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San Jose State University LIBR 220-01 Libraries and the Law
School of Library & Information Science Mary Minow

Legal QuestionsBibliography Author
From a circulation desk: Should it refuse to give any patron information to anyone, even law enforcement personnel, without a subpoena? Andrew Gurthet

Lisa Nash

There are two bibliographies for this question.

Back to List of Legal Questions To: Mary Minow From: Andrew Gurthet Re: Library Record Confidentiality

Question: From a circulation desk: Should it refuse to give any patron information to anyone, even law enforcement personnel, without a subpoena?

This question is vague in that it does not specify the type of library in question: public, semi-private or private. For purposes of this question, I strictly focused upon public libraries. I also focused upon California law, except those federal statutes and cases that may potentially impact a California public library in regards to this issue.

Statutory Resources: California and federal statutes which may potentially apply include:

  1. California Information Practices Act. California Civil Code sec. 1798 et seq.
  2. California Public Records Act. California Government Code sec. 6250 et seq. One statutes within this act is directly on point. Specifically, "Libraries supported by public funds; registration and circulation records; confidentiality; exceptions." California Government Code sec. 6267.
  3. California Constitution, Art. I, Sec. 1
  4. Freedom of Information Act / Sunshine Act. 5 U.S.C. sec. 552 et seq.

California Code of Regulations:

  1. Disclosure of Public Records, 17 California Code of Regulations sec. 91000 et seq.

Law Review Articles: Law reviews worth looking at include:

  1. California's Privacy Act: Controlling Government's Use of Information? 32 Stanford Law Review 1001
  2. Brown v. Johnston: The Unexamined Issue of Privacy in Public Library Circulation Records in Iowa. 69 Iowa Law Review 535
  3. Access to Government Information in California. 54 California Law Review 1650
  4. Information Privacy and Public Records. 8 Pacific Law Journal 25
  5. California Public Records Act. 4 Golden Gate University Law Review 203
  6. Privacy: To be or not to be, that is the question. 10 Pacifica Law Journal 663

California Practice Guides / Encyclopedic Resources: Relevant information that may be found in the various California practice guides and general legal encyclopedias include:

  1. Witkins Summary of California Law:
  2. Bancroft-Whitney's California Civil Practice, Civil Rights Litigation. Right to Privacy; Generally, Civ. R. sec. 1:2, 6:1 et seq.
  3. Bancroft-Whitney's California Civil Practice, Torts. Invasion of Privacy. Generally, Torts sec. 20:1 et seq.
  4. C.J.S. Constitutional Law, sec. 444 et seq., 460, and 619 et seq. (constitutional matters regarding privacy and confidentiality)
  5. C.J.S. Records sec. 86 (generally)
  6. C.J.S. Right of Privacy sec. 26 (public records)
  7. Am. Jur. 2d. Freedom of Information Acts sec. 66 (library materials)

Case Law: I was only able to find one case directly on point affecting California public libraries. I was, however, able to find one California case on a related issue and several cases regarding confidentiality of library records in other jurisdictions.

  1. SDC Development Corp. v. Mathews (CA9 Cal) 542 F2d. 1116
  2. State Board of Equalization v. Superior Court (App. 3 Dist 1992) 10 Cal. App. 4th 1177
  3. Brown v. Johnston (Iowa Sup. Ct. 1983) 328 N.W.2d 510
  4. Tacoma Public Library v. Woessner (Wash. App. 2 Dist 1998) 951 P2d 357

Back to List of Legal QuestionsLast Updated: October 15, 1998