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June 1, 2006

Are Your Library Records Confidential?

A criminal or juvenile justice agency can obtain access to library records if investigating a person suspected of committing a crime.

Iowans use their public libraries every day to check out books or request information. Public libraries maintain records about their patrons, of course - they need to track which patrons have borrowed which books. Can law enforcement have access to these records to find out who has checked out certain books or requested certain information? Does Iowa law protect a library patron's privacy?

Iowa Code sec. 22.7(13) puts very specific limits on whether and when law enforcement agencies may obtain library patron information.

Under Iowa law, "records of a library which, by themselves or when examined with other public records, would reveal the identity of the library patron checking out or requesting an item, or other information from a library" shall be released for purposes of a criminal investigation only when all three of the following circumstances apply:

  • Authorized Agencies. The records shall be released to a "criminal or juvenile justice agency." Iowa Code sec. 22.7(13).
  • Pending Investigation. The records shall be released "only pursuant to an investigation of a particular person or organization suspected of committing a known crime." Iowa Code sec. 22.7(13).
  • Court Order. The records shall be released "only upon a judicial determination that a rational connection exists between the requested release of information and a legitimate end and that the need for the information is cogent and compelling." Iowa Code sec. 22.7(13).

Remember: Iowa's Public Records Law balances the need for criminal investigative information and the privacy of library patrons by defining specific criteria for providing law enforcement agencies with access to library records.

Sunshine advisories are a general resource for government officials and citizens on Iowa's public records and open meetings laws – our "sunshine” laws.  Local officials should obtain legal advice from their counsel, such as the city or county attorney.

The Iowa Public Information Board (IPIB) is an independent board that the Iowa Legislature established specifically to address open meetings and open records-related matters.  The IPIB provides information to the public and governmental entities on "sunshine" issues.

The IPIB, which has jurisdiction and authority to investigate and enforce Iowa's open meetings and open records laws, enables citizens to file a complaint if they believe that someone is violating these laws.

Citizens who have inquiries or complaints about public records or open meetings should contact the Iowa Public Information Board. Iowa Public Information Board.

Wallace Building, Third Floor
502 East 9th Street
Des Moines, IA 50319


Phone: 515-725-1781

Updated December 1, 2014


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