Archives, Museums, and Visual Resources Collections

Specialized information units such as museums, archives, and visual resources (vr) collections (holders of lantern slides, 35mm slides, and study photographs) have missions similar to book and periodical lending libraries in that they preserve, organize, and collocate information, and provide access to their information resources. However, there are important differences between the missions of traditional libraries and these specialized information repositories. Museums and archives generally collect primary materials and objects, which usually exist in one copy. VR collections, holding slides and study photographs, support classroom instruction, providing visual lecture materials directly to faculty. The materials in VR collections are generally not published in large quantities like books and periodicals, and are often created through use of copystand photography, i.e., making one reproduction of previously published visual material. While these three types of specialized information units often acknowledge similarities to libraries, as a rule they do not adhere to the ALA Code of Ethics. Of particular interest here is the ALA statement on confidentiality of patron usage:



III, We protect each library user’s right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted.


There are valid reasons why non-library informational units do not follow the ALA principles on confidentiality of patron usage. VR collections, for example, are instructional facilities, often within a department, college, or museum, whose holding are circulated to create slide lectures.  The use of a slide, unlike a book or periodical article, involves a short amount of time: while an image may be “read” or analyzed, it can, and should, be viewed relatively quickly, averaging a minute per item.  While a lecture may take a few days to assemble, the presentation is relatively brief. One item can be used by multiple users in a short-period of time. Thus, a quick turn-around time between borrowers, and actions that facilitate a quick-turn around time, are desirable.  In the most forward-thinking vr collections, borrower confidentiality may be the norm until another borrower needs a particular slide for a forthcoming lecture.  In many instances, the vr manager will inform both parties, the current and future borrower, who holds the item in question, acting on the assumption that faculty within a department have existing collegial relationships which obligate them to share and support one another in the service of pedagogy. In fewer instances, the current borrower may be asked to return the item immediately, before a particular hour without disclosing the name of the professor who needs the item in question.  The infrequency of this more privacy-protecting approach reflects the probability that the two professors will see each other sooner than they will see the vr manager. Undoubtedly, there also are nuanced status concerns at play here, where it may seem more appropriate for faculty to share with each other without the mediated intervention of an information professional.


Archivists share the fruits of their collecting and organizational labors with researchers examining primary source materials.  Archivists traditionally keep written logs of their clientele and their research interests. It is common practice to introduce two researchers working in related areas to one another for the heuristic benefit that may ensue. Archives and vr collections may ask permission for disclosure of patron names and contact information. However, cultural climates vary from institution to institution and from curator to curator. Some archivists and vr curators assume that the identity of patrons using primary research or instructional materials is useful when not closely guarded information.


There are important opportunities for developing privacy literacy programs for these specialized information units. The goal of any privacy literacy program should be the modification of current vr and achival practices involving patron confidentiality, with movement toward more active confidentiality. Privacy protection procedures involving use of borrower chits, borrower agreements, facility orientations, brochures, web sites, and documents where users register or sign-in can all be made more explicit. Any recommendations for development of model privacy programs and electronic privacy guidelines for the California Digital Library and the UC co-libraries will need to take into account these different, and appropriate, information cultures.


End here, or go on to give specific examples?