I.  The privacy of library users is and must be inviolable.


As Thompson (1975) asserts, nobody has a clear idea of what the right to privacy really is.  The right to privacy is not an absolute right, expressly defined as such, in the U.S. Constitution or Bill of Rights.  Instead, it is a “cluster” of rights: the Fourth Amendment guarantees "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against all unreasonable searches and seizures," the Fifth Amendment guarantees

against self-incrimination, and the Ninth Amendment guarantees that "the enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."  People believe that to violate one of the rights in the cluster is to de facto violate the right to privacy.  The truth is that the courts have created what we know to be the Right to Privacy today.  Just as the courts can decide in favor of privacy,

they can also decide to deny it in certain cases, thus, we can have less of a right to privacy than we do today.  We are dependent on the court system to continue to uphold the theory of a right to privacy. 


Library professionals have attached themselves to the rights of privacy with vigor and righteousness.  The ALA has upheld privacy rights since 1939.  They have based their Code of Ethics and Library Bill of Rights around these rights.  In "Privacy: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights," the ALA maintains that librarians are not monitors of information.  Implicit in the responsibility of employees, and others working in the library, is the responsibility of users to respect other users right to privacy. (ALA, 2002)


Fallis (2003) states, “the consequentialist justification for a right to privacy is that violations of privacy lead to harmful consequences. . . . Failing to respect an individual’s privacy is to fail to respect his or her autonomy.”  Garoogian (1991, p. 228) states that “morally and legally what individuals read or what information they seek is nobody else’s business.  A library user’s privacy has clearly been invaded if a librarian reveals this information to an outsider.  As indicated in the [ALA’s] ‘Statement on Professional Ethics,’ librarians must protect each user’s right to privacy with respect to information sought or received and materials consulted, borrowed, or acquired. . . . The concept of the library as ‘sanctuary’ demands that the librarian be extended the same privilege of confidentiality granted to the attorney-client, the physician-patient, the accountant-client, or the journalist-informant relationships.”


Today, we are dealing with the consequences of the insidious USA PATRIOT Act.  Under section 215 of the Act, the government has the ability to peruse a patron’s records without the patron’s permission or knowledge and, in fact, the information professional charged with giving up this information cannot inform anyone of the investigation.  This is the slippery slope we have read about in countless histories of countries run by authoritarian governments.


In practice and theory, the librarian has an obligation to respect and maintain the privacy of patrons and to continue to fight for this right.  The ACRL maintains that policies should be in place that maintain confidentiality of library borrowing records and of other information relating to personal use of library information and services.