With the recent uproar over privacy on Facebook and so many other breaches of privacy, including a password breach last week at Twitter, it sometimes feels as though privacy no longer exists. Certainly, it’s much harder to protect.  And yet, as educators we need to do all that is possible to protect our students’ privacy and to teach them what they can do to guard it. Today, I’d like to discuss the former.

ALA through its Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) is a resource you can turn to for help. Choose Privacy Week is held annually on May 1-7 (yes, today’s the last day).  The OIF “works with other privacy advocates to highlight current privacy practices and guidelines”. ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee, Privacy Subcommittee, is one of the sponsors of the week and helps in creating and providing resources.   But how does this play out in your library and school? In too many places, there isn’t a Privacy Policy or even guidelines to raise awareness and take the precautions needed to protect students. To get an overview of what is needed, I recommend reviewing the Library Privacy Guidelines for Students in K-12 Schools.

Most school libraries have set their automation system to not keep records of what students have borrowed (it usually is the default setting.) which is an extremely important part of guarding student privacy.  Yet there are other practices that erode that privacy. For example, notifying students of overdue books is invariably done through the classroom or homeroom teacher depending on grade level. If the teacher receives a list of the outstanding loans/books for each student that’s a violation of the student’s privacy. It’s not the teacher’s business what the students are reading. What should be done, is to create individual notes for each student. Staple the notices closed and put the student’s name on the outside.  This can then be sent to the teachers.

I have no solution for the common practice of generating a list of overdues (and fines) at the end of the year.  In these situations, it may be the school’s policy that students do not get their report card or next year’s schedule until the books are returned and any fines paid.  What should never be done, and I have seen it, is to post the list on the windowed walls of the office, allowing anyone passing by to see who had taken out what book.

Gossip is another issue that infringes on student privacy.  There are still a number of you who have volunteers in your library.  I have often said they are your program’s eyes and ears to the community. They can be your biggest supporters and spread the good word about you and your program. The problem is they are also the mouths.  They see different students whom they know from other settings.  Without guidelines to inform the volunteers, or, better yet, a Board approved Privacy Policy, they may share their opinion of the behavior of different students and what books they have checked out.

If a parent group runs the book fair and it is held in the library, the same thing has a tendency to happen.  You have a responsibility to do your best to eliminate or minimize these violations of student privacy.  With your volunteers, share a written privacy policy, including the Library Privacy Guidelines for Students in K-12 Schools. Explain to them why it’s important.

When parents are in the library to run a book fair, you won’t be able to go into detail, but you might want to try a quick rundown of your guidelines.  You cannot guarantee it will help, but you will know you have made every effort.  We know when students are concerned that people are “watching” what they read, it has an inhibiting effect.  And that is counter to the Open Access and Freedom to Read values so important to most of us. Safeguarding our students’ privacy is a part of making and keeping the library a safe place for all.

Don’t worry that the first week in May is up. It’s never a bad time to look at what you are doing to safeguard your students’ privacy and helping them to understand the value that privacy has for us all.

 

 

 

 

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