Sunday, March 15, 2009

Hey, That's Private! Student Privacy and the School Library.

I must first start off by apologizing for my absenteeism on this blog for the last few weeks. To put it mildly, I've been busy, distracted,and plagued with what seems like the cold from "H, E, double hockey sticks", if you know what I mean............ The topic of this post is PRIVACY and how it relates to the school library.

Privacy and School Library Media Centers: A Thin Line, A Fine Balance.............
A classmate of mine referred to the issue of student privacy and library media centres as "paradoxical" and I agree. As 21st century librarians, we are trying to expand the view of educational websites to include social networking sites. However, in utilizing these valuable sites (as well as many other Web 2.0 tools) we are exposing our students to opportunities to post their personal information online. As librarians, we not only wear the mantle of upholders of intellectual freedom for our students, but are entrusted, as teachers, with the responsibility to ensure the safety of these children that are in our care for six hours a day, five days a week.
I pose the question to you, readers, how do we balance our responsibility to respect our students rights when sometimes the "right" thing to do involves stepping on those very rights that we fight to protect?
Helen Adams states "state laws are sometimes at odds with the right of privacy for minors affirmed by the library profession" (Adams). Well, so is the definition of the role of the teacher and the librarian. Put those two roles together and we've created some muddy waters through which to navigate! So, what I am I going to do about it? Here are some ideas that I have gathered from various sources to help me navigate those waters.
As a teacher-librarian I can:
* empower my students with educating them about their privacy and intellectual freedom rights.
* arm my fellow teachers, parents, and students with knowlege about the joys and pitfalls of having an online presence through workshops, pro-d, parent nights, and website links to resources.
* be an available, accessible, approachable presence at the library media centre.

Here are some resources that I think would be useful for anyone wanting to learn more about this topic. Special acknowledgement goes out to Joanne DeGroot (my EDES 545 instructor) for making many of these resources available to her students this term!
* Libraries on Facebook
* Facebook and Student Privacy
* Google Search Privacy Video
* Getting Started: Online Privacy
* Cookies and You!
* Balancing School Safety and Privacy
* Online Privacy

Privacy and Library Patron Circulation Information
Another aspect of this topic is patron privacy rights and the school library. In all honesty, I have never really taken the time to think about this in depth before this week. I have never had a parent or anyone else request to see a student's circulation record.
In both of the elementary libraries that I have been involved with student's circulation records have been, for the most part, private. That is until overdue notices rear their ugly heads. How do teacher-librarians uphold the privacy rights of their students AND ensure that books get returned to the library? Here are some suggestions that I found to be both efficient and respectful:

* stapling overdue notices so that only the student's name can be seen.
* having students call and leave their own messages at home as reminders.
* weekly reminders during library blocks (private conversations at the circulation desk).
* just ask the student! "Can I forward the titles of you overdue books to your parents/guardians so that they can help you look for your books?".
* educating teachers of the rights of their students in regards to circulation details.

Digging Deeper Than Overdues............

On the flipside, Peter Bromberg suggests that maybe librarians are TOO rigid in protecting privacy rights. He states, "our choice to disallow customer control of their own information means that their needs for connection and social networking go unmet, which in turn creates opportunities for entrepreneurial companies like Library Elf, GoodReads, and LibraryThing (created by frustrated library lovers, I wonder?) to come in and fill those needs. Which is great, but why aren't libraries creating and offering these experiences?" Hmmmm....... very interesting.

Sometimes I get so caught up in the topic at hand, I often pick the side that seems the most "right", but perhaps this particular aspect of library patron privacy is not so clear. This brings me to the question, how can I move beyond the simple privacy rights and give my students more options and control over their information. Or, is this even an issue at the elementary level. Should I focus my attention on educating parents, students, and teachers about library patron rights or do I begin thinking outside the box and follow Facebook's example? Sorry to disapoint you folks, but I'm just not that adventurous in my second year in the library. I want to get all these issues under my belt before really shaking things up. However, the fact remains that I can do all that I want to protect the rights of my patrons, but it should be up to the patrons in the end to decide what happens with the information.

I'll end this post with a quote that I came across in my research for this week's topic.
When it comes to privacy and accountability, people always demand the former for themselves and the latter for everyone else.” David Brin

Adams, Helen, School Library Media Activities Monthly; Jun 2008; 24, 10; ProQuest Education Journals

1 comment:

Patty said...

We happen to be evaluating this very issue. An elementary librarian wants to put parent emails on student accounts so overdue notices will be emailed to the parents. We are thinking that according to FERPA, that is allowable, but according to all recommendations by library organizations this would not be a very good practice.
Not sure what to do for offical policy.