose Privacy Week and “Privacy for All” initiative, which conducted with the generous support of the Open Society Foundations.  Its website, www.privacyrevolution.org, provides access to privacy-related news, information and programming resources.

The American Library Association’s (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom established Choose Privacy Week in 2010 to help libraries work with their communities in navigating these complicated but vital issues.  It is a national public awareness campaign that aims to educate the public about their privacy rights and to deepen public awareness about the serious issue of government surveillance. The theme for Choose Privacy Week 2012 is “Freedom from Surveillance.”

For more information on Choose Privacy Week, visit www.privacyrevolution.org or contact Jennifer Petersen, ALA PR coordinator at (312) 280-5043, jpetersen@ala.org.

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