Your patrons will likely vary significantly in their skill level when using technology. Helping patrons who may have lower digital literacy skills can introduce a number of privacy challenges, especially when they need assistance with a website or app that is asking for sensitive personal information. Patrons may ask for help creating an account, applying for a job, or filing their taxes.
The best policy in these cases is to make decisions that align with your library’s policies and guidelines while protecting the patron’s privacy as much as possible and remaining within your comfort zone. These situations can provide a useful backdrop for having conversations with patrons about digital privacy and security. That said, there will be times when patrons will request task-oriented assistance but won’t want to take the time to learn about why data privacy matters. It will be up to staff to determine whether there is enough time to help the patron develop these skills or simply provide help with their request.
The following examples include statements shared publicly on some libraries’ websites on how they have addressed how staff should handle patron requests involving technology use and data entry, and how much time staff should devote to a single patron.
“Staff will devote a reasonable amount of time assisting individual library patrons with the Internet where needed. They cannot devote large amounts of time to each customer because staff members are handling information requests from many individuals. Regular programs, demonstrations, and hands-on sessions on the use of the Internet are provided by the library staff and are available to all patrons. Attendance at such programs may require sign-up in advance, depending on demand.” –Pasco County Libraries (Florida)
“Staff members are trained to assist customers in using the Library catalog and Web site as well as databases and other Web services selected and purchased by the Library. In some cases, vendor assistance is needed to resolve problems with or to answer specialized questions about these services.” –Monterey Public Library (California)
“Security for personal devices rests solely with the owner. Library staff members may provide guidance for accessing library materials and services, but they do not provide technical support.” —Ames Public Library (Iowa)
“Library staff must take appropriate actions to resolve problems which arise during use of the Library’s computer and Internet services and to enforce Library policies and rules. To this end, Library staff members may need to observe computer use, question users, and restrict conduct by users which violates this policy.” –Monterey Public Library (California)
“Library staff members are available to assist patrons of all ages with information literacy: to access information efficiently and effectively, evaluate information critically and competently and use information accurately and creatively.” –San Antonio Public Library (Texas)