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Should Book Choices Be Private? Harold Washington Library Patron Calls For Change

CHICAGO (CBS)—A Chicago woman is accusing the Harold Washington Library of failing to protect the privacy of its patrons—and the library is responding tonight.

The iconic owls looming over Chicago's main library represent knowledge and wisdom, but questions have been raised about whether library staff made a lapse in judgment and violated the American Library Association's best practices by leaving the names of its patrons out in plain sight.

Library patron Pamela McKinney says something was amiss when she went to pick up a book she had put on reserve. She saw shelves filled with books with receipts sticking out of the pages—with the full names of the patrons who reserved the materials.

Pamela McKinney
Library Patron Pamela McKinney calls the Chicago Public Library's reserve system a "bunch of hooey."

"When I came to pick it up it was sitting out in the open with my first and last name and I was very surprised," McKinney said. "I knew right away something was wrong."

McKinney, who has a master's degree in library and information sciences, says the library broke the law by allowing the public to see which books patrons had reserved.

"With further research I realized they were also violating a state statute," McKinney said.

When CBS 2's Charlie De Mar inquired about why the public should be concerned about the issue she raised, McKinney said the topics a person chooses to read about should remain private.

"Maybe they don't want their friends to know what they are reading," McKinney said. "Maybe they don't want their spouse to know what they're reading (and) maybe they don't want their employer to know what they are reading."

She complained to the American Library Association back in June, and an email response reads: "I quite agree that displaying the full patron name on books that might be sensitive is a violation of patron privacy."

The Chicago Public Library issued a response Thursday night:

"We have identified a solution," reads an email from the organization. "We expect to run a pilot in January in the Harold Washington Library Center."

In a statement, Chicago Public Library spokesman Patrick Molloy said: "We very much value patron privacy. We've been working with a concerned patron and believe we've identified a user-friendly solution to create holds slips that protect the privacy of our patrons and that works with our existing systems.

"We are currently making the necessary system adjustments and will run a pilot in January. We remain committed to protecting patron privacy."

McKinney still isn't satisfied, however.

"I think it's a bunch of hooey," she said. "The issue is they need to stop, regardless of what they are going to do, and they refuse to stop--they keep breaking the law."

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