Privacy Part 2 – what’s the problem again?

My post titled Anonymity, libraries and websites received quite a variety of comments – thanks for that! The comments cover the whole nine yards – everything from “well, of course David – yay for transparency” to “no, we’d never do that, and don’t ask us to” – quite a range there!

The main issue seems to be two things:

  1. sharing your last name online.
  2. the possibility of being stalked if you DO share your last name online.

I’m going to deal with those issues, in separate posts. Last names first!

So – some of you aren’t comfortable with sharing your last names or your photos online for work-related stuff, and said so in the comments of the Anonymity post. I was able to group the objections into three loose categories. Let’s take a peek at each of them:

Loose issue #1: Is your last name private info?

Quite a few commenters think that sharing your last name in public – while at work – is somehow an invasion of privacy. Not sure I can agree with that, and here’s why:

  • Most of you are government employees under some form of sunshine law. Your last name (as in, a list of people who work at the library) is public record.
  • Most of your last names are part of other publicly available government records, like DMV records, birth records, and voting records – all publicly available government info that can easily be obtained.
  • Most of you are also in the phone book.

But more to the point for work-related stuff. At my library anyway, we regularly send our staff out into the community, to do things like presentations, storytimes at schools, meetings, committee and community group work, etc. We expect those staff to provide their names, their business cards, their email address, etc. It’s simply part of the job.

So is it any different when doing actual library-related work on the library’s website? Given what my library does … nope [edit – well, we’re mainly sharing first names and pics at the moment].

Loose issue #2: Is sharing your last name for work-related things a choice?

A couple of commenters said this:

  • cybermac33 – “I do agree that you have a valid point about transparency however I think it should be a personal choice as whether or not you want your image on the website. We all have a right to privacy.”
  • Deborah – “My own inclination is that it’s great to set a default in favour of transparency, but it’s also vital to make it clear to staff that they can opt out if necessary”

OK – I’ll state up-front that if anyone’s life or well-being is in actual danger, of course there should be an opt-out for those very rare situations.

Otherwise, a library should set their expectations, then follow them. Period. Here’s what Stephen Lusk, our HR manager, said when I asked him about the whole choice thing. He said “sure, they have a choice. They don’t have to work here.” Then he and Gina (our library director) went on to talk about how good managers and good libraries set expectations on work-related activities, then follow those up with annual reviews, etc.

Which brings me to Andy’s comment: “In my system, we are county employees and we wear county employee ID badges. It has our full name on them. Some have taken to making a tag to go over this so that it just shows the first name; others have opted to wear it with just the back showing (hiding their name).”

Silly though it might seem, that’s a pretty petty performance issue that should be dealt with up-front. If your library requires staff to wear name badges with both names, then it’s simply a requirement of the job. Just like the dress code policy (if your library has one).

Loose issue #3 – poor leadership

And Andy’s comment really blends into this last loose issue – that of bad leadership. Here’s a comment from threegoodrats – “At my first job out of library school, we wore name tags with our first and last names. When I started getting obscene phone calls from a patron, we got new name tags with just first names.”

A few other commenters said similar things – there was a policy or a guideline in place, one problem cropped up, and the library … changed the policy or guideline to deal with that single issue, rather deal with the exception that happened (i.e., stalkers). One library moved staff around to different branches rather than dealing with a patron problem.

That’s bad leadership. Deal with the real issues, guys. Yes – sometimes the work is harder, or it might take longer. But in the end, it’s usually the best thing to do.

Next post – let’s deal head-on with those pesky stalkers!

pic by Marcus Vegas

  • Deborah Fitchett

    Here’s what Stephen Lusk, our HR manager, said when I asked him about the whole choice thing. He said “sure, they have a choice. They don’t have to work here.”

    In this economy? For many people that’s Hobson’s choice.

  • Andy Woodworth

    Let me amend my answer a tiny bit: for those who opt to wear a tag over their badge, it usually is something with a larger version of their first name (and sometimes their last name). The font on the county badges is rather small, considering how many times I’ve had people staring at it trying to read it. While some of those might be to hide their complete identity, the flip side of the tags is to make their name huge and thus a bit more approachable.

    As to the other things, I cannot speak to those items. 😉

  • Bobbi Newman

    David as someone who has had two stalkers in my life time (one of whom was arrested and went to jail) I want to weigh in on this. Privacy is a tricky thing. One of the first questions I ask when I’m talking with people about it is – Are you listed in the phone book? And many people are, it’s baffling to me that people who are so freaked out about online privacy would list their address when anyone could find it and show up at their door. But it helps me see where they are coming from and put some perspective on things. My experiences make me think about privacy differently.

