Public Record

When it was brought to public attention that Hillary Clinton had used a private server for emails that should be accessible as public record, it started a conversation in my organization about public record and data storage. Being a government employee at a public library means that some of the things I do could be subject to public record. The administration at my library encouraged professional staff to refrain from using personal devices or personal accounts to complete library work. However for years several librarians have used personal accounts on Facebook and Google, or personal devices like cell phones and iPads for all aspects of our job.

When we use these devices for both personal and professional I doubt many of us thought about public record laws. While the best practice would be to never use personal accounts or devices, that limits the services we are able to offer. Often our libraries don’t have the resources to give staff accounts and devices to try out services, and even if they do its more complicated to set up test accounts when staff already have existing profiles that can be used to test out new systems.

If your library system only has an email system, and you use your personal cell phone, or facebook messenger to talk to a coworker about a project you are working on, does that mean your entire phone is subject to open record? What if you send a message a few weeks later to the same staff member making a comment about a coworker or project? Since it’s a personal account does that become part of public record?

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook advocates that users have one online identity. He once said in an interview with David Kirkpatrick in his book, “The Facebook Effect. “Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.” If I use my personal account to create a page for my teen group does that mean everything I post on Facebook would be subject to Public record? I know several teachers and librarians that have secondary profiles, if I create a separate profile for my role as teen librarian am I being dishonest?

What if you use your phone or home computer to check your work email address? Does the entire computer open to public record?

In trying to understand Public records I explored Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press . The site explain each state’s laws about public record.

For my state the law about instant and text messages simply state that “There is no statutory or case law addressing this issue, though the definition of “public record” is broad enough to encompass such postings. “

Per using home computer it states that “the home computer used by a city official to send an email is subject to inspection by the city to determine whether a requested record still existed.”

As we create new creative innovative programs and services we need to remain conscious about who might access and use our information. While in general the rule that if you wouldn’t say it in front of your mother/to a person’s face does apply, but when we collaborate using online message systems rather than face to face meetings or phone calls we put ourselves at greater risk for conversations being taken out of context or making it into headlines much like the Sony executives experiences after their infamous hack.

I don’t want us as a profession to hesitate from doing new things, but think about how to implement them intentionally so we can maintain a line between our personal and public lives.

Have you thought about your information related to Public record?
Do you use personal accounts or devices in your job?
What do you do to keep yourself safe?

About Jami Schwarzwalder

Currently a teen librarian with the Pierce County Library System in Tacoma, WA.She is passionate about technology, making, and learning. See what I'm up to at https://about.me/jamischwarzwalder
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