Monday, January 29, 2018

Privacy and School Libraries

By Gili Warsett, Brooklyn Friends School

School librarians have a responsibility to educate students about privacy issues, both online and off. How does privacy look in a school library setting? On January 18th, Berkeley Carroll hosted HVLA’s four panelists, Jessica Hochman, Melissa Morrone, Jessica Millstone, and Claire Fontaine for a robust conversation moderated by school librarian, Rebecca Duvall.

The panel began by asking the question, what particular concerns and in what ways does privacy come up in your school libraries? HVLA members spoke about struggles to keep circulation information shared by only the librarian and the patron, and the line school librarians walk when interacting with parents about the books their children are checking out.

One HVLA member shared strategies for maintaining student privacy. He always asks students if they want him to email their parents when a book is overdue or missing, therefore receiving consent before including parents in the conversation. He also meets with parents at the beginning of each school year and sets expectations about what books their children may check out. This prevents parents from raising objections to their children’s book choices.

At Berkeley Carroll, the middle school library has a section of books about potentially sensitive topics that students may borrow without checking out. That way there is no record of the book on a student’s account and there isn’t an overdue email that gets sent out. This keeps the students’ choices private.

Jessica H. asked us to consider how school librarians model privacy for our students. Are we self-protective?

Claire shared a strategy proposed by a young person in her research project: “cultivating young people as allies” in talking to students about privacy. Jessica M. added that Common Sense Media will help you organize a teen panel. In Claire’s research, she found that privacy is deeply important to young people. They craved adults in navigating sticky situations online. Participants tried to scrub digital footprints for college applications, church groups, and employers. The young people in the study assumed great personal responsibility; they blamed themselves even though much of their difficult digital situations were unavoidable. It is developmentally appropriate for young people to try on different personalities.

Rebecca described how what happens outside of school bleeds into school and students’ virtual lives online. While students create full lives online, educators are simultaneously trying to understand the ethics, behaviors, and experiences integral to students’ technology usage. At times, educators and administrators resort to legalities, which implies that students should know better. There is often little room for students to make mistakes online or for adults to acknowledge developmental appropriateness of these mistakes. Jessica M. suggested proactively establishing expectations about online usage. Melissa spoke about the importance of teaching librarians how the internet works. In turn, librarians can help students to navigate and map out the internet, so that they can better understand and feel agency about their online choices.

Another great resource to share with students is the terms of service in plain English website, brought to the room’s attention by Jessica H. Reading these accessible policies and agreements can be empowering to students, who can make better educated choices about how or where they choose to share personal information.
One HVLA member asked, “What do we do about handing our students over to large corporations?” Many independent schools often subscribe to Google, Microsoft, and/or Apple. For in-school educational platforms, there is a complicated relationship between intellectual privacy and data harvesting. When using educational online platforms, where students are expected to explore and learn, data harvesting is happening. Jessica M. encouraged us to push back at for-profit educational companies, inquiring about how they handle data and privacy.

As librarians, we need to participate, guide, and encourage students’ independence online and off. Melissa M. reminded us that the problem is when “everything is a hammer… It’s not one size fits all.” She spoke of the phrase appropriated from oral history projects, “evolving consent.”

Rebecca ended with asking HVLA members to consider what advertising our students are subjected to during the school day?

If there is one takeaway from the HVLA Winter Meeting about Privacy and School Libraries, it is that there are so many more conversations to be had, ideas to be discussed, and subtopics that librarians must continue to address with educators, fellow librarians, and students.

With our heads filled with new ways of approaching issues of privacy related to school libraries, the librarians of Berkeley Carroll toured HVLA through the Middle and Upper School’s libraries and Maker Space, which have recently undergone beautiful renovations. After the tour, we headed over to Woodland to continue sharing ideas.


“Nobody Sees It, Nobody Gets Mad”: Social Media, Privacy, and Personal Responsibility Among Low-SES Youth. This paper describes in more detail the ways in which young people drew on discourses of personal responsibility when discussing their online experiences, in marked contrast to the ways they described interactions with law enforcement, which they took to be shaped by structural discrimination.
crib of a talk Claire Fontaine gave at DML 2017 about the socio-emotional demands of navigating interpersonal and structural privacy threats.
Googlification of schools
Choose Privacy Week / American Library Association
Student Privacy Bill of Rights / Electronic Privacy Information Center 
Elana Zaide is great source on legal issues around big data in education, including FERPA

Tour of the school:

The name of the company that installed and maintains Berkeley Carroll’s US Library green wall is Town and Gardens

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