Monday, March 1, 2010

We Don’t Track That Information

A fair number of folks who come up to the circulation desk ask for a copy of their library record or all the books that have been taken out using a specific card.

As a rule there is no nefarious purpose behind these questions. Usually the person is a daughter/son, father/mother, granddaughter/grandson, niece/nephew of a card holder who cannot get to the library. I see them about once a week and what they are doing is supplying their relative with books to read. Naturally what they are interested in is keeping up a fresh supply of new, or at least new to the reader, books for their loved one to enjoy and they don’t want to bring home repeats.

So when they ask for a list of items borrowed by the card holder they are usually disappointed by my answer: “We don’t keep that information.”

We don’t keep it because to do so is considered an invasion of the person’s privacy. Librarians take this issue quite seriously. A very easy way to get a bunch of librarians pretty fired-up is to suggest that libraries should track the reading habits of others. You will see a group of normally sedate, unflappable individuals become very agitated. And they will start rattling off phrases that contain words like: Bill of Rights, Privacy of the Individual and Foundations of American Democracy. In my experience, it is usually best not to make the suggestion in the first place. And even if the individual card holder did authorize a library to keep track of his/her reading habits we couldn’t do it. All library software is written so that no one is able to track what you have taken out in the past. This concept also holds true for using the public computers at the library. After you log off and again when the computers are shut down at the end of the day, all of the records of sites visited are purged.

But, back to the books. So what can someone do to track their own or their loved ones reading habits? An easy solution would be to buy a binder and just write down the title and authors of the books checked out. But that seems so 1980s.

Here is another solution. There are a number of websites that will track your reading habits for you, offer addition titles that you might enjoy based on what you have selected and give you the opportunity to join book discussion groups and blogs based on your reading habits. Welcome to the expanded services of a web-enabled reading community! Here are two sites that are worth investigating:

If you know of another web site that offer different services to readers feel free to add a post.


  1. Hi Pete,
    This is a great explanation of why libraries don't keep track of personal information. I want to add that here in our area (northeastern NY) you can keep your own list on the library catalog website ( Just log in with your library card number, find the books as you read them and click "Add to my list". Print it out once in a while in case we have a computer glitch!
    Betsy Brooks, CEFLS

  2. Thanks Betsy,
    I'll be sure to tell folks who ask about how to use our own resource.