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Confidentiality Policy (5.101)


This policy applies to all staff and patrons of the Bellingham public libraries.


Inactive library account: a patron’s account is considered inactive when it has been unused for three (3) years.

Minor: persons under the age of eighteen (18).

Personally identifiable information: information that is directly and indirectly associated with a specific person such as a person’s name, home address, telephone number, e-mail address, birth date.

Records: Information maintained in order to conduct operations of the library. Records include, but are not limited to: registration records, library account records, materials request lists, financial information and computer booking records.


1. Library protects the privacy of its patrons.

  • Privacy is essential to the free and unrestricted use of library resources.
  • Patrons have the right to search for information without fear of scrutiny.
  • Protecting patron privacy is in accordance with the Constitution of the United States, the laws of the State of Washington and American Library Association policies and interpretations.

2. Library guards the identity of library patrons by not creating or retaining records such as:

  • information sought or received in reference interview
  • materials consulted, online sites visited or databases used
  • frequency of visits

3. Library ensures the confidentiality of records with personally identifiable information and deletes them as soon as possible. Records are deleted when their original purpose has been satisfied. These include records such as:

  • Program proposals and signups
  • Items requested for purchase

4. Library ensures the confidentiality of account records with personally identifiable information but retains these records as set forth below:

  • Inactive patron accounts with no fees or fines are deleted after three (3) years.
  • Patron accounts with unresolved balances are deleted after six (6) years.

5. Library encourages patrons to become familiar with the privacy policies of library partners and external websites.

  • Library may enter into agreements with third-party partners in order to provide certain services to library patrons.
  • Information that a patron submits voluntarily to a third party is not subject to library control, and therefore the library cannot guarantee the same level of confidentiality and privacy. Patrons are encouraged to read and become familiar with the privacy policies of these third-party partners.
  • The library website contains links to external websites not maintained by the Bellingham Public Library. The library is not responsible for user privacy when visiting other websites.
  • Once patrons link to another website, they are no longer subject to the library’s Confidentiality Policy, but to the privacy policy or statement of the website to which they have linked.

6. Patrons have access to their records.

Patrons can access their own records:

  • online using their library card and personal identification number (PIN)
  • over the phone after confirming their identity.
  • in person using their library card or by providing photo identification

Patrons can allow others to access their records by:

  • providing their physical card to the person they wish to have access

Parents or guardians who hold financial responsibility for the account can access their minor child’s records:

  • online using their child’s library card and PIN
  • over the phone after confirming their identity
  • in person using their child’s library card or by providing photo identification

7. Library respects the privacy of young adult patrons.

In accordance with the laws of Washington State, a young adult is considered a minor until age 18. While a young adult is a minor, a parent or guardian has the right to determine the level of confidentiality that young adult retains over their account records. The library encourages discussion between parent or guardian and young adult to mutually determine this level of confidentiality.

8. Library guards the privacy of hold items on self pickup shelves.

  • safeguards are used, but privacy is not guaranteed
  • patrons can choose an additional privacy safeguard of directing the library to place materials in a privacy envelope
  • patrons can authorize others to pick up holds on their behalf by having staff note this permission on their library account

9. Library staff respect the privacy of records with personally identifiable information.

Records with personally identifiable information will only be accessed by library staff when it is essential for library business.

10. Library releases private records to others only under this condition:

When the library receives a court order from a court of competent jurisdiction showing good cause, library staff will notify the Library Director or designee who will then consult with the City Attorney before replying to the order.

11. Library Board reviews this policy.

This policy is periodically reviewed, revised, or reaffirmed by the Library Board of Trustees.


Title: 5.101 Confidentiality
Code: 5 Circulation Services
Chapter: 5.100 Circulation Records
Type of Policy: Departmental
Date Developed: 21 November 2006
Date Revised: October 22, 2019
Revised by: Rebecca Judd, Jennifer Vander Ploeg
Developed by: Pam Kiesner
Approved By: Library Board of Trustees


Section IV, Personnel Policies and Procedures, Confidentiality of Patron Records; Section IV, Personnel Policies and Procedures, Privacy of Circulation Records; Section VIII Circulation Policies and Procedures, Confidentiality of Circulation Records; 5.102 Retaining Circulation Records

See Also:

Codes and Laws: RCW 40.14 Preservation and destruction of public records
RCW 42.56.210 Duty to disclose or withhold information — Otherwise provided

Other resources:

Privacy: an Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights (ALA)
Policy on Confidentiality of Library Records (ALA)
Whatcom County Library System Policy on Confidentiality of Patron Records
Internal Documents: Library Staff Code of Ethics, Confidentiality and Patron Account guidelines