Leading the way in protecting privacy

November 28, 2018

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By Aude Charillon, Library and Information Officer, Newcastle Libraries

I personally believe that libraries exist to defend people’s rights to enrich and improve their own lives, their environment and society. We library and information professionals make this happen by facilitating access to and by sharing information, knowledge and culture. We stand for freedom of information and freedom of expression; and privacy is essential for citizens to make full use of those rights. It is therefore part of our role in libraries to lead the way in protecting and promoting privacy.

Privacy is about making an informed choice

This said, many citizens do not think their online privacy is very important; often because they do not fully understand how their personal information is collected and used. Privacy should be about choice: people need to be aware of the risks to their personal data and of the tools that may help them protect it better; so they can make an informed choice about whether to take steps to actively protect their privacy.

What library staff can do

Library staff already enable citizens to learn digital skills. We should be providing resources and organising events and activities for people to learn about online privacy issues and about privacy-conscious practices and tools.

We also need to ensure we practice what we preach and take steps to ensure our internal processes and systems are privacy-friendly. Leading the Way: a guide to privacy for public library staff aims to support UK public library staff in doing just that. The guide provides information on privacy issues such as:

  • data protection and data retention;
  • the security of systems and websites;
  • the layout of the library.

The guide proposes practical steps for staff to improve the way citizens’ privacy is protected in their library service. It contains suggestions on engaging library colleagues with the topic and working with ICT colleagues and library systems suppliers.

Taking a stand

Citizens should be in a position to make informed decisions when it comes to using library services. Leading the Way covers the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and its principles: especially transparency and limiting the handling of personal data to what is necessary to deliver the service. As library and information professionals we should not simply comply with GDPR: we should be leading the way and showing best practice of what, for example, ‘being transparent’ means.

I believe we should go further than respecting the privacy of citizens using library services: we should be taking a stand for it. We cannot be neutral; in order for libraries to remain safe spaces and for library staff to remain trusted professionals we must adopt a proactive attitude to protecting citizens’ privacy in libraries.

So if you work in a library, I would encourage you to read this guide. Be better informed, uphold your values, provoke discussions – and start making changes for the better, one step at a time.