What Privacy Rights Do You Have At The Library?

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Patrons use computers in the Teen'Scape area at the Los Angeles Public Library. (Damian Dovarganes/AP)
Patrons use computers in the Teen'Scape area at the Los Angeles Public Library. (Damian Dovarganes/AP)

Take a moment to think about the last time you visited the library. Did you visit to check out a book? Or to use the Internet?

It's becoming more common to the visit for the latter — a 2009 study found that almost half of those living below the poverty line access the web via their local public library.

But, in the age of data collection by both federal agencies and private companies, some librarians say it's increasingly difficult to maintain patron privacy and intellectual freedom.

Which is why, after Edward Snowden leaked classified National Security Agency information in 2013, IT librarian Alison Macrina decided to make some changes at the Watertown Free Public Library.

She installed privacy-protection tools on the computers and taught digital privacy classes to patrons — then she began traveling around the state, and later the country, teaching privacy workshops to other librarians.

Her effort, which is now called "The Library Freedom Project," landed grants from the Knight Foundation in January, so Macrina quit her job in Watertown and became the project's full-time director.


Alison Macrina, director of the Library Freedom Project. She tweets @flexlibris.


The Nation: Librarians Versus The NSA

  • "Macrina, 30, is not your grandmother’s librarian. She has a kaleidoscopic illustration from a Mother Goose book tattooed on her arm, occasionally poses for selfies in red lipstick, and wears a small piece of hardware called a security token around her neck like a pendant."

Slate: Librarians Are Dedicated To User Privacy. The Tech They Have To Use Is Not.

  • "Libraries have long voiced a deep commitment to privacy in the digital age. In 2006 the American Library Association even issued a resolution on the Retention of Library Usage Records, which expressly urges libraries to avoid unnecessary collection and retention of personally identifiable data, and to transmit any such data over a secure protocol."

This segment aired on May 18, 2015.


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