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Penn State University Libraries

Policies and Guidelines

ADMINISTRATIVE

Guideline UL-ADG04 STAFF GUIDELINES ON PROTECTING THE CONFIDENTIALITY AND PRIVACY OF PATRON LIBRARY RECORDS

Contents:

  • Purpose
  • Introduction
  • Questions
  • Cross References

PURPOSE:

To provide Libraries’ employees with answers to questions of concern.

INTRODUCTION:

Library employees may not provide patron-specific information or information related to the business of the library in any form (written, oral, or electronic) to anyone other than the account holder concerned.  No employee should feel compelled to respond to an oral or undocumented request for information from a law enforcement officer or any other person.  Any request for patron information that library staff may receive from a law enforcement official should be referred directly to the Dean’s office immediately.  This applies to all requests for information regarding our library users as well as an individual’s library records retained in any/all library systems. (Library systems include, but are not limited to: ILLiad, EZBorrow, SirsiDynix Symphony, Aeon, Director’s Station, Desk Tracker, room booking and more. In addition, pen and paper registration systems such as wait lists and attendance are subject to the same restrictions.) This applies to all locations and all hours of service.  Many of our records are protected under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), a federal law. 

In the event that a library employee is approached by a law enforcement officer with a search warrant, a subpoena, or a verbal request for information, that employee should immediately contact his or her supervisor who will take appropriate measures to ensure that the Libraries’ compliance with the law is upheld.  All requests for information concerning a judicial process should be referred immediately to the office of the Dean of the Libraries, 510 Paterno Library, University Park, (814) 863-4723.

QUESTIONS:

What should I do if I am asked for information?

If you are approached avoid taking an adversarial stance.  Be polite, courteous, and friendly.  It is the Libraries’ intention to comply with the law while taking every available precaution to preserve patron confidentiality and privacy.

  • You may say, “I am not the person who can provide that information, but let me contact someone who can assist you.” 
  • Contact your supervisor immediately. 
  • The supervisor will politely ask to see a legal order, subpoena or warrant, and inform the law enforcement officer or agent that the Libraries’ Dean and Legal Counsel will be contacted immediately; thereby letting them know that there will not be a delay.
  • Contact Libraries’ Administration (and campus administration):
    • The Dean’s Office reception can be reached at 814-865-0402. The Dean’s office is open Monday through Friday, usually from 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
  • If the officer or agent produces a warrant, ask the officer or agent to wait while you contact the appropriate administrator.  If the officer or agent will not wait, step aside and allow the search to proceed and then contact the administration. After hours contact information.
  • In the event of a warrant being presented for an immediate search and/or seizure of computer equipment and electronic files, contact the Dean’s Office as above and the Department for Information Technologies (I-Tech). After hours contact information.

How will the request be presented?

A subpoena asserts that information relevant to a judicial matter is required to be produced at some specific time in the future.  Follow the steps above if an officer or agent produces a subpoena.  You may inform the person serving the subpoena that you are not authorized to accept it and that you will contact the Libraries’ Dean and Legal Counsel immediately.  If the subpoena arrives through a courier service or the mail, route it immediately to Libraries Administration.  A subpoena may be presented by a process server or some other person who may or may not be a law enforcement official.

A search warrant is issued when probable cause has been determined by a judge or magistrate; it is served and executed immediately.  As stated above, if the officer or agent produces a warrant, ask the officer or agent to wait while you contact the appropriate administrator.  If the officer or agent will not wait, step aside and allow the search to proceed.  Meanwhile, follow the steps above.  Also, carefully read the warrant and monitor the search without interfering.  If property is seized, an inventory of that property should be provided by the officer.  Ask for one if it is not offered.  Do not sign anything ensuring that the inventory is complete.  A search warrant is served and executed by law enforcement officials (e.g. FBI agents, local police, or other law enforcement officials such as state police or county sheriff).  They may or may not be uniformed officers.  The Libraries’ Administration will verify the credentials at the point at which they become involved.  An exception is with a search warrant that is to be executed immediately.  In that case staff who are present and monitoring the search should review and document the credentials of the law enforcement officers involved.

Oral requests for patron information should also be referred to the appropriate administrator.  While we cannot be required to cooperate with an investigation without judicial process, the Libraries will, as conscientious members of the community, act within the constraints of the law to cooperate with investigators.  Oral requests may be presented by almost anyone.  While it is not unlawful to make such a request, it is unlawful to provide patron information or information about library business without proper authorization.

Examples of some typical questions that might be asked at the desk:

“Can you tell me who is recalling my book?  I’d like to know who else is working in this subject area.  I’d like to know if it’s a colleague of mine.”

“We found some books, who has them checked out?  We want to get them back to the person.”  [The answer of course is to return them to the Library we’ll make sure they are taken care of.]

Parents of students sometimes call about notices and ask what else was checked out to their daughter or son.  [Ans: “We’ll be glad to discuss it with your daughter or son (the account holder).”] Parents of former students sometimes ask the same question.

Instructors sometimes ask who in their classes checked out items from Reserves.  [This is information we do not provide.]

When will the request be presented?

Most requests will come during normal business hours.  However, should a request come after hours or on a weekend, follow the steps described above as closely as you are able.  Again, it is appropriate to ask a law enforcement official to wait until appropriate contacts are made.  This may mean asking them to return during weekday business hours.

Can I talk about a subpoena or search warrant?

Do not discuss matters pertaining to judicial processes with others including the media, patrons, family, co-workers or colleagues at other libraries.  Publicity or discussion around such events, whether or not the judicial process is secret or sealed, must be decided by the Dean of the Libraries and Counsel.  It is appropriate to consult with your supervisor and administrators.  Disclosure of this information can be prohibited under the law.

Employees who are upset by the interactions with law enforcement officers should call their supervisor immediately.

As a concerned citizen, what if I see something that I consider suspicious behavior?

Overt illegal acts such as theft, assault, or vandalism should as always be reported to Campus Police immediately. In the event you have a reasonable belief that there is an emergency involving an immediate risk of death or serious physical injury to others, you should report this immediately to authorities. Call 911.

If you witness behavior that appears to entail the illegal use or misuse of the Libraries’ facilities and informational resources, contact your supervisor or Libraries Administration immediately with the details.  No Libraries’ employee may act on his/her own volition in this regard without consulting Libraries’ Administration.

Remember, as an employee of the Libraries and the University you represent the institution.  You should adhere to the Libraries policies and follow these procedures at all times.

CROSS REFERENCES:

UL-AD08 – Confidentiality and Privacy of Patron Library Records

Training Session Privacy & Confidentiality in the Library: Protecting Users’ Rights https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lfnl-v1cmps&feature=youtu.be


Effective Date: October 3, 2003
Date Approved: October 3, 2003 (Dean's Library Council)

Revision History (and effective dates):

  • August 21, 2015 – Editorial clarificaitions and reflection of current practice 
  • August 2011 – Libraries' Administration Contact Information Updated
  • January 2010 – Digital Library Technologies Contact Information Updated
  • August 2007 – Revised; Addition of information about FERPA
  • December 19, 2006 – Digital Library Technologies Contact Information Updated
  • August 2007; October 24, 2005 – Libraries' Administration Contact Information Updated
  • October 3, 2003 – New guidelines

Last Review Date:  August 2011