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County Library Board Addresses Privacy Issues With Reserved Books

St. Charles County libraries change their policy to protect the privacy of people reserving books.

The St. Charles County Library District is changing the way it labels reserved books for customer pickup. 

Wrappers on reserved books used to display customers' first and last names as well as the last four digits of their phone numbers in plain sight. Now, the wrappers will only show the first two letters of the person’s first and last name. 

as a result of a concerned resident who believed the labels could make library users more vulnerable to identity theft.

Despite the change, the resident is not convinced that everyone’s privacy will be protected. Library users who have a two-letter first or last name will still have most of their name on the labels. 

Maggie Preiss is in charge of children's resources and marketing for the library district. Preiss said the library’s database has only eight users who had only two letters in their first and last name. Only three of those users have actively checked out media at the library within the past few years. 

The board has tried to notify all eight of those users about the policy. Libary Director Jim Brown said customers can choose to have their reserved books placed behind the counter for pickup. 

To solve the problem, the complainant suggested the board only put residents’ first initial, last initial, and last four digits of their library card number on the reserve labels. 

The library district’s IT staff ran some numbers through the library’s database and determined that too many residents had the same initials for the idea to be efficient. 

Brown said the original two-letter system’s error rate was less than 0.5 percent, but using initials would make it more difficult to label the reserved books correctly. 

“That means that for people that are looking for that information, there is a 7 percent chance that they will come up with the wrong information,” Brown said.

Brown said the customer’s concern has focused the library’s attention on residents’ privacy. 

“It’s raised some awareness within the staff, and we are now going back to look at our other processes,” Brown said.

The final policy on reserve labels is up for a vote at the board’s next meeting on Sept. 12.

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