September 30, 2021

By Erin Berman and Bonnie Tijerina, Learning Group at Alameda County Library

In 2018, Bonnie Tijerina and Michael Zimmer gathered librarians at various conferences and held a culminating event called “Library Values and Privacy Summit” to learn where the field is regarding privacy. What came out of the convenings and subsequent report was that librarians cared about privacy issues but didn't always know what they had the power to do practically. Some felt they weren’t “techy” enough or they weren’t in a high enough position of influence, while others felt they didn’t have the time or the basic step-by-step guide to help them make even a small difference.

Privacy Advocacy Guides Booth at ALA
Bonnie Tijerina and Erin Berman introduce the new Privacy Field Guides to library workers at the American Library Association’s Midwinter Conference in 2019. (Photo courtesy of Erin Berman.)

At the same time, and while working on ALA’s IFC Privacy Subcommittee, Erin Berman regularly heard library workers expressing frustration at the lack of practical privacy tools. Those that had a high level of interest, time, and funding could invest in learning. Those without didn’t do much. People were asking for hands-on, simple-to-use guides. They didn’t necessarily want to be privacy experts but wanted to be able to make concrete steps towards addressing privacy issues.

Due to these experiences and insights, Bonnie and Erin partnered to create the Privacy Advocacy Guides (PDF, 842KB) IMLS-funded project with the hope of supporting library workers with real-life ways they can improve privacy and digital security in their libraries. They did this by gathering library privacy experts to author easy-to-use guides and more privacy experts to review and provide feedback on the content. To keep the guides visually interesting, and actually useful for library workers, they worked closely with a design firm to finalize the look and feel. In order to ensure the guides actually work in the field, 30+ recruited libraries are currently testing at their locations.

There currently are seven guides covering topics important to librarians.

  1. How To Talk About Privacy covers privacy talking points, creating an elevator speech, and how to build a persuasive argument
  2. Non-Tech Privacy looks at space design, user surveillance, information printed on paper, and self-service options.
  3. Digital Security Basics walks through creating strong passwords and phrases, multi-factor authentication, phishing, and the importance of staff and user training.
  4. Data Lifecycles introduces readers to each area of the user data lifecycle and gives tips and exercises to learn more about what your library may be doing.
  5. Privacy Policies introduces the read to privacy policies, how to read one and how to write one for a library.
  6. Privacy Audits helps libraries ensure their procedures are in line with their promises of privacy and confidentiality by offering an audit framework and providing resources to perform the audit and tell the audit story.
  7. Vendors and Privacy helps the reader evaluate vendor privacy and understand who in their organization controls decisions to buy and negotiate with vendors.

Final touches will be made with all the feedback from testing libraries and guides will be available in late Fall. You’ll be seeing presentations about these guides at future library conferences. Physical copies will be distributed later this year and next year at library conferences. Also, since these guides were made in partnership with ALA, you will see them replace the current ALA privacy toolkit. A companion website will include additional resources and interactive components and will be available by the end of 2021.

National Leadership Grants for Libraries