RAQs: Recently Asked Questions

Topic: Student photos on school library cards - 11/06/2020
Is it legal to print student photos with their names on their school library cards for circulation...
Posted: Friday, November 6, 2020 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

Is it legal to print student photos with their names on their school library cards for circulation use?

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

I didn't realize it in first grade, but a school library[1] is one of the first places a person experiences "the right to privacy" unmediated by a parent or guardian.

Think about it.  You go to the library and get to pick out whatever you want.  You check out books, and no one can tell you what to pick.  And aside from the person checking you out, no one has to see your selection; your records are private.

In the present day, this means that kids whose faces might be all over Facebook[2], who are attending school via computer, and who "turn off their screen," when they don't want people peeking into their home life during remote learning, still have a right to confidentiality when it comes to the library in their school. And one of the biggest symbols of that student-library relationship is their library card.

So, with all that hanging in the balance, what are the legal considerations of putting student pictures on school library cards?

As often happens in the highly regulated worlds of education, privacy, and information, the answer is: "It depends."

In this case, the factors "it depends" on are numerous; rather than itemize them, I'll summarize them with a few pointed questions:

Factor 1: What else is "on" the library card?

Depending what other information is on the library card, combining a student’s picture with it could increase the likelihood of a violation of FERPA[3], Ed 2-d, or school policy.[4]  For instance, if the card is used for not only swipe access, but access to grades, disciplinary records, and library records, also including a picture ID on it makes it sensitive, indeed.

Factor 2:  Who "owns" the library card?

Some schools, by policy, give out student identification cards, but use a school or district-wide policy to confirm that the card is simply "on loan" to the student (and must be returned at certain events, like suspension or expulsion).  Other institutions issue a card, and it becomes the student's property; this means that the card is more under that student’s control.[5]

While there is no requirement to do one way over the other, the school and library should confirm the ownership of the card in a policy, as this can impact the decision to mark the card with picture ID, as well as who has control over the card in the future.

Factor 3:  Why does the picture need to be on the library card?

Is the school so large that in order to ensure it provides library services to the right student, the card must have a photo ID?  Is it a security measure, perhaps to deter theft (of library cards, and therefore collection assets)?  Do students need to "swipe" into the library, with the library positioned to monitor that they are letting in a student who isn't supposed to be in class?  Or is the library card doing double duty as the student's general student ID?  Whatever the reason, it should be understood and clearly based in policy.  And if the reason has to do more with security at that school than the operations of the library, it is better that the function be performed by the student ID, not the library card.[6]

Factor 4:  Who will have the right or ability to view the library card?

If the library card is only required to be viewed by library staff, the inclusion of the photo is consistent with FERPA's and CPLR 4509's different but equally applicable privacy requirements.  But if a security guard, teacher(s), bus driver, or others all have to see the library card for different reasons (this relates to question number 3), or could use the card to access the student's library records, that raises the possibility of concerns.

Factor 5:  Is there a "stealth" reason for the use of the photo and name?

For some students, if they do not have documentation such as a birth certificate or social security card, a library card with a picture ID might be the most official "documentation" they have.  If a library or school is intending that their cards perform this ancillary function, this should be done with the awareness that third parties relying on the identification function still need permission for the school or library to comment on the content of the card (for students under 18, this means a waiver by parents or guardians).  However, that same student (or their parents/guardians) can choose to share their confidential education records or library records however they wish.

Okay, that's a lot of "factors," but what is the answer?

Having dragged you through all that, I will answer the member's very simple question:  Is it legal to print student photos with their names on their school library cards for circulation use?

The answer is "Yes."

But!  If the library card will be used for anything more than "circulation use" within the library, it is wise to assess precisely what the card will be used for, root that purpose in well-developed policy that considers the above factors, and evaluate if the picture—which in this case, will be a FERPA-protected education record[7]—is needed at all.  The more the card is used for functions beyond the needs of the library, the more those functions should be achieved by a separate student ID, or in the alternative, schools should make sure that library information[8] is separate and isolated from other education records accessed by or listed on the card.

Thank you for an important question.

 



[1] It is important to note that a "public school library" is different than a public library, or an association library, or a college library.... but ALL are subject to CPLR 4509, the law making library records private.  And while they are different, a public school library, like the college library, is subject to FERPA.

[2] I used to be such a stickler about not posting any pictures of my kids on FB.  But the loving posts of other family members eventually wore me down.  Sorry, kids, I really tried.

[3] Photos of students maintained by their institutions, like an ID photo, are confidential education records under FERPA.  https://studentprivacy.ed.gov/faq/faqs-photos-and-videos-under-ferpa

[4] For instance, if the library card is also an all-purpose student ID that also functions as a key card or has lunch money on it, a policy should clearly separate those functions and there must be a clear protocol for voiding access when the card is reported lost.

[5] Just because the school owns the physical object doesn't mean they own the rights to the student's image.

[6] This is because, as written more thoroughly in Ask a Lawyer https://www.wnylrc.org/ask-the-lawyer/raqs/100, school library records are subject to both FERPA and 4509 rules of privacy.  Combining education record with library records can make it difficult to tease out the different ways the materials may need to be handled. 

[7] See footnote 3.  Yes, this is a footnote to send you to a footnote.

[8] Either in hard copy, on the card, or via digital access.

 

Tags: CPLR 4509, FERPA, Library Card Policy, Library Cards, Privacy, School Libraries

The WNYLRC's "Ask the Lawyer" service is available to members of the Western New York Library Resources Council. It is not legal representation of individual members.