privacyWhen I advocate for libraries, one of the things I like to emphasize is that libraries and librarians are fiercely committed to protecting patron privacy.  Unlike other places where we search for information or get books, like commercial websites, Amazon, Audible, and search engines who monetize the information they collect on our digital lives, at the library we have pledged to protect your information and will not share the details of the things you read or the materials you check out with anyone.

This is not only a professional ethical code, but a protection that is written into education law.  FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act has been in place since 1974, and guarantees that education institutions protect student data and keep it private.  This includes both information on paper and digital records.  (The tricky thing about FERPA, however, does allow student information sharing of minors with parents and between schools, so it is not a completely private situation for children and their data.) With the burgeoning of ed tech apps, websites, and third party data management systems, it is imperative that school employees and school board policy makers understand how student records will be protected for the short and long term.  In the library, we need to do everything in our power to keep information about student reading choices completely private.

It is an important part of digital literacy instruction that students understand what a digital footprint is, and why it matters to them.  These issues are included in the Common Core Standards Digital Citizenship in 6th-12th grade–which may in fact win over our administrators and fellow teachers if we offer to support them in the instruction of these very important areas:

  • Demonstrate the responsible use of technology and an understanding of ethics and safety issues in using electronic media at home, in school and in society
  • Demonstrate the responsible use of technology and an understanding of ethics and safety issues in using electronic media at home, in school and in society
  • Explain the potential risks associated with the use of networked digital environments (e.g., internet, mobile phones, wireless, LANs) and sharing personal information.

Our lives online, digital words, sounds and images are not temporary and can take on a life of their own beyond our own control.  Most of our engagement on the internet takes place through commercial portals that are outside of our control, and their privacy policies are long, hard to comprehend, and often change.  We as teacher librarians are there to educate students about multiple literacies, including what it means to be a consumer and prosumer of digital materials.  This instruction should include information about students’ own rights to privacy and intellectual freedom, and what it means to have those precious freedoms in our democratic society.

Where should I start? The ALA’s Privacy Guidelines for Students in K-12 Schools provides useful and practical advice to school librarians, and I will add these practices to my priority ‘To-Do list’ for next year, starting with internal systems, then with school and staff awareness of these issues, and lastly with other stakeholders of our library and school.  I’ll use this ALA checklist as my guide.

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Barack, L. (2017). The Privacy Problem. School Library Journal, 63(1), 36-40.