Checking out your kids' books Computer list meant to help find lost volumes, not invade minors' privacy.

July 15, 1996

COMPUTER-READ library cards that speed you through the checkout line have always had the potential to record your reading history. But there's been little public fuss about this technology. Indeed, the borrower's selections stand closer personal scrutiny by the librarian at the counter and by other patrons waiting in line.

That's one reason why we don't see any serious problem with the Carroll County Public Library's system allowing parents to learn the titles of books and other items currently checked out on their family cards.

Patrons get a Personal Identification Number from the library and use that confidential PIN to find out what books are borrowed on it.

While some may see an invasion of privacy issue for youngsters using the family card, it's certainly not a censorship issue. And for parents who are financially, legally and morally responsible for their minor children, it's an extremely limited degree of oversight.

Libraries can use this system to help borrowers remember what they have checked out and locate missing overdue books. With various family members using the same card, keeping track of returns can be quite a problem.

Attention was focused on the system last month, when library workers in Montgomery County balked at providing parents with computerized lists of books checked out by their children. The American Library Association stated its support of confidentiality circulation records, regardless of the cardholder's age.

The Carroll library system strikes a reasonable balance, in helping patrons without abridging acceptable standards of privacy. Children with their own cards don't have to get a PIN or provide it to their parents (except under family pressure.) Books currently checked out on a household card should be made pTC known to the cardholder. The public library's selections typically don't constitute a vast minefield of questionable, objectionable titles.

This is, in any case, a weak means of parental involvement in children's lives and reading habits. Good parents talk with their children, are sensitive to their moods and behaviors, inculcate positive values, encourage their exploration of knowledge. They don't need a list of every book their child reads to know their child. We hope they wouldn't be that PINheaded.

Pub date: 7/15/96

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