How Queens Library Protects the Privacy of Its Customers
Posted by Yves Etheart
As part of Queens Library’s commitment to our customers, we take their privacy and confidentiality very seriously, and act as a place where they can share their most intimate questions and concerns without fear of exposure. Queens Library’s Chief Librarian, Nick Buron, was kind enough to discuss this important characteristic of libraries in general, and Queens Library in particular.
How do libraries protect the privacy and personal information of their customers?
In general, libraries across the country, for over 100 years, have taken the privacy of the people that use them very seriously. All libraries take this mission on quite willingly, and embrace it. Additionally, Queens Library is obligated by New York State law to maintain the confidentiality of library records, subject to certain specific exceptions. This is something that not only we value, but the state values. And that’s a very good thing. It shows that, as a society, these are the values that we honor—that anyone is able to come into the Library, and use our facilities anonymously, without their information being shared. People come to us every day with the most sensitive issues they are dealing with in their lives—getting a job, health questions, and much more—and we hear their requests, find the information that they need, give it to them, and keep those requests silent and private. We don’t share what books our customers are borrowing. We don’t share what they’re looking at on our public computers. We don’t share what programs or events they’re attending. And, thanks to this ongoing tradition, our customers see us as a safe place.
You mentioned exceptions. Can you explain those briefly?
As indicated above, New York State law provides that library records must be kept confidential and shall not be disclosed except upon request or consent of the user or pursuant to subpoena, court order, or where otherwise required by law. In short, we are bound by the law, so if the law says that disclosure is required, we will follow the law. Now, what would compel anyone to make that request pursuant to subpoena or court order? That is not something that I could answer from where I sit, but we will not disclose any library records unless the law says that we can. Any requests our staff members receive are immediately referred to me, to our General Counsel Sung Mo Kim, and to our executive colleagues for review.
How can Queens Library best serve our customers during these uncertain times?
The good thing about Queens Library is that we have a very long tradition. We’ve been around for over 120 years. Uncertain times are nothing new to us. We value creating a welcoming and open environment, and we gain strength as a library system the same way that Queens does as a borough: through our diversity. When you find so many people from so many parts of the world here, working hard, trying to improve their lives and the lives of others in their community, and using Queens Library as a resource to do so, it intertwines us as library and community. And that is our strength. We have proven to be a trusted asset within the community because people have relationships with the staff at our libraries. We have also proven ourselves as an ally for people, and an advocate for the things that they need help with. At each of our 65 locations, we are the place in that neighborhood that opens its doors to everyone, that welcomes you, that doesn’t judge you by the way you look, or your questions, or the way you ask your questions, and that encourages people to come back more and more.
What would you say to marginalized populations in fear, like immigrants, about how Queens Library can help them?
Again, the Library is a welcoming environment to everyone. We don’t just say it; we see it and live it every day. When I look around our library locations throughout Queens, and I see the people who are using our libraries, that, to me, is the greatest compliment—that people feel comfortable here. There are no religious groups, ethnic groups, or others that would feel, in any way, unwelcome in our environment. Times change, neighborhoods change, but our values here at Queens Library don’t change.
What are some of the things that our Library can do to make customers feel more welcome?
I’m a big fan of doing it the old-fashioned way, like greeting our customers at the front door as they come in—that goes a long way. Our customers definitely feel more empowered to ask their questions when we extend a welcoming greeting to them! It encourages our staff and our customers to bring out their very best. And then the conversation has already begun.