Library upholds privacy


Robert McCune uses Library computers Wednesday to print out his homwork.

Charles Powell

The Los Medanos College Library acts as a depository of knowledge storing a host of printed words and offering visitors seats on the information super highway. What it does not retain is a lot of information on its patrons according to Technical Services Librarian Christine Park and only share what they have with the person involved.

In an age of “big data” where a visit to a website can prompt tailored advertising during a later web search and every car driven across the golden gate bridge has its license plate photographed, Park said the library’s own record keeping system is purposefully designed, so records are only kept on what is currently being borrowed. She explained even if someone wanted to know what they checked out in the past the staff would not be able to tell them because once an item is returned it is cleared from the system.

Park added the staff also does not monitor what is being looked up digitally so patron privacy is maintained on the computers allowing for the free search of information on them as well. She said the one limitation material accessed does have to be accordance with the Contra Costa Community College District Board Policy 5030, which requires users respect the rights of others and they observe all pertinent laws.

Many of those who make use of the library’s resources are probably unaware of the pains taken to keep what they learn about confidential. For some, like LMC student Kenzie McMillan, it may not seem all that necessary because of the kind of information they would have is not likely to be damaging.

To Park, the efforts to respect patron privacy is a vital part of what it means to librarians who operate under the American Library Association’s (ALA) Code of Ethics and observe a Library Bill of Rights.

“It is just important because some people don’t have any other way to access information. If they can’t feel comfortable knowing it isn’t going to be broadcasted they might not feel free to look up things they need to or are interested in,” said Park.

One example she gave is if someone needed to learn about something potentially sensitive like medical or legal issues with an assurance of confidentiality in the library they may not have any other way to learn about it.

Robert Bruce, one of the student employee’s in the library, agrees with Park about it being important that borrowing information is only for patron’s themselves.

“Its just if we did it would be an invasion of privacy. I don’t want people knowing what I’m reading,” said Bruce.

According to LMC Political Science Professor Milton Clarke, the protection of privacy can be found multiple times in the United States Constitutional Bill of Rights from the second amendment’s right to keep a gun in the home to the fourth amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure and the fifth amendment’s right against self-incrimination.

Park also looked to the fourth amendment to explain why law enforcement agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation would require a warrant to access what records are kept.

For Clarke, the right to privacy can be abused by both the public and the government, creating a sort of tug of war between hating the potential for another terrorist attack versus law enforcement going too far along George Orwell’s 1985 novel concept of Big Brother.

“What I would like to see is ordinary citizens like you or me who don’t have an axe to grind being involved,” said Clarke.

Bruce saw privacy in the library record keeping being desirable because it helps avoid potentially awkward situations because if one person knew someone else had a book they needed they might try to track that person down to get it.

For Park, patron privacy goes to the heart of what she sees as the mission of the LMC library.

“We strive to impact the success of our students by providing academic information resources and also instruction and guidance on how to use those resources effectively and efficiently,” said Park. “Patron privacy supports it because it allows students to access the information and not feel anyone is going to judge them or use the information in any way against them.“

For additional views on library patron privacy visit