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Tip of the Hat

13 August 2020

Contact Tracing At The Library


Welcome to this week’s Tip of the Hat!

Contact tracing has been used in the past with other diseases which helped curve infection rates in populations, so health and government officials are looking at contact tracing once again as a tool to help control the spread of disease, this time with COVID-19. There have been various reports and concerns about contact tracing through mobile apps, including ones developed by Google and Apple. However, mobile contact tracing will not stop local health and government officials in taking other measures when it comes to other contact tracing methods and requirements, and libraries should be prepared when their local government or health officials require contact tracing as part of the reopening process.

While there are no known cases of libraries doing contact tracing as part of their reopening process, there are some ways in which libraries can satisfy contact tracing requirements while still protecting patron privacy.

Collect only what you absolutely need

What is the absolute minimum you need to contact a patron: name, email address, and/or telephone number are all options. Sometimes patrons do not have a reliable way of contacting them outside the library – health and government officials should have recommendations in handling those cases.

But what about having patrons scan in with their library card and using that as the contact tracing log? What seems to be a simple technological solution is, in reality, one that introduces complexity in the logging process as well as privacy risks:
  • Some of the people visiting the library will not have their library card or are not registered cardholders.
  • Contact logs can be subject to search or request from officials – maintaining the separation between the contact log and any other patron information in the library system will minimize the amount of patron data handed over to officials when there is a request for information.

Paper or digital log?

Some libraries might be tempted to have patrons scan in with their barcodes (see above section as to why that's not such a good idea) or keep an electronic log of patrons coming in and out of the building. However, an electronic log introduces several privacy and security risks:
  • Where is the digital file being stored? Local drive on a staff computer that isn’t password protected? Network storage? Google Drive (yikes!)?
  • Who has access to the digital file? All staff in the library?
  • How many other copies of the file are floating around the library’s network, drives, or even printed out?
In this instance, however, a paper log will provide better privacy and security protections when you take the following precautions:
  • The paper log should be securely stored in a locked cabinet or desk in a secured area, preferably a locked office or other controlled entry space.
  • During business hours, the paper log should be filled out by designated staff members tasked to collect information from patrons. Do not leave the paper log out for patrons to sign – not only you give patrons the names of others in the building (for example, a law enforcement agent can read the log and see who’s in the building without staff knowledge) you also potentially expose patrons and staff to health risks by having them share the same hard surfaces and pen.
  • Restrict access to the paper log to only staff who are designated to keep logs, and prohibit copying (both physical or electronic copies) of the log.

Equitable service and privacy

Some patrons might not have reliable contact information or might refuse to give information when asked. If the local government or health officials state that someone can’t enter a building if they don’t provide information, how can your library work with your officials in addressing the need for libraries to provide equitable service to all patrons who come to the library?

Retention and disposal

Keep the contact tracing logs for only as long as the government or health officials require. If there is no retention period, ask! Your logs should be properly disposed of – a paper log should be shredded and the shredded paper should go to a secured disposal area or service.

Keeping a log of visits to the library is something not to be taken lightly – you are creating a log of a patron’s use of the library. Several other privacy concerns might be specific to your library that could affect how you go about contact tracing, such as unaccompanied minors. Contact tracing is an effective tool in containing disease outbreaks in the past, but it doesn't have to come at the expense of losing entire personal privacy if the library works with its staff and government officials in creating a process that minimizes patron data collection, access, and retention.

Have a question or topic that you want us to write about? Email us at newsletter@ldhconsultingservices.com!