Sunday, September 19, 2010

Patron Privacy

One of the features available to our patrons with Koha is "My Reading History" to keep track of the items that they have previously checked out. See the Koha 3.2 OPAC Demo Video by Nicole Engard. On the surface this feature is very convenient for patrons that can't remember if they have read all of the Lee Child's or Jeffrey Deaver novels... or whatever. (My husband is always saying that he should keep a list of read books because I often bring home a title that he's already read but he doesn't realize it until he's well into it.)

However, staff has concerns about holding on to patrons' borrowing history since we are committed to protecting their privacy. We are bound by the Public Records Act, California Govt Code Section 6267 Our Director, Carolyn Garner-Reagan, queried library law expert Mary Minow about our concern. "The law forbids libraries to disclose circulation and registration info, unless they have patron consent. This type of feature sounds like circulation info. So long it's not disclosed to anyone without patron consent or court order, it's probably ok." In her opinion this feature should not be turned on by default. It should be offered to those who are informed about who has access and that the Library should receive patrons' explicit consent to keep and disclose the lists. Mary also said in her email "this does not constitute legal advice."

Would it be too easy for law enforcement to access these records if we went this route? We wouldn't want to take that chance... especially if a patron didn't realize that we were holding on to this information. We understand that a patron must login to their own account to have access to their borrowing history but would law enforcement have easier access to this information?

We talked to Brendan, from ByWater Solutions, concerning this feature and whether many libraries are using it. He understood our concern and said it was a policy decision -- some libraries allowed the feature and others didn't.

An option is to take advantage of the personal "lists" that patrons can create once they login to their account. These lists could be about anything... from material on a certain subject, author, or even books they have read. These lists are set up by the patron -- not the Library holding on to their borrowing history. This might be an option. However, would they be subject to California's confidentiality laws?

Our current system, SirsiDynix's Symphony, allows for favorite authors or subjects to be kept on the patron's account so that a patron is notified when a new title by that author is ordered. We opted to turn this feature off since it took up too much room on our server.

The jury is still out on how we will proceed. We have some time to ponder the issues before turning the feature on or off. If you have any suggestions, please let us know.


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