ALA’s IFC Approves New Guidelines on Contact Tracing, Reopening Libraries, Video Surveillance

For Immediate Release
Tue, 06/09/2020


Ellie Diaz

Program Officer

ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom

Responding to health and privacy concerns during the reopening of libraries and recent discussions of video surveillance and filming in libraries, the Intellectual Freedom Committee (IFC) and its Privacy Subcommittee have approved guidelines to assist library workers: “Guidelines for Reopening Libraries During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” Guidelines on Contact Tracing, Health Checks, and Library Users’ Privacy” and “Video Surveillance in the Library Guidelines.”

Guidelines for Reopening Libraries During the COVID-19 Pandemic” — authored by the Freedom to Read Foundation’s General Counsel Theresa Chmara and approved by the IFC — answers frequently asked questions about upholding safety while offering library services during an unprecedented time. The guidelines address protecting staff health and wellness, and legal aspects of health checks, masks, sign-in logs, and requests for users to leave libraries. The resource also offers next steps in reviewing policies.

“These guidelines provide crucial information in a time when some libraries are reopening, with a priority of keeping staff and users safe, while offering important library services to their communities,” said IFC Chair Julia Warga.

The IFC Privacy Subcommittee created “Guidelines on Contact Tracing, Health Checks, and Library Users’ Privacy” to assist libraries in maintaining user privacy as they face new challenges in upholding library workers’ commitment to not monitor, track or profile an individual’s library use beyond libraries’ operational needs.

“Guidelines on Contact Tracing, Health Checks, and Library Users’ Privacy” explains implications to consider with health screenings and contact tracing. The guidelines emphasize that during a global health emergency and civil unrest, library workers should “ensure that our libraries continue to provide uninterrupted, safe, and confidential access to our services, in accordance with our core values and the laws that protect the confidentiality of library users’ information.”

“This moment is an opportunity for libraries to step up and reinforce their communities’ faith in them as information safe havens,” states the guidelines. “Instilling the right to privacy into library services is an act of empathy and kindness that we can provide to all of our users.”

As ALA does not have specific guidelines, interpretations or policies addressing best practices in the use of video surveillance in libraries, IFC developed guidelines for reviewing policies addressing different forms of video surveillance. “Video Surveillance in the Library Guidelines” is divided into six sections: security cameras, public records, users filming in the library, users filming library workers, law enforcement and library worker training. While the guidelines focus on video surveillance, it also provides links to resources on protecting users’ privacy and defending against government and corporate surveillance.


About the ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee

The ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee, a committee of Council, recommends policies, practices and procedures to safeguard the rights of patrons, libraries and librarians, in accordance with the First Amendment and the Library Bill of Rights.

About the IFC Privacy Subcommittee

The ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee’s Privacy Subcommittee monitors ongoing privacy developments in libraries, including technology, politics, legislation and social trends. It proposes actions to ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee that promote best policies and practices for library users’ privacy and generally defend and protect the privacy of library users, library workers and the public.

About the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom

The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom is charged with implementing ALA policies concerning the concept of intellectual freedom as embodied in the Library Bill of Rights. Established in 1967, the office provides library resources on a range of intellectual freedom subjects. OIF supports the work of the Intellectual Freedom Committee.