By Michael Robinson
Chair, ALA-IFC Privacy Subcommittee
(Note: This is the first post in a week-long online forum discussing how librarians, educators, and society can respect and defend students’ and minors’ privacy. Stop by each day to read each contributor’s article and check out our page of resources on student and minors’ privacy.)
Last year when writing about Choose Privacy Week I said that it feels like online privacy has taken a step closer to center stage in libraryland. This year I think it has joined the center stage at least in terms of intellectual freedom and library technology issues. At the recent Public Library Association conference in Denver, the two sessions focused on intellectual freedom were both on privacy topics. At our state library conference earlier this year in Fairbanks, I participated on a panel session entitled To Serve and Protect: Intellectual Freedom and Privacy Issues in School Libraries. The session was well attended with a lively discussion among the panelists and the audience. Before the session the panelists were a little concerned that we had devised only seven questions to guide the discussion. It turned out that we only had time for two questions (one on the privacy expectations of students) because the discussion was so rich. Almost everyone in the audience had a story or a question or a point of view that they wanted to share.
My hope is that this year’s Choose Privacy Week will elicit a similar level of discussion. If the roster of bloggers we have lined up for this week is any indication, I am sure that it will. The ease with which we were able to recruit high-calibre writers on a range of topics was due to this year’s theme (“Respect Me, Respect My Privacy”) focusing on library privacy issues for students and minors. This is a complex theme that requires thoughtful consideration.
Students and minors that use the library face all of the potential threats to the privacy of their reading habits and intellectual activities that adult patrons face–government surveillance, commercial tracking, data sharing, library metrics, etc. Students also face an environment where the educational establishment (teachers, school administrators, commercial service providers) is working to create a system of continuous assessment and oversight to track almost all aspects of the student’s online educational activities. Many schools are inviting parents and guardians to participate in this oversight. Parents can login to a school website to see what their student is having for lunch, if they are completing their homework assignments, etc. It is a logical next step to include library usage in this parental oversight. At least one school district has already done so by providing a portal where parents can see the book that their child has checked out from the library.
Libraries have traditionally protected patron privacy by creating policies and practices that rely on First Amendment rights (free inquiry as a component of free speech) and 4th Amendment rights (right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure) as well as applicable state laws on the confidentiality of library records. In the case of students and minors, these protections are somewhat undermined by federal legislation (FERPA and COPPA) which give educators broad leeway in their use of educational records for internal purposes (like assessment) and give parents oversight of their child’s educational records and online activities when they are minors. The age of the minor has a bearing on this as well. There are basic constitutional rights that all minors have (equal protection, due process) but other rights (such as free speech) are acquired progressively as they age and mature. The courts have recognized the need for minors to develop their intellect through free expression and free inquiry as they become adults.
Many school libraries have privacy policies regarding access to library records that are focused on the use of physical books which is commendable. But these policies are inadequate to deal with the threats to privacy in an age when vendors can track how fast people read an e-book or if they even finish it. It is imperative that we carve out a place in the online world for some inquiry that is free from tracking or surveillance. This is especially true for children as they mature into young adults who are establishing their own identity and worldview.
A good first step to defending the privacy rights of students is to make a delineation between educational records and library records. Content specifically included in the curriculum through assigned reading or classroom activities should be considered educational records subject to tracking and assessment. Content accessed by the student as part of free inquiry for research topics or personal interest should be considered library records that are exempted from tracking and assessment.
Michael Robinson is an Associate Professor at the Consortium Library, University of Alaska – Anchorage. In addition to serving as chair of the ALA-IFC Privacy Subcommittee, he serves as chair of the Alaska Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee.
Choose Privacy Week, the American Library Association’s annual event that promotes the importance of individual privacy rights and celebrates libraries and librarians’ special role in protecting privacy in the library and in society as a whole will take place May 1 – 7, 2016.
This year, Choose Privacy Week highlights the need to respect and protect student and minors’ privacy, especially in a time when technology, mobile computing, social media, and the growing adoption of “big data” analytics pose new threats to young people’s privacy. Students in particular are increasingly subject to tracking and monitoring, as schools turn to web-based apps, on-demand delivery of personalized content, virtual forums, social media, and other interactive technologies to deliver educational content and monitor student behavior both on- and off-campus. This year’s theme, “Respect Me, Respect My Privacy” not only seeks to raise awareness of the growing threats to minors’ personal privacy, but to inspire a new regard for young people’s civil rights and personal dignity.
As members of a profession dedicated to providing access to information while defending their patrons’ individual privacy and civil liberties, librarians are uniquely equipped to help students, minors, and parents understand the nature of new technologies and how these technologies facilitate the collection, storage, use, and abuse of young people’s personal data. Librarians and libraries can also equip students, minors, and parents with the information and tools they need to take control of their personal information, and demand accountability from the government agencies and corporations that seek to exploit their personal data.
During Choose Privacy Week the American Library Association invites librarians and library users to engage in a conversation among themselves and with their comunities about respecting individuals’ privacy and defending students’ and minors’ privacy. To support this conversation, the Office for Intellectual Freedom and the ALA-IFC Privacy Subcommittee are sponsoring a week-long online forum that features commentaries by educators, librarians, and law and privacy experts on these issues. Featured speakers include:
Michael Robinson, chair of the IFC Privacy Subcommittee and Head of Systems, University of Alaska-Anchorage, who will discuss the need to respect and defend student privacy;.
