Anonymizing Holds

anonymous graphic elementMost states have laws in place that require public libraries to keep a user’s library use private. Both the American Library Association’s (ALA) Code of Ethics and Library Bill of Rights insist that libraries respect and uphold a user’s privacy in their use of the library. This means that we should not expose a user’s reading, viewing, or listening habits to others. The number one way that libraries violate this is through on-the-shelf holds. There are many libraries that use full names and library card numbers to identify holds. Sometimes, that library card number is a piece of sensitive data like a Social Security number. That is far from best practice since it allows users to see what others are reading and also exposes users’ PII.


Don’t have any control over changing the holds slips? What else could you do to anonymize the process? Some libraries have opaque bags or paper slips that can go over books when they sit on the shelf.


case study

When you walk into a library in Aalborg, Denmark, you’ll notice the holds shelves are free of receipts. How do users find their holds without the classic receipt tucked into the pages? Staff use an app to scan the barcode on the item and then the barcode of the shelf where it will be placed. This generates an automated message that is sent to users with the specific location of their item. Using this system eliminates any possibility of violating a user’s privacy since there is no way of publicly displaying what items they have on hold.



Go to your holds shelf and look at how they are labeled. What did you find?

If your holds slip includes a full name and library card number, what could you use instead?

Talk with your circulation department about alternatives.