Home > Resources for Library Staff > Designing a Patron Focused Privacy Policy Framework > Privacy When Completing Online Forms

Privacy When Completing Online Forms

Many official forms like taxes, healthcare, and unemployment are now completed online. Patrons should be extra aware of where they are entering their private information and ensuring that they are on an official and secure site.

Key Topics 

Liability concerns, especially with taxes, medical, and insurance forms

The library is often used by patrons to access official government paperwork like taxes and insurance. However, this access does not come with built-in help and often requires users to enter personal information like their social security number. In our discussions with library staff, several raised potential problems with patrons coming to the library to submit these forms. View our research article on liability issues from iConference

How to navigate to the correct (free) site

Some government forms like tax filing and the FAFSA are free to file, but unofficial sites often charge for these documents. Likewise, some scams attempt to direct people to fake government websites to prompt them to enter personal information. 

Job hunting

Looking for jobs often requires job hunters to submit sensitive information, like social security numbers and other personally identifiable information to websites and third party sites like Indeed. This can make job hunters vulnerable if their information is not protected on these third-party sites (see also Privacy When Accessing Library Contracted Third-Party Sites). 

Recommended Actions

Recommended Action: Consider partnering with external institutions to offer programming or workshops to patrons on how to protect their privacy when completing online forms. For example, the AARP Foundation has offered a free Tax-Aide Service for adults ages 50 and older.  When working with external partners, take time to vet the presentation and ensure the information being shared with patrons is consistent with library privacy policy and recommendations.

Recommended Action: Create a document list or bookmark the most visited sites for patrons (unemployment, taxes, FAFSA, etc) on the library’s public computers to ensure that patrons are able to access free government resources. 

Recommended Action: Set limits on how much staff can help their patrons when completing online forms. Staff should not directly help with completing tax documents, but can help troubleshoot technical problems.

Recommended Action: Inform patrons about available resources on protecting their privacy online. You can point them to resources such as the Identity Theft Resource Center, or the Federal Trade Commission’s websites on identity theft and online security tips and resources.

Examples of Library Policy

“Staff members assist customers with all computer, Internet, and other technology questions… providing answers, print or Web resources, and/or referrals for further information, assistance, and training. Staff cannot provide extended individual training or technical support.” –Monterey Public Library (California)

In choosing sources to link to from its home pages, the Library follows its materials selection guidelines. Beyond this, the Library is not responsible for the content of the Internet, changes in content of the sources to which the Library home pages link, or for the content of sources accessed through secondary links.” –New York Public Library 

“In an effort to assist its users, the Library has created websites for the general population, for teens, and for children to help guide them to sources that are accurate, complete, and current and that provide them with a wealth of information on the local, national, and global level. In addition, the Library provides training for members of the public to assist them in using the Internet in a safe, effective, and efficient manner.”  –New York Public Library