Watching What Students Read in the School Library

Posted by on October 19, 2015 in reader privacy, Schools, Student privacy, Youth and Privacy | 0 comments

by Helen Adams, Member, and Michael Robinson, Chair
IFC Privacy Subcommittee

The Collier School District in Florida now allows parents and guardians to see the titles of books their children (and wards) check out from the district’s school libraries.    Colllier County’s “Parent Portal” is being offered as a means of heading off book challenges in the district, with the thought that parents themselves can police the books their children are reading, rather than asking the school to remove the book from the school library.

Although Florida’s library confidentiality statute does not bar schools from providing parents a student’s library records,  it does not mean that it is ethical or appropriate for libraries to provide parents with  the technological means to check their children’s circulation records and their reading choices.  Established through case law, students have a First Amendment right to receive information in school libraries. Whether they exercise that right is dependent on whether they feel that their use of resources will be kept confidential. The district’s action will certainly chill some students’ use of resources that may be controversial and/or on sensitive topics. Instead of checking out some books, students will read the books in the library (hiding them somewhere on the shelves), have a friend check them out, or simply “borrow them” without benefit of checkout.

Do parents need to check the reading choices of their children? Younger elementary children often have difficulty managing the books they have checked out of the school library, so this means of confirming the number of books and when they are due may be useful to parents. However, the information can also be easily obtained by calling or emailing the school librarian. Is parental tracking of middle school students’ personal reading choices necessary? Tweens are beginning to explore new ideas including their sexual orientation and other sensitive topics. High school students are also in the process of maturing, establishing some personal independence, and preparing for life after high school.  Why should they fear that their parents may surreptitiously check on what they are reading?

Instead, schools should encourage parents to talk to their children or young adults face-to-face or look at the physical books.  Parents have the right (and responsibility) to guide their children’s reading – which does not mean spying on their child, but instead  talking about the ideas in the books, discussing reading choices in relation to family values, and recommending books.

As librarians, we follow the Code of Ethics of the American Library Association that states in Article III, “We protect each library user’s right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted.”  It is incumbent on librarians to oppose practices that violate our ethics, especially those that concern the intellectual freedom of our patrons even if they are minors.  There is a delicate balancing act between the rights of minors and the rights of parents. The Collier County “Parent Portal” shifts the balance too much toward the rights of parents and endangers the ability of students to read and think in an environment free from surveillance.  It is a bad practice that the library profession must strongly advocate against before it becomes a precedent.

If the “Parental Portal” practice goes unchallenged, not only is students’ privacy substantially decreased, but also another opportunity for parent and child interaction about books, reading, and libraries will be lost. Students will grow up thinking surveillance of their reading and research topics is expected or the norm.  In a time when privacy and confidentiality of personal data is endangered, it is important for school librarians to challenge this use of technology to diminish students’ privacy. Just because we can give parents remote access to students’ school library records does not mean it is the right thing to do.

Learn more about students’ and minors’ privacy by visiting the Students’ and Minors’ Privacy Resource Page.

Helen Adams is is a former school librarian in Wisconsin and currently an online instructor for the School Library and Information Technologies program at Mansfield University in Pennsylvania.  She is the author of Protecting Intellectual Freedom and Privacy in Your School Library.

Mike Robinson is an associate professor and head of systems for the Consortium Library at the University of Alaska – Anchorage. Mike has worked with technology in libraries for most of his career and has a strong interest in online privacy as a cornerstone of intellectual freedom. He is currently the Chair of the Intellectual Freedom Committee of the Alaska Library Association.

Bolt the “Back Door” on Federal Surveillance

Posted by on October 5, 2015 in cybersecurity, Encryption, government surveillance, Privacy and Security, Protecting Privacy, surveillance, who's tracking you? | 0 comments

crossposted from the ALA Washington Office

The FBI and its powerful backers in Congress have been pushing relentlessly for years for access to all of our electronic communications, even the ones we think we’ve protected. They want to require by law that any encryption technology and software we might use to protect our privacy be deliberately built to give all of law enforcement easy access to your otherwise secure phone calls, email, texts and other electronic communications. Cyber­security experts around the globe repeatedly have said that such “back doors” can’t be secured and would be irresistible lures to spies and criminals of all kinds. Mandating them, the experts say, is a horrible idea. They’re right.

President Obama can end the immediate threat of Congress mandating “back doors” by making a single public statement opposing them. With a single mouse click, YOU can respectfully demand that he do exactly that by signing this “We the People” petition NOW.

“,” a new national campaign to get hundreds of thousands of signatures on this petition, has just been co-launched by ALA and many other leading civil liberties organiza­tions. Together, we can bolt the back door against intrusive govern­ment surveillance.

Please, add your name to the SaveCrypto petition to the President now . . . and pass it on!

ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom announces sponsorship of Let’s Encrypt initiative

Posted by on September 15, 2015 in cybersecurity, Encryption, Privacy and New Technologies, Privacy and Security, Protecting Privacy, reader privacy | 0 comments

Crossposted from the OIF Blog

Today, the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom announced its sponsorship of “Let’s Encrypt,” a free, automated, and open certificate authority. “Let’s Encrypt” is a service provided by the Internet Security Research Group (ISRG) and is run for the public’s benefit. It will allow anyone who owns a domain name – including libraries – to obtain a server certificate at zero cost, making it possible to encrypt data communications between servers and provide greater security for those using the internet for email, browsing, or other online tasks.

“As a technology librarian, I am so proud that the American Library Association is sponsoring the Let’s Encrypt campaign with other privacy advocates like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Mozilla,” said Michael Robinson, chair of the ALA-IFC Privacy Subcommittee, and Head of Systems at the Consortium Library, University of Alaska – Anchorage. “Encrypting websites and services is an important step in protecting privacy in the digital age. The Let’s Encrypt campaign will make it easy for anyone to move their website to https. And it’s free! Even the smallest libraries will be able to take this step to protect the privacy of their patrons. ”

The ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee, a Committee of Council, recommends policies, practices, and procedures as may be necessary to safeguard the rights of library users, libraries, and librarians, in accordance with the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Library Bill of Rights, as adopted by the ALA Council. The IFC Privacy Subcommittee monitors ongoing privacy developments in libraries, including technology, politics, legislation, and social trends and proposes actions to the IFC to meet the privacy needs of librarians and library users.

The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom is charged with implementing ALA policies concerning the concept of intellectual freedom as embodied in the Library Bill of Rights, the Association’s basic policy on free access to libraries and library materials. The goal of the office is to educate librarians and the general public about the nature and importance of intellectual freedom in libraries. OIF supports the work of the Intellectual Freedom Committee and its Privacy Subcommittee. For more information, visit