Privacy and the Library Profession


An Educational Service of the American Library Association

Office for Information Technology Policy


Prepared by Leslie Harris & Associates in conjunction with OITP staff



Library privacy is deeply rooted in the broader ideology of the librarian profession.  Indeed, confidentiality of library records is a basic principle of librarianship.  Historically, librarians have sought to protect users' confidentiality by scrupulously guarding library patrons' records from public scrutiny.  ALA first officially recognized the right to privacy in 1939 in its Code of Ethics for librarians.  Today, the ALA professional ethics code continues to acknowledge the paramount importance of library patron privacy.


The ALA Code of Ethics requires that librarians maintain the confidentiality of all personally identifiable information about library users.  Personally identifiable information is any information that links a user's choices of taste, interest, or research to that user's identity.  As set forth in Article III of the Code of Ethics, librarians must "protect each library user's right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted."  Consequently, the right to privacy articulated in the Code of Ethics extends to a multitude of library patron records, such as database search records, reference interviews, circulation records, interlibrary loan records, and other personally identifiable uses of library materials, facilities, or services.  As library services continue to move online, the Code of Ethics requires that patron privacy remain a paramount concern for librarians.


Additionally, the right to privacy in a library is also implicit in the ALA's Library Bill of Rights, which guarantees free access to library resources for all users and opposes any limitations on the right to an individual's exercise of free expression.  A specific privacy interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights was adopted by the ALA Council in June, 2002.  Through the Library Bill of Rights and the Code of Ethics, librarians fight to protect patron privacy and preserve our democratic society by promoting a diversity of viewpoints and ideas to support an informed, literate, and educated public.


Further information:


ALA's Washington Office, Privacy:


Library Bill of Rights


Privacy Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights


Code of Ethics


Copyright 2002, American Library Association, Office for

Information Technology Policy




This Online Privacy Tutorial is a service of the American Library Association. The content of this tutorial is primarily the work of Leslie Harris & Associates in Washington, DC. The views expressed in these messages are not necessarily the views of ALA or Leslie Harris & Associates. This tutorial is for information only and will not necessarily provide answers to concerns that arise in any particular situation. This service is not legal advice and does not include many of the technical details arising under certain laws. If you are seeking legal advice to address specific privacy issues, you should consult an attorney licensed to practice in your state.