posted September 23, 2014 1:32 PM by Gemma Doyle
Everyone knows the persistent stereotype of the shhhing librarians, enemies of noise and fun. As I noted a month ago, there's even a shhhing librarian action figure. The reality, of course, is very different - as no doubt anyone who is attending or even seriously considering library school knows, and that's not even the half of it. At least in some circles - circles in the know - librarians are painted as ninjas protecting the privacy rights of their patrons.
And they're not wrong.
The ALA has supported patron privacy rights since 1939, affirming that confidentiality is crucial to freedom of inquiry in the Library Bill of Rights. It's definitely true that if patrons believe that libraries share their information queries with any agency that asks, they won't make the queries in the first place. Libraries often view privacy rights as basic human rights, and base their privacy policies on the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Of course, having the basic ideas in place is one thing, but actually acting on them when the FBI or NSA asks for patron information is something else altogether. Cases like the Connecticut Four prove that such information is being asked for - and that librarians are fighting back at least some of the time. Many libraries are choosing to protect privacy by not collecting the information in the first place - by adopting systems that automatically delete patron's borrowing records after items have been returned and installing TOR on public terminals to allow patrons to browse the internet with true anonymity.
Pretty far from the shhhhing librarian, right?
TOR is still a new thing to see used in libraries, and I think it will be interesting to see what new ideas emerge from libraries in the next few years, as they fight on the front lines of the privacy battle. Frankly, I'd rather be a ninja than a shusher any day.