May 17, 2022

Conference Paper: “The Panoptic Librarian: The Role of Video Surveillance in the Modern Public Library”

The following paper will be presented at iConference 2014 scheduled to take place on March 4-7, in Berlin, Germany.


The Panoptic Librarian: The Role of Video Surveillance in the Modern Public Library


David P. Randall
University of Washington

Bryce Clayton Newell
University of Washington


Full Text Available via SSRN
Scheduled for Publication in Conference Proceedings


Libraries have long maintained strong protections for patron privacy and intellectual freedom. However, the increasing prevalence of sophisticated surveillance systems in public libraries potentially threatens these core library commitments. This paper presents the findings of a qualitative case study examining why four libraries in the US and the UK installed video surveillance and how they manage these systems to balance safety and privacy. We examine the experience of these libraries, including one that later reversed course and completely removed all of its previously installed systems. We find that the libraries who install surveillance initially do so as either a response to specific incidents of crime or as part of the design of new buildings. Libraries maintain varying policies about whether video footage is protected as part of patron records, about dealing with law enforcement requests for footage, and whether patrons ought to maintain any expectation of privacy while inside libraries.

Download Full Text (via SSRN)

Related Paper

By the Same Authors: “Video Surveillance in Public Libraries: A Case of Unintended Consequences?”

Source: Proceedings of the 46th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (2013).

This paper presents the findings of an exploratory qualitative research study in which the authors sought to examine why two public libraries have implemented video security systems and why one of these libraries has reversed course and recently removed a previously installed surveillance system. We found that one library initially installed the system in various branches as an ad hoc response to specific incidents of crime without central administrative oversight, while the other installed their system as an integral part of the design and construction of their central library location and collaborates with local police and professional consultants on security issues. The former library system subsequently removed all of their cameras in 2011 as a consequence of having negative interactions with local police departments.

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.