HIPAA for libraries

When my idol Tina Fey published “Bossypants,” I couldn’t wait to get it on audiobook so I could listen to her story in the car. I called the Lincolnwood Library to see if they had the audiobook; it’s not in their collection, and of the 26 neighborhood libraries that do carry it, none of them had it on the shelf. So I put my name on the waiting list, and a few weeks later, they left me a message to say my audiobook had arrived.

It reminded me of something that happened a few years ago. The phone rang at my parents’ house when I was home visiting them. It was the library calling, asking for my mom. I told them she wasn’t home (I guess I’m old enough that I no longer need to use the safer “She’s in the shower” excuse I used as a child, so as not to tell the world I’m home alone). The woman asked me to leave my mom a message that her book had arrived at the Lincolnwood Library.

“Thanks,” I said. “Which book?”

“We can’t tell you,” the librarian said.

“Seriously? You can’t tell me what book she reserved?”

“No, that’s against our policy.”

When my mom got home a few minutes later, I told her that her mystery book had arrived. Though of course it wasn’t in the mystery genre. It was just the newest Jodi Picoult novel.

It’s a good thing the library didn’t tell me what book she ordered. She might have reserved “Surprise Gifts for your 24-Year-Old Daughter.” Or “How to Tell Your Daughter That She Needs to Buy New Shoes…Without Hurting Her Feelings.” Or “How to Remove Skunk Smell from Your Adult Daughter’s Childhood Bedroom So She Won’t Regret Coming Home to Visit.” (I think that last one was only available at the Park Ridge library last time I checked.)

Pretty soon, libraries will be more obsessed with privacy than doctors’ offices. If you work hard enough, you can find medical records on anyone; but you will NEVER be able to uncover which books they’ve checked out.

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One thought on “HIPAA for libraries

  1. funny post as always, but this is a serious civil liberties issue. librarians are very concerned that someone’s library borrowings could be used against them in a criminal investigation or the like.

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