A Study about LGBTQ+ Students’ Library Privacy in the COVID-19 Pandemic
Published: February 16, 2024 by Dr. Michele A. L. Villagran and Dr. Darra Hofman
Given both the historical and ongoing surveillance and policing of marginalized communities, contact tracing, and other pandemic control measures pose additional dangers to marginalized communities that are not faced by members of dominant communities. While privacy rights have been a point of controversy and uncertainty for all in the face of digital surveillance and the exigencies of the pandemic, LGBTQ+ students may well struggle to assert even those rights to which they are unquestionably entitled. Utilizing a multi-method, multidisciplinary approach, we conducted a study to examine the information and privacy risks imposed upon or heightened for LGBTQ+ university students by COVID-19, with a focus on the roles of libraries and librarians. Our research was primarily exploratory with the aim to explore the main aspects of this problem. This research sought to address the following research questions: (1) what information and privacy vulnerabilities has COVID-19, and in particular, contact tracing, imposed upon LGBTQ+ university students and libraries; and (2) how can COVID-19 responses mitigate those risks?
Primary data were collected through a survey that included a mixed methods approach of both quantitative and qualitative questions. We wanted to understand both general characteristics about a population, but also gain further understanding of the topic through qualitative questions. The survey was disseminated to California Library Information eXchange (CALIX), PubLib, University Libraries Section (ULS), and ALA Rainbow Roundtable listservs and to the LGBTQIA Centers at the 23 California State University campuses to share with students. We received 117 responses to the survey during the two-week timeframe that it was open.
The findings revealed while the library community has a desire to support its LGBTQ+ patrons, there are less consistently available knowledge and resources, particularly with regards to COVID-19 specific concerns, such as contact tracing. Libraries long emphasis on intellectual freedom and patron privacy should mean that libraries can serve as a safe space, where sexual and gender minorities can find resources without concern of surveillance and outing. This need is particularly important for university students, who are engaged in processes of exploration and growth, and who, at least for traditional students, often find themselves in a fraught position of legal independence but economic and material dependence on parents and other who may be homophobic, transphobic, or otherwise unsupportive. Such students need resources, including information resources, which the library could provide, but only if the library is safe. This research has also shown that the complexity of privacy protection can evade even information professionals, and points to the challenges of equipping front line professionals in quickly changing situations. Libraries can play a significant role in supporting and protecting sexual and gender minorities. These findings may bear significant implications for libraries where LGBTQ+ people and students are a key stakeholder. In order to develop and gain the privileged trust of libraries and librarians, LGBTQ+ people need to feel that their privacy is protected.
Link to the full text article https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9908524/