Dorothea Salo, Associate Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, School of Library and Information Studies, will discuss developing a privacy curriculum.
Magee Kloepfler, M.Ed, NBCT, librarian at Bolton High School in Bolton, Connecticut, will address student privacy in the context of an ILS shared by a multi-type consortium.
Neil Richards, Professor of Law at Washington University and the author of Intellectual Freedom: Rethinking Civil Liberties for the Digital Age, will consider privacy as a form of respect for individuals.
Carolyn Caywood, retired public librarian and privacy advocate, will write about privacy and civic engagement.
Debbie Abilock and Rigele Abilock will discuss privacy and student data from a vendor’s perspective. Debbie Abilock is a former school administrator and school librarian and a cofounder of NoodleTools, an online research management platform. Rigele Abilock is also a co-founder of NoodleTools and serves as its President of Corporate Strategy.
Anna Lauren Hoffmann, lecturer and post-doctoral scholar at the University of California- Berkeley School of Information will address privacy, technology, and self-respect
Annalisa Keuler, a nationally board certified school librarian at Mountain Brook High School in Birmingham, Alabama, will discuss student data privacy with a personal perspective from her school district.
Connie Williams, a National Board Certified Teacher Librarian currently working at Petaluma High School in Petaluma, CA and Past President of the California School Library Association will share what she learned from her students about privacy and teens.
Kyle Jones, assistant professor in the Department of Library and Information Science at Indiana University-Indianapolis will demonstrate how today’s educational data mining practices are incompatible with the definition of educational records set forth in the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) .
Deborah Caldwell Stone, Deputy Director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom, will provide an overview of state and federal laws aimed at regulating the collection of data from students and minors as well as proposed legislation addressing student data privacy.
Now in its eighth year, Choose Privacy Week is a national public awareness campaign that seeks to deepen public awareness about personal privacy rights and need to insure those rights in an era of pervasive surveillance. Through programming, online education, and special events, libraries will offer individuals opportunities to learn, think critically and make more informed choices about their privacy. The American Library Association’s (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom established Choose Privacy Week to help libraries work with their communities in navigating these complicated but vital issues. Privacy has long been a cornerstone of library services in America and a right that librarians defend every day.
Raising Privacy Awareness in Your Library: A Planning and Programming Webinar for Choose Privacy Week 2016
Is your library preparing to observe Choose Privacy Week 2016? Join the ALA’s IFC Privacy Subcommittee and the Office for Intellectual Freedom for a free webinar that will offer solid guidance on developing privacy programming that will educate and engage your library users and provide an update on current privacy issues confronting libraries today.
The webinar will take place on Thursday, March 24, 2016 at 12 Noon Eastern/11:00 a.m. Central/10:00 a.m. Mountain / 9:00 am Pacific. It will feature three speakers:
- Erin Berman of the San Jose Public Library will discuss the process of transforming a broad, intimidating topic like online privacy into a learning opportunity that is personal, approachable, actionable, and reusable. Learn about SJPL’s Virtual Privacy Lab, and how this free online resource can help you and your patrons build personalized toolkits for optimizing online privacy.
- Michael Zimmer, Ph.D. of the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee will discuss how to use films, and documentaries on privacy and surveillance to increase awareness among patrons and spark conversations on controversial technologies and practices. He’ll also provide ideas on finding guest speakers in your community to help guide discussions for your patrons.
- Jamie LaRue, the new Director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom, will discuss his perspective on privacy and libraries and provide a scan of the most pressing privacy issues confronting libraries today.
The webinar will also offer brief introductions to resources on students’ and minors’ privacy and a guide to free and low-cost print and online resources that can support your library’s observance of Choose Privacy Week. [The live webinar was recorded on March 24 and is available to view and share via this link: http://ala.adobeconnect.com/p695kh38t2v.]
Choose Privacy Week is the American Library Association’s annual, week-long event that promotes the importance of individual privacy rights. Choose Privacy Week, May 1 – 7, 2016, also celebrates libraries and librarians’ unique role in protecting privacy in the library and in society as a whole. For more information on Choose Privacy Week, visit https://chooseprivacyweek.org.
Erin Berman is the Innovations Manager at San Jose Public Library (SJPL). She was chosen as one of the American Library Association’s (ALA) Emerging Leaders in 2014 and is currently the Chair of the Fundraising Committee for the ALA’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table. Ms. Berman has driven many new technology initiatives, including the design of a mobile makerspace, building the framework for the Library’s STEAMstacks programming, and advocating for privacy literacy through the construction of the Virtual Privacy Lab.
Jamie LaRue is the Director of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom and Executive Director of the Freedom to Read Foundation. From 1990 to 2014, he was director of the Douglas County (Colorado) Libraries, widely known as one of the most successful and innovative public libraries in the nation. He then served as CEO of LaRue & Associates, with an active career in writing, speaking and consulting. Author of the award-winning book “The New Inquisition: Understanding and Managing Intellectual Freedom Challenges” (Libraries Unlimited, 2007), Jamie is a frequent presenter for library associations, regional workshops, and library staff days.