Legal and Ethical Issues

Respecting the privacy of patrons

Paragraph III of the American Library Association's STATEMENT OF PROFESSIONAL ETHICS deals with patrons' privacy:

Librarians must protect each user's rights to privacy with respect to information sought or received, and materials consulted, borrowed, or acquired.

This means that you should not talk about patron's requests outside of the library environment. You can't, for example, tell your spouse about who dropped into the library to ask how to file his own divorce locks. You should not discuss any questions (with anyone!) that would violate a patron's privacy.

In discussing questions with your fellow employees, make sure that other patrons can't overhear, and that you are doing so for professional and not personal reasons.

You must not give out information on what books a patron has checked out without a court order. (Minnesota law protects this right to privacy. See next page for Minnesota Law on Confidentiality of Library Records.) If you have such a request from a law enforcement agency, refer it to your supervisor.

Whenever you are asking the public for their personal information on an application or survey, you must include a "Tennessen warning." This warning includes information on why the data is being collected and what will be done with it.

More information on the Tennessen warning, data privacy and libraries can be found on the MINITEX website at

Go to Minnesota Law on Confidentiality of Library Records.

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This page was updated on September 30, 2003.