Queer Privacy Protection: Challenges and the Fight within Libraries

Publication Date


Document Type


Publication Title

International Journal for the Semiotics of Law




The COVID-19 pandemic has forced libraries to shift their service-delivery model online, infiltrating countless interactions–from storytime to reference questions to social groups–into digital mediation, typically by third-party platforms outside the library’s control, generating mineable, persistent digital traces. One community particularly vulnerable to the impacts of surveillance is the queer community, where an outing, at least in the United States, imposes a potential loss of housing and employment and may subject the outed person to violence. Libraries–particularly public and school libraries–have once again become sites of conflict and resistance, with queer people and materials increasingly coming under attack both physically and legally. A primary shield by which libraries try to protect their patrons from such attacks is “privacy.” Librarians, as professionals, proclaim a commitment to privacy embedded in such documents as the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institution’s Statement on Privacy in the Library Environment. However, these ideals exist in broader systems–including legal and cultural structures–which constrain and complicate abstract commitments to privacy. This article examines the challenges of queer digital privacy within libraries in the United States, focusing on the polysemous, boundary-crossing nature of queerness, the digital and the material, privacy, and libraries (as both concepts and institutions). In particular, this article demonstrates how binary-bound, individual-rights-oriented legal approaches to privacy have arisen, and been mediated, by cis-heteronormative patriarchal values and how the sociotechnical materialities in which they occurred (such as paper-based recordkeeping) are fundamentally incompatible with queer privacy needs.

Funding Sponsor

Association for Library and Information Science Education


Digital privacy, Libraries, Privacy, Queer, Queer digital privacy