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Issues of Confidentiality and Public Interest: A Case Study from a Library Perspective

Isaiah Munyoro


In 2004, Zimbabwe suffered a number of undocumented challenges, including the externalisation of billions of United States (US) dollars. This was associated with the buying of assets abroad with foreign currency acquired in Zimbabwe. A number of prominent public figures were implicated in these transactions, leading to investigations which did not spare libraries from revealing information about patrons. Libraries connected to institutions, such as the police, hospitals and parliament, have information that is of interest to researchers and, like any other library, also store patron records, which are considered to be of public interest. This article reports on a study that explored a court case where information was provided by the Parliament of Zimbabwe library. The study used a case study methodology and reviewed information in the literature relating to confidentiality and public interest issues, as well as the use of a decision-making model and documents to identify existing operating procedures, if any. The study pointed to the debatable issue of public interest and the need for clear laws on the confidentiality and privacy of patrons in Zimbabwe. It also highlighted the importance for Library and Information Science (LIS) practitioners to understand the legal issues relating to the confidentiality of patron records. Accordingly, clear guidelines are important for decisionmaking when such practitioners are faced with the need to provide patron records. A simple decision-making model is thus recommended to complement existing legislation. Although the story of the court case appeared in local papers in Zimbabwe, placing the case study in a research context provides a useful tool for LIS students and practitioners.


confidentiality; patron records; libraries; public interest; case study

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