Privacy Services


Adam Chandler
Privacy Services Coordinator

As expressed in its mission, Cornell University aims to “discover, preserve, and disseminate knowledge” and “promote a culture of broad inquiry throughout and beyond the Cornell community.” These aims can only be achieved by safeguarding the intellectual freedom and privacy of Cornell’s students, faculty, and staff—all of whom need space for private exploration and experimentation in pursuing scholarly and creative endeavors.

We at Cornell University Library are proud of our enduring commitment to privacy and confidentiality, and we acknowledge that traditional approaches to protecting patron privacy and confidentiality need to be augmented as more and more library collections involve licensed electronic resources from third-party vendors, and as new technologies gather user data with increasing stealth and ease.

As part of expanding our efforts to safeguard patron privacy and confidentiality, we list the following library services and features. We welcome your feedback.

Digital Privacy Literacy

Our digital privacy literacy workshops and individual consultations help students and researchers in several ways:

  • To understand how the internet works.
  • To identify potential risks to privacy, security, and anonymity encountered day to day while conducting personal or academic tasks digitally.
  • To master practical actions that reduce risks to privacy.

Each semester, we conduct at least one public drop-in workshop about digital privacy literacy. View the full Library workshops calendar.

In addition, upon request, we lead privacy workshops customized for classes, academic departments, and other campus groups or organizations. Contact us about workshops for your class or group.

We also offer individual consultations by appointment. To schedule your one-on-one consultation, stop by a reference desk or email us. You can also use our “ask a librarian” service to reach out to us with your privacy questions.

Apart from supporting Cornell students and researchers, the Library is committed to developing the privacy expertise of all of our research and teaching librarians.

Licensing for Privacy

Cornell University Library provides online access to e-resources from hundreds of vendors that vary greatly in addressing patron privacy. Some vendors only require users to confirm affiliation with a subscribing institution to get access, while other vendors seek to gather significant user information by requiring more steps before granting access—including asking users to create unique accounts with vendors, subscribe to their newsletters, or provide extensive demographic and industry information.

The Library fights against these privacy degradations in solidarity with our peer institutions. Whenever possible, we negotiate with vendors on licensing agreements for online resources in order to secure strong privacy protections for our patrons on and off campus. When we are unable to negotiate changes to invasive policies, we weigh alternatives and proper actions, including canceling subscriptions, if necessary.

When choosing vendors, we balance the risks and benefits of their resources. In addition, we are developing ways to inform users of vendors’ privacy practices—whether good or bad—including a notification system that warns about risks posed by resources that our patrons may deem essential despite our privacy concerns.

As part of raising awareness about privacy issues related to licensing, we are also creating an online collection of privacy policies from various vendors so that these policies and how they change over time can be monitored and studied. We have already started a  web-archiving collection that automatically collects privacy statements from vendors, today and into the future. 

Contact us for questions or concerns about licensed resources.

Privacy Risk Consultations

Some library patrons require assistance beyond general information literacy. Their needs for privacy are high-stakes—if they fail, the consequences could be serious.

For these members of the Cornell community, the Library offers individual consultations to help reduce risk and/or protect anonymity. The following are examples of situations that might prompt a request for a specialized consultation: 

  • Exposure to threats or harassment for one’s scholarly work.
  • Digital communication with human subjects whose anonymity must be protected.
  • Living in, working in, or visiting countries with restrictive information-access regimes.
  • Crossing the U.S. border.
  • Personal identities with an increased risk of doxing, harassment, or surveillance.

These consultations are treated with a high degree of confidentiality. However, there are limits to our ability to maintain confidentiality in the following instances: the individual is believed to be actively self-harming or potentially harming others; the welfare of minors is in involved; when we receive legal requests, as outlined in University Policy 4.13.

Schedule a consultation.

Public Computing

To help maintain user privacy and confidentiality, the Library provides computer systems that have anonymous logins and that are programmed to return the kiosk to its original state when restarted. Our computers are also set up to restart after a period of inactivity to help ensure that no identifying information is left behind by the user.

The Library currently provides over 290 public kiosks, as well as laptops*, in the following library units:

  • Carl A. Kroch Library
  • Flower-Sprecher Veterinary Library* (Veterinary Education Center)
  • John Henrik Clarke Africana Library*
  • John M. Olin Library*
  • Law Library* (Myron Taylor Hall)
  • Management Library (Sage Hall)
  • Mann Library*
  • Martin P. Catherwood Library (Ives Hall)
  • Math Library* (Malott Hall)
  • Mui Ho Fine Arts Library* (Rand Hall)
  • Nestlé Library
  • Sidney Cox Library of Music and Dance* (Lincoln Hall)
  • Uris Library

Contact us for questions or concerns about public computing.