Boston Public Library
Patron Privacy Policy

Policies & Procedures


The Boston Public Library is committed to user confidentiality. The confidentiality of library records is a core part of library ethics and the Boston Public Library follows the Code of Ethics of the American Library Association.

Confidentiality and your library record

Under the Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 78, Section 7 “That part of the records of a public library which reveals the identity and intellectual pursuits of a person using such library shall not be a public record…”

Confidentiality extends to information sought or received, and materials consulted, borrowed, and includes database search records, reference interviews, circulation records, interlibrary loan transactions, registration records, and all other personally identifiable uses of library materials, facilities, or services.

Circulation, registration information, and information retrieval records may not be disclosed except to:

  1. The cardholder (with card or other proper id). NOTE: This is regardless of age or relationship. For example, parents cannot be told what materials a child has checked out without the child’s consent.
  2. Staff of Metro-Boston Library Network members acting within the scope of their duties in the administration of the library system and in facilitating interlibrary loans.
  3. Persons authorized by the cardholder to access the individual's records identified by a signed note of permission given by the cardholder.
  4. Representatives of any local, state, or federal government, pursuant to subpoena or search warrant authorized under the authority of federal, state, or local law relating to civil, criminal, or investigative power. Upon receipt of any such subpoena or search warrant, the Library President will consult with legal counsel to determine if the subpoena or search warrant is in proper form and if there is a valid basis for its issuance before providing confidential information.

The Library occasionally conducts promotional campaigns to inform the community of our services. The Library at those times use patron email or postal address for the library's internal mailing lists.

The Library does not sell, lease, or otherwise distribute or disclose patron name, email address, postal address, telephone number, or other personal information to outside parties.

Confidentiality and our website

When patrons visit the BPL web site, the Library collects and stores only information to measure the number of visitors to different areas of the site to assist in making the site more useful to you. The information includes:

  • the address (IP) of the patron's computer or Internet provider
  • the date and time the patron accessed our site
  • the pages that are accessed and how patrons navigate the site
  • the Internet address of the web site that referred the patron to the Library's site
Web site data is separate from individual library account data. The Library cannot look up patron library records to determine what web sites were visited.

The BPL also offers a wireless network that allows patrons to connect to the Internet at any of BPL's locations. Please be aware that data accessed and sent over the BPL's wireless network is not encrypted.

Cookies

A cookie is a small data file written to a computer’s hard drive. They are generated by web sites to provide users with a personalized and often simplified online experience. The Library web site does not employ cookies. Certain third party database services within our site, such as BPL's subscription databases and 24/7 Mass Answers program will generate and store cookies on user's computer’s hard drives if users engage in such services. If users choose not to accept the cookies generated by such third party database applications, they will not be able to use some of those services online; use of the remainder of the Library web site will not be affected. Be assured that cookies, by themselves, cannot be used to reveal or discover the identity of the individual user nor are they collected or stored on any Boston Public Library server. Acceptance of any third party database cookie on this site will not compromise patron anonymity while using our web site.

Forms and email

If a patron initiates a reference inquiry, PIN form or subscribes to the Library's newsletter on the BPL web site, this information is considered as part of the borrower account and protected as outlined above.

Online suggestions and other general email to the library which do not apply to borrowing or intellectual pursuits may be considered public records as per Massachusetts General Law, Chapter 66, Section 10.

If patrons leave the BPL site

The BPL web site contains links to external web sites not maintained by the Boston Public Library. The Library cannot be responsible for user privacy when visiting outside web sites, including the BPL online store which is contracted to an outside vendor. Please consult the privacy policies of those web sites should there be questions regarding their use.

Date Approved: March 23, 2004

FAQ’s

Q: Can my spouse/friend/neighbor/family member pick up my reserve materials for me?
A: Yes, if you have given them permission to use your card with a note signed by you.

Q: Can you tell me what items are out or overdue on the card of my child?
A: No, but we will be happy to mail a list of those items to the card holder.

Q: If I forget my library card, can I still pick up my reserved book?
A: Yes, if you bring in some other form of identification. For more information about forms of identification contact your local library or visit www.bpl.org/general/circulation/bpl_faq.htm

Q: Last week I requested three books for my son. We used his card, I think, but I stopped by today and all I have is my card. Can I pick up his books?
A: No, the books must be picked up using the card under which they were reserved.

Q: The email address in my library card record is not right, but I can't remember what our email address is. Could you check my husband's card and tell me what it is?
A: We are sorry, but the information in his patron record is confidential.

Q: How does the Patriot Act affect my privacy?
A: Representatives of any local, state, or federal government, with a valid subpoena or search warrant may obtain your records. With the Patriot Act there are additional restrictions on the library which prohibit library workers from informing you, or any other entity, that federal agents have obtained records about you.

Q: If I email the library with a reference question will it be kept confidential?
A: Yes, it is part of an intellectual pursuit which is protected by Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 78, Section 7.

Q: If I email the library with a suggestion about your services will it be kept confidential?
A: No, as it is not part of an intellectual pursuit it is a matter of public record according to Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 66, Section 10.

Q: If I email the library with a request for an administrative operations document will it be kept confidential?
A: No, requests for public records under Massachusetts Public Records Law 950 CMR 3206 are not considered confidential

Q: If I email the library will you give my address to outside parties?
A: No, all personal information is for internal use only. We may use your email address for notices and library promotions.

Q: How does the library contact me with information about my account?
A: The library will notify you of hold and overdue material in one of three ways; by phone, by email, or by mail. You may specify which method to use.