Privacy and Confidentiality in Digital Reference

Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2003


American Library Association


The library community possesses a decades-long history of trying to protect the privacy and confidentiality of library users. The American Library Association (ALA) incorporated this sense of privacy into the ALA Code of Ethics in the early 1960s. This dedication to privacy has faced, and continues to face, challenges from private citizens, the law enforcement community, and numerous technological developments. Among these technological developments can be included the introduction of digital reference services to I ibrary users. An important by-product of these services are digital reference records that challenge users' expectation of privacy. This article will attempt to show the relationships between privacy and digital reference records, how privacy can be compromised in the digital reference environment, and what actions librarians can take to maintain the privacy of these records.