Saturday, February 7, 2009

Patron Privacy

I had to unexpectedly deal with a privacy issue at work on Friday and I'm afraid I may have done the wrong thing.

I had an email from a disabled patron asking me to send her a PDF of a journal article she needed for her research but I wasn't able to send her the article she needed. We generally try to avoid sending articles to patrons because of licensing restrictions but, since I was able to establish she was a UWT student, I could have sent the article to her if it had been available full text online. Unfortunately, the article was an old one and only available in paper copy from one of the UW Libraries in Seattle. This doesn't usually present much problem to UW Tacoma students because they can use the Book & Article Delivery service (free) and usually a PDF is made for them within a couple of days.

This student had made a point of telling me that she was disabled and needed help obtaining the article for that reason. Now I wish I had just emailed her back saying that she should use the Book & Article Delivery link but that's not what I did. Since she had made a point of saying she needed help I called Disability Support Services to find out what help they could offer. The person who answered asked me the students name and ...I didn't know what to say. I have to admit, I actually asked the person I was talking to if that would be a violation of the students privacy. Anyway, I did tell her the student's name and the woman at Disability Support recognized the name. She thought that the student would require her help to order the article and assured me that she would email the student to offer that assistance. I emailed the student also. I explained why I couldn't send her the PDF, told her about Book and Article Delivery, and told her I had contacted Disability Support Services. I said something like, "I have contacted Disability Support Services and they have assured me that they will be happy to assist you with placing an order should you require such assistance. Contact them at ..."

I hope this student feels like the UWT Library and Disability Support Services are both part of the UWT system, there to help her succeed. I hope she doesn't feel her privacy was violated but, the more I think about it, the more I think I should never have given them her name. I know nothing about her, her relationship to Disability Support, her desire to have their help or stay clear of them...I should have said nothing.

Our online IF class included a cautionary tale about a librarian who handed over a wife's holds to her husband, not knowing that they were do-it-yourself divorce books. Like that librarian, I didn't know the patron's wishes and I can only hope that no harm was done. I called Disability Support because I wanted to give the patron the most complete information I could in my answer to her email. When they asked her name I should just have said, "no". I can't undo it now but, if there is a next time, I'm not going to casually reveal anything about a patron.

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