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Privacy and Intellectual Freedom


The American Library Association Code of Ethics includes the statement “We protect each library user’s right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received, and materials consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted.” The Fresno State Library strongly supports this precept. Thus, the Library will not disclose information such as reference questions posed, reading materials (including Web sites) consulted, or the identity of its users, except as required by law.

The passage of the USA PATRIOT Act and other laws and regulations following September 11, 2001, gives the FBI and other law enforcement agencies broader authority to obtain confidential information and records from libraries as well as other agencies. While they are still required to obtain a court order, the legal standard for obtaining the order is lower.

Here are examples of how privacy and confidentiality apply to specific library services:


The Library maintains a database of names, addresses, phone numbers, E-mail addresses, and university identification numbers for Fresno State students, faculty, and staff and similar information for holders of other types of borrowing cards. This information is not disclosed to individuals outside the Library, except as required by law. In addition, the Library does not reveal who has borrowed specific books or the borrowing records of individuals, except as required by law. Following common practice, the names of borrowers are removed from the record for each book 60 days after it is returned. The Library does not retain listings of materials borrowed by individuals.

Interlibrary Loan

To comply with copyright regulations, the Library retains interlibrary loan records for 3 years. Names of requesters and the materials they request are not disclosed to individuals outside the Library, except as required by law.

Online Services

For evaluation and system administration purposes, the Library collects IP addresses of users. It also transfers “cookies” to users’ hard drives when they use the Library’s databases. These cookies are not used to gather personal information about users. The Library’s Web site includes many links to Web sites not created by the Library. The Library cannot vouch for the privacy practices of the creators of those Web sites.

Several online forms, including the “Feedback” and “Ask the librarian” forms require requesters to include their names and E-mail addresses. This information is needed so the Library can respond to the requester and remains confidential. When requesters use the Library’s online forms from remote locations or send E-mail to the Library, their messages may traverse several networks before they reach the Library’s server. The Library cannot vouch for the privacy practices of the administrators of these networks.

Research Services

Librarians and staff do not disclose personal information about users nor their inquiries, except when required by law. However, when referring a user to another librarian, a librarian may summarize the inquiry and steps already taken to answer it in order to avoid repetition.

(Adapted from the User Privacy Policy of the Humboldt State University Library) Adopted March 26th, 2003

Intellectual Freedom

Intellectual Freedom Principles for Academic Libraries

The general principles set forth in the Library Bill of Rights form an indispensable framework for building collections, services, and policies that serve the entire academic community.

The privacy of library users is and must be inviolable. Policies should be in place that maintain confidentiality of library borrowing records and of other information relating to personal use of Library Information and services.

The development of library collections in support of an institution's instruction and research programs should transcend the personal values of the selector. In the interests of research and learning, it is essential that collections contain materials representing a variety of perspectives on subjects that may be considered controversial.

Preservation and replacement efforts should ensure that balance in library materials is maintained and that controversial materials are not removed from the collections through theft, loss, mutilation, or normal wear and tear. There should be alertness to efforts by special interest groups to bias a collection though systematic theft or mutilation.

Licensing agreements should be consistent with the Library Bill of Rights, and should maximize access.

Open and unfiltered access to the Internet should be conveniently available to the academic community in a college or university library. Content filtering devices and content-based restrictions are a contradiction of the academic library mission to further research and learning through exposure to the broadest possible range of ideas and information. Such restrictions are a fundamental violation of intellectual freedom in academic libraries.

Freedom of information and of creative expression should be reflected in library exhibits and in all relevant library policy documents.

Library meeting rooms, research carrels, exhibit spaces, and other facilities should be available to the academic community regardless of research being pursued or subject being discussed. Any restrictions made necessary because of limited availability of space should be based on need, as reflected in library policy, rather than on content of research or discussion.

Whenever possible, library services should be available without charge in order to encourage inquiry. Where charges are necessary, a free or low-cost alternative (e.g., downloading to disc rather than printing) should be available when possible.

A service philosophy should be promoted that affords equal access to information for all in the academic community with no discrimination on the basis of race, values, gender, sexual orientation, cultural or ethnic background, physical or learning disability, economic status, religious beliefs, or views.

A procedure ensuring due process should be in place to deal with requests by those within and outside the academic community for removal or addition of library resources, exhibits, or services.

It is recommended that this statement of principle be endorsed by appropriate institutional governing bodies, including the faculty senate or similar instrument of faculty governance.

Adopted by ACRL Intellectual Freedom Committee: June 28, 1999
Approved by ACRL Board of Directors: June 29, 1999