Steamrolled by requests: A Privacy Case Study

Learning Objectives

  • Students will examine a given case and determine the privacy issues in that give case.
  • Students will make appropriate decisions relating to privacy of donors, users, and third parties.


This has been a rough week for your archives. Your director made the decision to acquire a controversial collection, namely the membership and other records of a now defunct group of the Klu Klux Klan, and the public reaction has been fierce. Now that the materials are in the archives, some decisions will have to be made on restricting some access to the collection before it become available to researchers.

Another issue has emerged this week. Due to policies at your institution, you allow access to new acquisitions immediately, and members of the public knowing this, have requested to see all the people who have accessed the klan records after you’ve made your decisions related to the privacy issues with this collection. This will not be a fun endeavor.

The last thing to go wrong this week is that a local author who’s collection you will be acquiring has passed away. While this is a very sad affair, his will makes your life more interesting. His notes, finished works, some drafts are scheduled to come to you shortly, but his will has dictated that his unfinished works should be destroyed by steam roller. Needless to say, you haven’t slept in a few days.


  • how do you determine any restrictions that should be placed on the klan records? What standards will you use to make these decisions?
  • How do you protect the privacy of your users? Does you process change if you were at a public institution that allows for an open government request of records?
  • Is there anything you can do about the author’s collection? If there is something you can do, should you?


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