    I do currently wear a name tag with both my first and last name at my job, and I have my photo and my full name on my website. These were all hard decisions for me to make and I really struggled with them for a long time, but they were my personal choices not forced upon me.

    Yes we need to be out there for our patrons but there needs to be reasonable compromise. I see nothing wrong with first name only or first name & last initial name tags. Staff are still identifiable, but it provides a compromise and a comfort level and there is a real need for that. Maybe you can’t understand that until you’ve spent a week not sleeping because you saw your stalker across the street from your house and then another 4 weeks sleeping on the sofa with the phone in your hand waking up from nightmares that he was in the house or that you’d come home from work to find he’d broken in while you were away and killed your dogs.

    Dealing with stalkers is a very complicated issue. It is not as simple as banning them from the library or getting a restraining order (some studies indicate this only incites them to violence). I understand the point you are making but stalkers are a very serious issue and one I feel you’re making light of in this case.

    I was incredibly lucky to work at a library system that was very understanding when this was happening and I only wore my first name on my name tag. I also had someone tell me that I didn’t file a restraining order and purchase a hand gun I deserved whatever happened to me.

    I know you and I general agree on things but in this case I’m not comfortable telling anyone they need to use their full name either in the library or online. If they are not comfortable, I think Bobbi N. or Bobbi from Reference are completely acceptable.

  • Former Library Director

    As a former urban public library director who has had to deal with stalkers and others of their ilk, here is the problem: they are often not rational. They are not acting in a rational way, you can’t use rational rules with them, they just don’t get it. (Some of them, anyway). See what Bobbi has to say also. That reflects my experiences as a supervisor (and no, I was not her supervisor.

    As to having your name in the phone book…for “old school” folks that may be true, but it is becoming less and less true as people abandon their land line phones. I have not had a land line for several years, my kids have not either. They are not in the phone book (nor am I). In many places your name may be part of the public record along with your salary, but the rest of your personal information is not. Where I work now, that is an option which each employee can exercise. There are also often significant limitations on the information from DMV and voter records to prevent identity theft.

    At times, most often while the Director, I would wear a name badge with my full name, especially while representing the Library. But now, as a direct public service person, I don’t.

  • Lucy

    Why, exactly, do patrons NEED to know your last name?

    I get the first name thing. It helps people feel more comfortable with you, personalizes you, lets them know how they can ask for you again if they need you. But why do they need to know your last name?

    If there is some legitimate reason why someone needs to know your last name — and David mentions several, above — then sure, you can tell them. If they make a formal request for your last name and you work for state government, then yes, you’d have to let them know.

    But I can’t see any reason to make it easier for a stalker-in-the-making to become a stalker-for-real by providing them with your first and last name on a name tag. If you’re helping them face-to-face or online, a first name (even a made up first name!) ought to be enough information to provide. If they honestly have a need for more than that, then you are free to provide it to them.

  • davidleeking

    Wow – thanks for weighing in – I appreciate it! I guess I’m not really trying to make light of a serious issue, but I’m trying to show that it’s a serious issue for a small group of staff – it’s something that doesn’t ever happen to most of us… so we shouldn’t be creating “library rules” around the one person it happens to.

    But most definitely, we DO need to deal with it, and be accommodating, when it does happen to that one person.

  • davidleeking

    we require our customers to give us first and last name, address, phone number, email, proof of residence … and we won’t give out our last names? Seems weird to me.

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  • Bobbi Newman

    I left most of what my response to this in my comment on today’s post.
    Essentially I don’t understand why you’re willing to compromise safety on this issue. We don’t turn off the lights int he parking lot to save a few buck even though its unlikely anyone will be assaulted there.

    The fear is real, and you can’t overcome an emotionally fed reaction with statistics. And really isn’t the possibility of it happening even to one staff member too big of a risk to take?

    We want to create a safe environment to encourage reluctant staff to engage online and you’re negating all of your work with the insistence of full names when a compromise would serve your purpose.

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  • alexzealand

    We require our patrons to give us their info for a very specific reason – it’s part of the library-use relationship. They borrow or use our resources, we need to know who they are in case something goes wrong with those resources.

    But we don’t insist that our patrons share that info publicly on our website, or wear name tags while in the Library – and I only see their info if they give me their cards and I look them up. It’s really not a comparable situation.