Privacy & library user registration

Today I had a quick look at the information required by a number of different library authorities for anyone wishing to join the library.

The first point I would make is why don’t all library authorities automatically refer to a privacy policy statement at the time that they collect this data – whether that be on the printed form or the online registration form. Indeed, one could also ask whether any of the library staff who receive completed (printed) application forms mentions privacy to the person applying for library membership. Wouldn’t it be more reassuring if they did. Wouldn’t it demonstrate that they take it seriously?

Secondly, a number of them want date of birth. But they don’t explain why. If a library authority lets users above a certain age threshold enjoy services for free that are chargeable to others (such as a charge for borrowing CD’s or DVD’s), why don’t they make clear that this is the case? In any event, is that the sole reason for wanting the date of birth information.

The online registration forms may well be set up so that the date of birth field is a compulsory field which must be completed in order to successfully submit an application to join the library.

But it is interesting to see just how many other things some of the forms ask for. For example, in one case they want to know:

  • Gender (including an option for “transgender”)
  • Age
  • Disability, where there are choices for mental health condition, physical impairment, non visible impairment, visual impairment, hearing impairment
  • Religion or belief
  • Sexual orientation
  • Ethnicity (which includes a choice for gypsy/traveller)

Whilst a few of the choices may have a “prefer not to say” option; that isn’t the case with all of the ones that data protection law would consider to be “sensitive personal information” requiring added protections.

The amount of information required varies from one authority to another, which begs the question as to why so much information is required by some authorities, when others don’t ask for and don’t need that amount of information at all.