POLICY REGARDING CONFIDENTIALITY OF LIBRARY RECORDS

The policy statements contained herein are established by the Fort Bend County Commissioners Court in order to ensure that the records of citizens and taxpayers remain confidential. The policy and the attached procedures provide guidance to all library staff and relevant volunteers in implementing the policy for the Commissioners Court. Ultimate responsibility for confidentiality in Fort Bend County Libraries lies with the County Librarian, who directs library operations within the policies and procedures established by the Commissioners Court.

I. INTRODUCTION

The purpose of this policy is to protect the individual user's right to privacy with respect to 1) information sought or received; 2) materials consulted or borrowed; and 3) the status of one's financial accounts with the library.

It is the policy of Fort Bend County Libraries that all circulation records and other records identifying the names of library users and their transactions with the library remain confidential. These records include, but are not limited to, the following: personal names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses; items in circulation, reserved and/or previously consulted; library accounts denoting outstanding fines, fees, and items lost; computer-use records, database-searching records, interlibrary-loan requests, and reference requests. Library staff and volunteers must protect each user's right to privacy regarding materials used and information sought.

Records of Fort Bend County Libraries that identify, or serve to identify, a person who requests, obtains, or uses library materials or services are confidential and are exempt from required disclosure under the Texas Open Records Act (VCTA Government Code Sec. 552.124). To release such information in any manner not in accordance with the Open Records Act is a misdemeanor and is punishable by either or both a fine up to $1,000 and confinement in the County Jail for up to six (6) months. (VCTA Government Code Section 552.352 (b)).

The Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act ( USA Patriot Act) became law on October 26, 2001. Under provisions of the act, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and law-enforcement officials may seek court orders for access to library records for investigations relevant to national security or terrorism. Libraries or library staff served with search warrants may not disclose, under penalty of law, the existence of such warrants or the fact that records were disclosed as a result of the warrants. Patrons cannot be told that their records were given to law-enforcement agencies or that said patrons were the subjects of FBI investigations.

Library records may be disclosed if the library determines that disclosure is reasonably necessary for the operation of the library and the records are not confidential under any state or federal law; if the records are released to the person or their authorized agent (as indicated by a signature on a person's library-card application or by the name of a guardian designated on the cardholder’s library record); if the Texas Attorney General has determined that the information should be released; or if the records are released to a law-enforcement agency or prosecutor under a court order, warrant, or subpoena according to library procedures.

II. CONFIDENTIAL RECORDS  

A. Circulation records
    Individual library cardholders may choose to release their library barcode
    number to others and, in this way, determine their own degree of privacy.
    In order to support an individual’s choice, access to the account or to
    information associated with a valid Fort Bend County library card will be
    released to a person other than the card holder only under the following
    circumstances:

1) Information will be released to someone who presents the
    relevant library card in person to a library staff member.
2) Information will be released to someone who is listed as an
    authorized agent of the cardholder on the library card
    account and who presents his/her (the agent’s) own photo
    identification (Texas driver's license or government-issued
    identification).
3) Information will be released to a parent/guardian listed on
    the relevant library card with presentation of his/her (the
    parent/guardian) photo identification (Texas driver's license
    or government-issued identification).
4) Information about charges due will be released with
    presentation of a library notice (mailer). A library notice
    cannot be used in lieu of a library card, driver's license, or
    state-issued identification, for the purpose of checking out
    materials.

    A person attempting to verify a personal identification number (PIN) in
    person must provide the relevant library card or photo identification (valid
    Texas driver's license or government-issued photo identification), and may
    be required to give the cardholder’s name and date of birth.

    A person attempting to verify a PIN by email or by telephone must provide
    the cardholder’s name, library barcode number, and date of birth in order
    to receive the information.

    A relevant library barcode number and a PIN number are required in order
    to access a personal account on the online library catalog.

    A person requesting action to be performed on specific titles by email or
    telephone must provide their name, library barcode number and date of
    birth.

B. Paper and electronic records
    In addition to circulation records, the library protects patron's privacy and
    confidentiality in regard to paperwork and other records that contain
    patron information. All records, hardcopy or electronic, concerning a
    patron’s interaction with the library is confidential and falls under the same
    disclosure policies as library circulation records. Paperwork or electronic
    records are retained until they are not necessary for a particular function.
    These records include, but are not limited to, library-card applications,
    program-registration sheets, Suggest-A-Title forms and paperwork,
    meeting-room applications, audiovisual requests, interlibrary-loan forms,
    receipt books, and paperwork for minors’ access to the Internet.

    In regard to public computers, the library does not record or retain
    information from the use of public computers by patrons in our facilities.
    The library also does not record or retain usage information of any access
    by patrons using their personal computers at library facilities through WiFi
    Internet access. Patron monetary accounts for printing charges are
    confidentially retained and fall under the same disclosure as library
    circulation records.

C. Reference questions
    Reference interviews and services are confidential. A reference interview
    will be conducted as discreetly and quietly as possible, to preserve
    confidentiality. When patrons are particularly interested in privacy, they
    may ask to discuss their request for information in a closed room. Staff will
    not discuss a patron's questions or reading habits, except in the course of
    conducting library business.

III. CONFIDENTIALITY ISSUES THAT PARTICULARLY PERTAIN TO YOUTH

The information recorded on Summer Reading Club logs, such as those used by the Texas Reading Club program, will be confidential. Reading logs must be taken home by the reader/participant, and entries of books read should be made by the reader or the reader's agent. Any log accidentally left at the library will be stored away from all public areas. No reading logs may be accessed by the public. It is not appropriate to send lists of participants of the Summer Reading Club or other youth activities to school principals or librarians without obtaining permission from the child's parent or guardian. Such lists are unacceptable, because they link a specific child to a specific library program.

The Attorney General of Texas has ruled that it is permissible to post children's names on the wall, glass, etc. as part of a promotional activity designed to encourage reading and library use. The Attorney General of Texas has also ruled that is it permissible to display photographs of children in the library, because the photographs are considered promotional activities designed to encourage reading and library use. Fort Bend County Libraries’ policy regarding photography in the facilities, however, dictates that no person will be photographed in a library without written permission from an adult individual or without written permission by the parent or guardian of a child.

The Attorney General's office is adamant that nametags should be stored between scheduled storytime programs and should only be displayed just before a program, when children are picking up their own nametag. It is preferred that new nametags be written for each program.

Approved by Commissioners Court November 7, 2006