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Tip of the Hat

13 August 2020

Summer Homework – Understanding Your State’s Library Privacy Law


Welcome to this week’s Tip of the Hat!

Have you always dreamed of spending countless hours reading legal regulations and reviews? If so, you might be suited for legal life! Reading laws is probably not high on your list of things to do; nonetheless, it's always good to know how to navigate the text of a legal regulation when you are researching what laws could apply to you or to the third parties that you do business with. Even though we're not lawyers, knowing how to read legal regulation text enables people to have more productive conversations with legal staff.

Here are three questions that can help you start understanding a law or statute:
  1. Who is covered by this law?
    1. Does your state library privacy law cover only for publicly-funded libraries, or does the scope include other types of libraries, no matter the funding source? Does it include third parties acting on behalf of the library?
  2. What types of information (and what uses of information) are covered?
    1. What does the law mean when it says “patron data”? Are there any definitions or descriptions of specific data points covered by the law?
  3. What exactly is required or prohibited?
    1. In particular, what exemptions are listed in the law?
You might not be able to answer all the questions depending on what law you choose to study. However, not being able to answer a question might be a topic of discussion with legal staff, particularly around the specifics of who is within the scope of the law. There’s also the question of preemption between different governmental levels of legal regulation (or even within the same level of government). Sometimes a lower government’s law is stricter than a higher government’s law, but if the higher government’s law states that their law preempts any laws from lower governments, then you are not bound to follow the lower government’s law in that specific matter.

Now it’s time to take what you learned and put it into practice. Find your state’s library privacy law and read the law while trying to answer the questions above. Let us know if these questions help you through the legal text! Don't be afraid to let us know if this exercise brings up more questions than it answers – we'll do our best in addressing them, or at least help you prepare in asking these questions to your legal staff.

[Legal questions source: Swire, Peter, and DeBrae Kennedy-Mayo. (2018). U.S. Private-Sector Privacy: Law and Practice for Information Privacy Professionals, 2nd ed.]

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