Choose Privacy Week 2014: Kids Deserve Privacy Too!

Posted by on May 2, 2014 in Choose Privacy Week, Protecting Privacy, Schools, Student privacy | 0 comments

by Heather Acerro
Head of Youth Services,
Rochester Public Library, MN

It is so basic that it doesn’t seem worth talking about, but kids deserve privacy too. Your library has a privacy policy in place, which is compliant with all applicable laws, and I am sure that you follow it. You don’t go around telling your neighbors what the kids across the street are checking out. You don’t give out addresses and phone numbers of your storytime participants to whomever may ask. Of course you don’t. But do kids have the privacy they deserve?

Privacy is about more than a list of books checked out and access to personal information. Privacy is also about providing a safe space for inquiry, discovery and research. There are so many ways to unwittingly deny kids privacy and mistakes are made all of the time.

Think about the class visit from Ms. Morris’ 28 third graders to the library. Joey’s dad sent him to the library with his library card, $5 and instructions to find out what book was overdue and pay the fines. So the library staffer pulls up his account to see about those fines. 25 of those 28 third graders are behind the staffer looking at the screen, seeing the books on Joey’s account. Or maybe they are not behind her, maybe they are just there around the desk, waiting impatiently behind Joey to ask their questions, and she tells Joey the title. Those kids all heard. Does Joey leave feeling like he can trust the library with his privacy?

Remember that time when Brenda was in fourth grade and she came in asking for books about the human body when Jenny was working the desk? And Jenny said, in her loudest outside voice, “So, you want books about the human body? What exactly are you interested in?” With that transaction, Brenda was cured of asking another reference question.

What about that time that Walt couldn’t find a book for a teen on teen pregnancy so he excused himself to ask his colleague for help and everyone on the Internet computers heard him and turned to see who was asking? That’s not privacy.

Or last week when Bobby’s mom came in looking and the librarian said, “Oh, he’s over there looking for a science project.” Innocent enough, but extraneous information that didn’t need to be broadcasted.

When kids are on the Internet, is a staff person watching what they are doing? Do they walk by to see what is going on? Do they pass judgment on the games they are playing, saying they are “too violent” or “too gross”? That’s not privacy either.

And finally, when the workday is done, or the shift is over, do staff go into the back room and laugh and gossip about what kids asked for, what they were looking at on the Internet, etc.? That doesn’t sound like privacy to me.

In what other ways do we sometimes, unintentionally fail to protect the privacy of kids in our libraries?

Heather Acerro is engaged in building an innovative, dynamic and interactive space for kids & teens to learn, collaborate and create at the Rochester Public Library. She writes reviews for School Library Journal, serves on the board of The Reading Center: Dyslexia Institute of Minnesota and is the current chair of the ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee.