Reference Privacy Policy

The University Library maintains a high level of respect for the confidentiality of patrons and the questions that they ask. Data that is collected in the course of reference service that could identify specific individuals will not be shared outside University of Michigan libraries, except with the patron’s permission or as required by law. University of Michigan libraries include any of the following:

  • University Library units
  • Independent UM libraries such as Law, Kresge Business, Bentley, Clements
  • UM Flint and UM Dearborn libraries

The University Library keeps general statistics about reference service and research consultations. These statistics do not include patron identification data. The data is used for assessment purposes and completion of statistical reports.

Information about the types of questions asked, as well as the content of responses to questions, may also be retained for “frequently asked question” files or “difficult to answer” question files. This type of data does not include patrons’ names, addresses, phone numbers, or other identifying information.

The information from reference transactions is retained long enough to complete the request. Data will not be kept for more than three months after a reference transaction is closed, unless the patron has granted permission to do so, with the exception of requests made to the University Library’s Special Collections Library*.

In the course of typical reference service, a University Library employee may forward patron information to other University Library or other campus library staff members in order to answer questions efficiently and thoroughly. In such cases, the patron will be copied on the forwarded message.


*Because reference questions addressed to the Special Collections Library are often complicated, multi-part, and stretch over months or years, staff in Special Collections strive to preserve the privacy of individuals while keeping records that enable complicated inquiries to move forward without repetition of information. Written reference queries in these areas are excepted from the general reference privacy policy as stated in this document, but Special Collections Library staff will follow these procedures:

  • Inform patrons that some queries or requests for copies and the relevant answers are kept on file.
  • Give patrons the option of having their identities obscured in such files.
  • Remove identifying information from retained correspondence and replies when patrons have requested anonymity.
Page maintained by Donna Lee Hayward
Last modified: 08/12/2009