Skip to Main Content

Student Technical Assistant- Student Worker Training LibGuide: Confidentiality


This job involves a lot of interaction with patrons. Most of the time the questions you'll receive are not personal in nature. You will have some interactions that require discretion and some knowlege of privacy issues related to library work.

Staff Contact Information

Librarians provide their cell phone numbers on the Learning Commons Sharepoint page. This information is made available to you so that you can contact the person on call during your shift. This information is never to be given out to patrons or shared with others.

If a patron asks you to provide them with a staff person's personal contact info there are a few things to remember.

  • First, let them know that this information is confidential and you cannot give it out.
  • Then, provide alternate solutions to satisfy their immediate need. You can provide the patron with the staff person's office phone number or e-mail, provide them with a business card if applicable, or offer to find someone else who might be able to help them instead. You may occasionally encounter a patron who is very insistent on this issue.
  • If you become uncomfortable enforcing this policy you should always refer to your supervisor, the librarian on call or a Circulation staff member.

Patron Contact or Login Information

Most of the time you will not be in a position to view contact or login information for students, faculty or community users. There may be occasions when you do come across this information in the course of providing service at the desk. The same rule applies in these cases.

  • It is never ok to provide a person's personal contact information (phone, address, non-UNO email address, etc.), social security numbers, passwords, or other personal information to others. This includes professors inquiring about a student, or parents inquiring about their son or daughter who goes to UNO.
  • If you receive a request for a student's personal information please refer the inquiring person to your supervisor, the librarian on call or a Circulation staff member.

Sensitive Research Topics or Interactions

It is not our job to censor or impose our own judgement on research topics. You may receive requests for information that you find personally offensive (items that appear racist or sexist, items which represent a religious or political view which conflicts with your beliefs, etc.) It is not your job to tell the person that they should not do research on this topic. It's also not your job to assume you know what the patron will do with the information.

  • Example:  If a patron requests assistance in finding Mein Kampf by Adolf Hilter (a Nazi manifesto), you should not assume that the person holds views connected with this book. He or she may simply be doing a paper on World War II. Your job is to help the person find the information they need without inserting your own judgement.

Similarly, you may encounter patrons who are doing research of a personal nature. Again, it is not your job to judge the person, simply to help them to find the information they have requested.  In addition, you should never share this information with others.

  • Example: A person who lives two doors down from you may come in and request assistance finding material on sexually transmitted diseases. You may over the course of your discussion with the patron come to understand that he or she has contracted an STD.

So, while it is ok to go home and tell your friends about how you learned how to use the Merck Manual ( a healthcare reference resource) because of an interesting research question you helped answer, it's not ok to tell your friends, neighbors or classmates about who made the inquiry or any personal information you may have come to know as a part of your interaction with this person. Please also be mindful of what you post on social media sites. Do not post information which could identify a researcher or their question. Posts like these tend to get around regardless of your intentions.

Some researchers may feel uncomforable discussing their topic at the desk. Librarians and the Learning Commons supervisor can use the Reference Office for research consultations when appropriate. If a researcher seems uncomfortable breaching their topic at the desk, offer them the option of having a private meeting with a research specialist. If you use the phone to make the referral, please remember to use discreet language. You might say something simple such as "A researcher would like to speak with you privately in the Reference Office" to avoid broadcasting the researcher's information to anyone within hearing distance.

Medical, Legal, Tax or other Advice

While helping people to find information is part of your job, providing advice on how to use or interpret this information is not. For example, you have a patron seeking information on Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Our job is to provide information but not guidance on how to apply it to any person's personal circumstances.

  • It is appropriate for you to direct them to authoritative research information, and some of this will be on comsumer health websites. It is not appropriate for you direct them to your personal opinion blog on this topic, or to instruct them on the method your aunt used to cure her IBS . It is ok to direct a patron to DIY divorce books if they inquire. It is not ok to tell them about how your cousin handled her divorce or offer advice on how they should sue their no good husband for everything he's got. It is ok to direct patrons to tax forms.
  • It is not ok to tell them which tax form is the one they need to fill out, or where to enter their adjusted gross income. Since you are probably not a doctor, lawyer or tax preparer, it is not appropriate for you to imply any expertise in these areas. Even if you were a doctor, lawyer or tax preparer, the Reference Desk is not the appropriate place for this kind of interaction.

You may occasionally encounter a patron who is insistent that you provide medical, legal or tax guidance. They may not know what to do with the information you help them locate, and seek our your opinions on how they should use it. You should politely let the patron know that you are not a qualified health/legal/tax expert, so it would not be appropriate to give out that kind of advice. It is apppropriate to direct the patron to places where they can obtain this needed advice--such as a hospital, a free legal clinic or low income taxpayer clinc-- if requested.

If you find yourself in a situation where you are having difficulty enforcing this policy or are at all unsure how to provide appropriate service, refer the patron to your supervisor, the reference librarian on call or a Circulation staff member.

Red Flags

Some interactions are not subject to confidentiality--for example making a terrorist threat or bragging about criminal activity, viewing child pornography,  distributing illegal substances or carrying a weapon on campus (except for police officers). If you witness or have reason to suspect illegal activity is occuring in the library you should contact a library staff member immediately to deal with the situation or call campus police. In an extreme emergency you should call campus police directly at 3-6666 then notify a staff person.


What you should be able to do. . .

  • Demonstrate an understanding of privacy and confidentiality when assisting patrons as defined in the library’s ethics policy.