Safeguarding what’s personal : privacy and data protection perspectives of Library Association of Ireland members

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Cooper, Anita
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MSc Information and Library Management
Dublin Business School
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Information privacy and data protection practices in Irish libraries are influenced by legal obligations, ethical and professional commitments, and organisational policies. Practice sits at the intersection of all these and is further affected by individual opinions, experiences, knowledge, training, and development opportunities. The aim of this research project is to explore librarians’ perspectives – attitudes, knowledge, and experiences – of privacy and the protection of personal information and how it impacts professional practice in Ireland. Data was collected through an online questionnaire delivered to current members of the Library Association of Ireland. The findings suggest that professional practices regarding privacy and data protection are affected by personal and professional opinions and experiences. They basically confirm the value placed on privacy and confidentiality regarding a library user’s personal records and activities. Personal awareness regarding privacy and data protection appear to reflect an understanding of legal rights and data protection responsibilities concerning the collection, use, and handling of personal information. Awareness on a personal level suggests awareness of professional responsibilities and practices especially for those who have participated in privacy and data protection related development. The results also indicate that organisational data protection practices appear sufficient in establishing procedures and policies but are not adequately communicated to staff and library service users. Librarians support privacy and data protection education as necessary for professional development and that libraries should play a role educating the public. Communication efforts – staff training in and user notification of privacy and data protection practices – would require improvement before any public education programmes should be considered. This research provides an initial exploration into the awareness and practices about privacy and data protection as evidenced by Library Association of Ireland members. The ability to highlight the value in safeguarding personal information offers librarians a way in which to positively impact their organisations and users. Author keywords: Privacy, data protection, librarians