Privacy Policy

Last Updated: 6/16/09

I.  Introduction

The New York Public Library (“NYPL” or the “Library”) is committed to protecting the privacy of our patrons, customers, donors, and friends.  We believe that privacy is essential to the exercise of free speech, free thoughts and free association, and we have created this Privacy Policy so that you can learn what the Library does with your information.  (This policy covers information that is collected online as well as offline.)  By using NYPL's services, including its website, and by communicating with NYPL, you agree to be bound by the terms of this Privacy Policy.  This policy may change from time to time, and we encourage you to check it periodically.

II.  Library Records

A.  The Library protects its users’ privacy by keeping information about materials they check out and information they access confidential, as required by law.  In New York, the confidentiality of library records is governed by New York CPLR 4509, which reads as follows:

Library records, which contain names or other personally identifying details regarding the users of public, free association, school, college and university libraries and library systems of this state, including but not limited to records related to the circulation of library materials, computer database searches, interlibrary loan transactions, reference queries, requests for photocopies of library materials, title reserve requests, or the use of audio-visual materials, films or records, shall be confidential and shall not be disclosed except that such records may be disclosed to the extent necessary for the proper operation of such library and shall be disclosed upon request or consent of the user or pursuant to subpoena, court order or where otherwise required by statute.

B.  The information collected and retained by the Library varies, depending on the context:

1. Circulating Materials.  When you check out a book, video, DVD, CD, game or any other item from our circulating collections, we keep an electronic record of that transaction.  If the item in question is returned on time, the electronic record for that transaction is deleted from our integrated library system.  If the item is returned after the due date and the fine is paid when it is returned, the electronic record for that transaction is also deleted from our integrated library system.  If an item is returned after the due date and the fine associated with that item is not paid when the item is returned, then we keep a record of that transaction until the fine in question is paid.  As a precaution, we also keep a record of information contained in our integrated library system on back-up files that are stored off site.  These files are purged on a rolling basis so that only four weeks of transaction history is kept at any given time. 

2. Special Collections / Research Materials.  When a patron accesses non-circulating materials from one of our research libraries, we generally keep a record of that transaction in our files, even after the item in question has been returned.  These records are kept because many of the items in our special collections are fragile or rare or are governed by agreements we have with third parties who have made these materials available to us (such as the videos in our Theatre on Film and Tape Archive.) 

3. Personalized Services.  NYPL’s integrated library system allows any patron who would like to save certain search queries to our database the ability to do so through our “preferred searching” service.  This service sends the patron in question information about new materials that meet the search criteria established by that patron.  Patrons may also use the integrated library system to save lists of materials they have read on a personalized saved title list page.  The information saved in the preferred searching service as well as on the personalized saved title list page is only accessible to the patron who has signed up for the service in question.

4. Research Queries.  NYPL often receives requests for research assistance by phone, email, or through other channels.  The way this information is handled varies, depending on the division that receives the request.  For example, “Ask NYPL” keeps a database of questions and answers, often in anonymized form, in order to answer future questions more efficiently.  Other divisions, such as NYPL Express or our branch libraries, may keep a record of each question and answer.

5. Use of NYPL E-Resources.  Some e-resources available via NYPL’s website are designed to gather information from patrons for certain purposes like finding jobs.  These e-resources retain patrons’ personal information, and patrons are encouraged to read the privacy policy of the company that provides the service in question to learn more about how this information might be used.  In all other instances, information about the use of our e-resources is only kept on an aggregate (i.e., non-personally identifiable) basis.

6. Inter-Library Loan Requests.  NYPL offers our users access to materials owned by other libraries if those materials are not contained in our collections.  We make these materials available through an online application called ILLiad, supported by OCLC Online Computer Library Center (“OCLC”).  All inter-library loan requests are placed through this application, either directly by the individual making the request or by an NYPL staff member who creates an account on behalf of the patron.  This account keeps a record of the requests made.  Information in these accounts is available, on a confidential basis, to NYPL as well as to OCLC.

7. Use of NYPL Computers.   While NYPL does not keep personally-identifiable records of patron searches on our computers, we do keep a log of internet activity for all NYPL computers and other devices using our networks (i.e., we keep a record of URLs accessed from each of our IP addresses).   This information is retained in order to ensure compliance with the Children’s Internet Protection Act and to compile monthly usage statistics; it is purged every 6 - 8 weeks.  Information related to reserving time on our computers through our online reservation system is generally purged from our records each night.

