RAQs: Recently Asked Questions

Topic: Using Emails from ILS Patron Databases - 12/12/2022
Can we use the email addresses of our patrons from our ILS patron database to send a donation requ...
Posted: Monday, December 12, 2022 Permalink


Can we use the email addresses of our patrons from our ILS patron database to send a donation request for our association library's annual fundraising drive? We would exclude requests to minor patrons.



Before I wrote this answer, I stopped to ponder the fact that there are over 20 library systems in New York, each with its own policy and approach to managing the information in its "ILS" (integrated library system).

The beauty of library law in New York--and it is beautiful--is that it uses a firm structure of laws and regulation to enable a sturdy but flexible array of unique library institutions.

All of which is to say: there is no single right answer to this question.

Every library system managing an ILS has the responsibility and right to set the terms for participation in that system. Among other things, that means every library system sets the terms for the use of the information access the system provides.

So, with that, can a library use the email addresses of its patrons from an ILS patron database to send a donation request for its annual fundraising drive?

The answer will vary from system to system. However, unless specific provisions have been made otherwise, the answer is most likely "no."

Here is why.

First, as always, we'll start with ethics.

The ALA and NYLA Code of Ethics provides: "We protect each library user's right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted."

While using the patron information in the ILS to populate a donor solicitation list does not in and of itself reveal "information sought" by the patron, it does raise the issue of how the patron's confidential library records are being used.

Second, we'll look at the law,[1] which requires: "Library records, which contain names or other personally identifying details regarding the users of public, free association, school, college and university libraries and library systems of this state...shall be confidential and shall not be disclosed except that such records may be disclosed to the extent necessary for the proper operation of such library...."

While sending a late notice to a patron via email is certainly necessary for the proper operation of the library, using library records to solicit donations, without further consent by the patron, is again a dubious disclosure of patron information. I am not saying it is outright barred by law...but it gives me an icky feeling.

An "icky feeling," of course, is not admissible in court. So, let's dig a little deeper.

An ILS is a service each library participates in. The laws that govern ILS use are Education Law 255 and 8 NYCRR 90.3, and the bylaws of the particular system that library is a member of. Although a member library contributes information to an ILS, unless system bylaws or policies say otherwise, that information belongs to the system, who is just as ethically and legally bound to protect the information as a member library.

The default position for a library system to adopt is that patron information should only be used in furtherance of a patron's use of services from the system. This is the best way to stay on the right side of the law.

The "special position" a library system could adopt, if it wanted to facilitate special mailings based on library membership and use (not just for fundraising, but perhaps based on demographics or interest) could be to enable patron consent to such information use, perhaps by using an opt-in or express waiver. This too would ensure adherence to the law regarding confidentiality.

For a library whose system takes the "default" position of not allowing ILS information to be exported for fundraising purposes, the library also has a few options, including:

1. Creating a passive sign-up sheet for library news and fundraising efforts and maintain a spreadsheet outside of the ILS with personal information. Here is some sample language:

Do you want to sign up for newsletter information, event notifications, and fund-raising? We won't supply your information to any third party, and our mailings will come straight from the library! Please enter your name and contact information below.

2. Proactively asking patrons to voluntarily consent to the disclosure of their information for fundraising purposes during sign up and create your own list outside of the ILS.  Here is some sample language:

Per our patron confidentiality policy, the library considers records of your patronage confidential. Do you consent to the library using your name and address for newsletter information, event notification, and fund-raising? If so, please sign the agreement below. We won't supply your information to any third party, and our mailings will come straight from the library!

NOTE: This permission can be revoked upon request.

I agree for my information to be added to the library's newsletter, event, and donation solicitation list.




Signature:_____________________ DATE:_______________


3. Asking the cooperative library system to add a "library event notice and fundraising information disclosure checkbox" so the information can be exported from the ILS. Of course, such "checkbox" would depend on the ILS technology (and might be impossible to add). But it would be work exploring.


Thank you for a thought-provoking question.

[1] New York State Civil Practice Law and Rules Section 4509.


Tags: Data, Donations, Ethics, Patron Confidentiality, Privacy

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