A few years back, Madison library director Barb Dimick predicted it was only a matter of time before federal agents showed up demanding to see patron lending records, as the 2001 USA Patriot Act allows (Watchdog, "'It's Going to Happen Here,'" 12/27/02).
The law bars librarians from revealing whether they've gotten such requests, so there's no point in asking if this has occurred. But back then Dimick noted that the library's record-keeping system tracked only what was currently on order or checked out; once an item is returned, no record of who borrowed it remains.
Flash forward to 2011.
Most libraries in the South Central Wisconsin Library System - encompassing a seven-county area, including Madison - are converting to a new LINKcat circulation management system that can record this information.
But Tana Elias, the Madison Library's web resource coordinator, says this function will be "turned off by default" for individual users. It will be available only on request - for those who want to track their library use or aren't worried that Uncle Sam could learn they've been reading Marx again. Only the borrowers themselves and library staff (and, of course, possibly the Feds) can access this information.
"As a public library, we're very concerned about customers' privacy," says Elias, "sometimes more than the customers are." She notes that people commonly share info about what they're reading on social networking sites. "People enjoy it. They like to see what others recommend."
The new system is in its final stages of testing with a planned February launch. Efforts will soon be made to inform users of its capabilities.