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The Library’s Role in Protecting Teens’ Privacy

RoseMary Ludt

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) outlined a plan in the document “Preventing Violent Extremism in Schools [1],” published in January 2016, to surveil the use of the Internet by at-risk teens.

MKCBarMitzvahPhoto_400x400Dr. Mary K. Chelton, co-founder of VOYA Magazine and retired professor, was inspired to write “The Library’s Role in Protecting Teens’ Privacy: A YALSA Position Paper [2].”  The position paper implores librarians to continue protecting the intellectual rights of teens by reporting challenges to teens’ privacy to American Library Association’s (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom at http://www.ala.org/tools/challengesupport/report [3]. The paper, adopted by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) board at the ALA Midwinter Meeting, lists several other actions librarians can take to protect teens’ rights:

Refresh their knowledge of key documents, like the Intellectual Freedom Manual [4]and 21st Century Learner Standards [5].

Embed educating teens and their parents and caregivers about their rights into library services and programming.

Keep up to date on privacy and surveillance issues through resources such as ALA’s District Dispatch [6] and the YALSAblog [7].

Seek out training on topics including but not limited to: privacy, students’ rights, libraries’ role in intellectual freedom, and how to leverage technology tools that protect privacy.

Participate in events such as the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom’s Choose Privacy Week [8].

Take advantage of technology that protects library patrons’ privacy.

Make a commitment to reach out to and serve at-risk youth in the community and address their needs, whatever they may be.

Identify and work with community partners who are also committed to protecting teens’ rights.


Chelton shares her concerns about the FBI’s plan:

“I read in  Intellectual Freedom News [9] that the FBI had come up with a plan to surveil at-risk high school students’ use of the Internet to identify potential terrorists, and the irony of this drove me to write what became, with Beth Yoke’s [director of YALSA] tutelage, the position paper. I found it maddening that ALA is coming up with guidelines for high school librarians to teach 21st-century learner skills to kids using the Internet at the same time [that]—with no documentation—the FBI wanted to snoop on them. Worse still, was the FBI’s vague description of ‘at-risk’ kids, as if becoming a terrorist is the only thing they are at risk of becoming.  On top of this is all the evidence that these kids are over-surveilled in many retail and school contexts already, and we did not need another barrier to good library service for them.”

Chelton, as she has throughout her career, once more advocated for teens’ intellectual freedom, this time by writing this position paper to motivate librarians to be more proactive in protecting the intellectual rights of teens.

“I felt that some advocacy was needed and the position paper is the result. It goes to show that it pays to read Intellectual Freedom News [9] regularly.”

According to the February 2, 2017, YALSA blog post [10] by Kate McNair, YALSA is currently reviewing their “guidelines and policies to assure teen information seeking and privacy needs are addressed.”

Read the paper here: The Library’s Role in Protecting Teens’ Privacy: A YALSA Position Paper [2].

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