Concerns over privacy and data protection in the new library structure

For months our questions about the practicalities of the councils library plans have gone unanswered. Some very serious ones such as data protection.

When the plans were first announced we were told that the community libraries would not have access to the library management systems that the libraries use now. Then the plans were  changed and we were told they would have “limited access”.

Library records contain information about people’s addresses, details about vulnerable people – for example the housebound, and exemptions such as exemptions for foster children, fines and borrowing history.

As paid, trained, library staff who are CRB checked, are set to be replaced by volunteers, alarms bells started to ring. I wrote to Library Services Manager, Sue Laurence, several months ago (21st April) asking if volunteers in the community libraries would be able to see these records because if so, unless a suitable policy was in place, then they could potentially use the record for nefarious reasons.

I did not remember these issues ever being addressed before save for the comment “data protection issues have been addressed” in a press release with no further details and a story in the Gloucestershire Echo about Prestbury Library which stated the same and which Ms Laurence later told me was

” misleading and misquoted my colleague so please do not make any assumptions from this context.  Prestbury library will remain as a county run service staffed by  our staff team.  Volunteers working at the library – as with any of our ‘Library Links’ will not have access to the library database”

I asked Ms Laurence if she could explain to me in detail how  this will work in the community libraries? Obviously, if the plans were not satisfactory I and many others will probably want to think hard about whether we want to continue being public library members as this is going to affect all library users not just users at particular libraries.

I personally have had rather threatening emails from a potential volunteer for one of the county’s libraries as he is cross that, whilst I agree that volunteers  do have a valuable role to play in the library service, I do not agree that libraries should be fully run by volunteers, nor that volunteers should replace paid staff.

I asked for details on how such people going to be vetted and trained and how my personal data will be protected?

Astonishingly, Ms Laurence has no answers. Whilst she could tell me that in the libraries that remain part of the county library service

I can assure you that we will be carrying out CRB checks and providing training for volunteers. This will include training about responsibilities for data protection (even though they will not access this information on the library database themselves) and also give due consideration to Equalities requirements and customer care.

She cannot give me any detail about the community libraries beyond

In the  proposed community run libraries we are working with Talis the Library Management System provider to ensure a secure system is established.

Instead she passed my email on to a colleague, assuring me that my question will be answered by Monday 6th June  (several months after my original email). Well, her colleague finally replied to me today with this:

There has been further discussion. Because our plans for how we manage access to the library management system have yet to be agreed as policy we are not in a position to share them more widely. We also need to share with each community group once the policy is agreed prior to making the policy public.

However, we can reassure you that we will follow the legal requirements for data protection and have considered the issues of protecting customer data.

Since the email from Ms Laurence reassuring me that volunteers in Prestbury Library, or indeed any of the council run libraries, will not have access to the library databases I have read in an article on the This is Gloucestershire website about Prestbury Library that said

“From maintaining the grass to running the front desk and monitoring computers, the volunteers are willing to turn their hand to a variety of jobs to keep the facility going.”

Which has added to the mixed messages.

This is all very worrying, astonishing and extremely frustrating for the following reasons :

  • with the implementation of the library changes imminent these fundamental issues should have been sorted out months ago.
  • HOW are the communities with plans to take the libraries on going to have any idea of what they are agreeing to when detail such as this is lacking? I work in an academic library and library management systems are a central and often complex element of running a library service.  HOW have communities made “business plans” without this information?
  • I am part of the community and a library service user – why is this detail being held from me whilst it is apparently going to be “shared with community groups” first? – probably because I am asking the uncomfortable questions that highlight the inadequacy and flaws of the councils plans!

All of these points demonstrate, as Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries have pointed out time and again, that the county council are not providing the detail communities need to take on services and are not being transparent or accountable – ergo they are knowingly setting our libraries up to fail – and who will be blamed? communities!

Ms Laurence tells me I should not make “assumptions” from the press – but when her, her colleagues and the county council will not answer my questions and will not engage with library users, all that we have to go on is what we see in the press, making it a little difficult to establish what is going on – this is how “assumptions” are made. The responsibility for this lands squarely at her door and that of the county council. I cannot imagine how any library service could alienate and disenfranchise library users as much as Gloucestershire has. Astonishing and very, very sad.

I am told they will meet “legal requirements” but considering the legality of the library plans are being challenged in the High Court this “assurance” does not fill me with confidence.

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4 Responses to Concerns over privacy and data protection in the new library structure

  1. John Hughes says:

    One would hope that community-run libraries’ business plans will include precisiely this sort of information and that handovers will not be agreed by GCC until everything in the business plans acknowledges the full responsibility of running a community library service outisde the umbrella of the county library system.
    Having faith in the process of handing over, though, demands a trust beyond reason.
    A High Court victory for the status quo is really the only way forward.

  2. catkin72 says:

    The sad thing is that as a member of the community who lives in an area where the local library is up for voluntary running I know nothing of the plans or even if no volunteer group comes forward when the library is likely to shut. Or if a voluntary group is interested.
    As a working librarian having attended a meeting hoping to set up a voluntary group I can say there is no expertise in the planning process… no concept of book funding, and badly thought out ‘savings’ which those concerned about the situation could not hope to over come.
    Putting a business plan together in 6 weeks, is beyond those working a full time week with small children to care for and those who have retired and those who suffer ill health, let alone those who have no library knowledge.
    I do not believe my local library will remain, and in that case I will be requesting the complete deletion of my family and their details from TALIS. It is with sadness that my children will not have the opportunity to use a public library on a regular bases until they are able to transport themselves.

  3. Susan Caudron says:

    Thank you for highlighting this very important and salient issue. It really does go to show how ill-conceived and thought through the GCC plans are. Any group wanting to run a library should have been presented with a evidence-based model of how a community library service runs so they could take on board the implications of having to deal with sensitive areas such as data protection. It shames me to think these are the people who are supposed to be running our library service in Gloucestershire.

  4. Alan Wylie says:

    This is absolutely incredible a total disregard for privacy and data protection, they dont seem to realise that trust is one of the key factors in providing a responsive and inclusive library service, professional library staff understand the importance of this.

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