8. Participation in NYPL Classes and Programs.  NYPL retains information about patrons’ participation in our classes.  How we use this information depends on the class in question.  For example, in cases where we provide a class, like an English Class for Speakers of Other Languages, through a service provider, we may share patron information with the instructor/service provider.  In cases where we receive funding for classes from outside sources, which is also the case with our English Classes for Speakers of Other Languages, we are often required to share information about the participants with the entities that have provided funding for the classes (in the case of English Classes for Speakers of Other Languages, the NY State Department of Education and the Mayor's Office).  In cases where patrons sign a release in order to participate in a class (like a yoga class), we will keep this release in our files, in accordance with our policies.

III.  Use of Information in Connection with Other Programs, Services and Activities

The Library compiles aggregate demographic data related to our patrons to better manage our services and to provide aggregate information to potential funders of the Library's programs.  In addition, like other similar organizations, the Library collects certain personally-identifiable information about our patrons, customers, donors, and friends for purposes related to our mission.  For example, information is obtained from online transactions such as purchases, registrations, or contributions as well as responses to our e-newsletters and email communications.  (In order to help us to better tailor our services and offerings, NYPL collects limited information about patron click-throughs, in connection with our e-newsletters and certain email communications.)  This information may be used to send you information about various programs and services offered by NYPL as well as other NYPL initiatives and information.  Should you ever wish to stop receiving any particular type of communication, please either click the unsubscribe link at the bottom of the email you received or contact the appropriate office by using these email addresses.

As is customary in the non-profit world, NYPL will sometimes send people who have expressed interest in the Library’s programs or services requests to support the Library.  In order to ensure the most efficient use of NYPL’s fundraising dollars, we use third party vendors to make sure the contact information we have for our users is current and to determine which users are most likely to provide support.  Information about our donors is never sold or rented to other organizations, though sometimes we exchange donor names and postal addresses with other non-profits.  These names are shared for use on a one-time, non-retainable basis.  Online donors are given a chance to opt out of this exchange when they fill out the online donation form, and all donors may call the Development Office at any time (or send an email to friends [at] to have their preferences in this regard updated.

IV.  Updating Your Information and Preferences

Patrons who would like to update information and preferences in connection with Library newsletters, mailing lists, and databases should refer to this list for contact information. In all instances, patrons can stop receiving e-newsletters sent by the Library by clicking on the “Unsubscribe” link at the bottom of each such e-newsletter.  Cardholders who would like to update their telephone numbers and email addresses online may do so through NYPL’s integrated library system.

V.  Third-Party Partners

The Library has teamed up with reputable third-party partners in order to provide certain services to its patrons. The information you submit to the Library may be provided to those third parties on a confidential basis so that they can assist us in providing certain services, including English Classes for Speakers of Other Languages and activities that require us to maintain databases and/or process credit card transactions and donations.  In cases where patrons leave the Library's website to visit one of its partners' websites, patrons are encouraged to become familiar with the privacy policies of the websites they visit.

VI.  Security

The Library has physical, electronic, and managerial measures in place to prevent unauthorized access to the information we collect.

VII.  Cookies

Cookies are commonly used to provide useful features to website users.  A cookie is a small text file that is sent to your browser from a website and stored on your computer's hard drive. Cookies cannot read data from your hard disk or read cookie files that were created by other websites—the website that creates a cookie is the only one that a browser will permit to access it.  The cookie itself does not contain any personally identifiable information, but may be used to tell when your computer has accessed NYPL’s website.  Examples of ways in which the Library might use cookies include customizing content areas or analyzing site activity.  Some electronic services offered by NYPL, such as the library catalog and remote databases, place temporary cookies for current sessions.

If you are concerned about the use of cookies, we suggest that you set your browser's options to notify you whenever a cookie is set or to disallow cookies altogether. You should be aware, however, that prohibiting the use of cookies may restrict your access to certain types of content or features.

VIII.  Children’s Privacy

The Library is very concerned about the issue of children’s privacy.  We ask all children who access services from our website or from websites affiliated with NYPL (such as On-Lion: For Kids, Teen Link,, and to limit the amount of personal information they provide, and, in each instance, we do not ask for more personal information from patrons who are children than is necessary to participate in the activity in question.  We encourage all parents and guardians to learn about their children’s online activities and to participate in their children's exploration of the internet.  We also encourage parents and guardians to tell their children about the importance of: (i) not revealing personal information online and (ii) asking for permission before providing their last name or contact information to any website, or before purchasing any products or services online.  For further information, please read A Safety Net for the Internet: A Parent's Guide