Further Update on Local Library SSN Practices – Divulgence is Voluntary

This week I received a formal reply to my July 2 letter to the Shorewood, Wisconsin Public Library regarding its requiring I provide my social security number to obtain a library card, that confirms the anecdotal evidence that the library might have changed its policy and/or procedures in this regard:

Michael Zimmer, PhD
Assistant Professor
School of Information Studies
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Dear Dr. Zimmer,

I received your letter regarding social security numbers and library card registration and shared it with the Shorewood Library Board of Trustees.  The provision of a social security number during the registration process has always been voluntary; it is unfortunate that the staff member you talked with that day did not communicate this correctly.  Immediately after receiving your letter, I reviewed the correct registration procedure with each Library Clerk.

The Library Board has reviewed our policies and practices along with those of other members of the Milwaukee County Federated Library System.  While providing this piece of information is voluntary throughout our system, I have found that several other member libraries prefer to have a social security number for their card holders.  There is one registration form used throughout our system.  It is printed in bulk by the system office and includes a space for the social security number.

After discussion at two meetings, the Board has instructed me to take the following actions:

  • Each individual will be told, at the onset of the registration process, that providing a social security number is voluntary and not required.
  • Before the System prints more registration forms, I will request a system-wide discussion on the inclusion of the social security number on the form.

Thank you for initiating a discussion on this very important issue.  I am certain this issue will receive further discussion in our library system.


Beth Carey
Director of Library Services

I am glad to see the library taking this issue so seriously, and that a discussion will take place as to whether future forms will even have a field for the social security number. I will try to insert myself into these deliberations, since the very existence of such a data field encourages and normalizes the collection of such personal information, and, as I experienced, not all library staff members will have been properly trained to communicate that the divulgance of an SSN is voluntary.

Further, since Director Carey notes that “several other member libraries prefer to have a social security number for their card holders,” I will press for a system-wide policy preventing the collection and usage of such personal information in patron records.

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