Security of Library Users and Collections

  • Last Updated: January 14, 2022
  • Published: October 15, 2012

Physical Public Access and Security Measures

Libraries can provide for policies or processes that seek to make a facility secure for staff and patrons. Appropriate security measures can vary from library to library but may include:

  • Requiring patrons to sign a guest register for building access
  • Requiring identification for building access
  • Conducting a reference interview to screen visitors to ensure there is a need for depository material
  • Escorting patrons to the depository collection
  • Restricting access to only the depository collection to the general public users 
  • Limiting access to collections to primary patrons during late night hours when the library is short-staffed

The general public must be able to access your depository's collections and services outside standard business hours (i.e., Monday-Friday, 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.) if the library's primary patrons are able to do so.

  • If your depository library offers night and weekend service hours to its primary patrons, your library must provide comparable service hours--for example, at least some weekday evening or weekend hours--to all users of depository materials. Access may be limited for the general public during late evening or overnight hours.
  • If your selective housing site is only open during standard business hours, it does not have to create evening or weekend hours for depository patrons. Rather, your library may establish a process for patrons to access depository resources at the main depository when the selective housing site is closed.

Please remember, Web pages and signage used to advertise security, access, and conduct policies must not restrict the public’s access to depository collections and services. Library services for depository patrons must be comparable to the services offered for the library’s general collection.

Computers, Networks, and Security

GPO appreciates that computers and access to public networks are high demand services and libraries are obliged to take steps to manage this demand. Acceptable measures include:

  • Requiring patrons to present identification
  • Requiring patrons to use sign-up sheets
  • Using an authenticated log-in for computers or public networks
  • Using special or generic passwords or visitor cards
  • Setting time limits for use
  • Mediating access to electronic formats and online depository information resources (for example, if Internet filtering or network security cannot be disabled, or age restrictions cannot be circumvented)
  • Mediating access to printing when network security does not allow patrons without a login to print
  • Reserving specific computers for depository usage

Differences in access should be documented and publicized to primary and public patrons.


FDLP free public access requires that depository collections and services are available to patrons of all ages. To support access for patrons under the age of 18, libraries can do one or more of the following:

  • Modify any policies that have the effect of restricting access to the depository collection for patrons under the age of 18
  • Publicize requirements for minors wishing to use depository resources
  • Advertise mediated access for patrons under the age of 18 wishing to use the depository collection
  • Provide mediated services through email/phone/chat reference services, suggesting an appointment, perform searching for the patron, or escorting the patron

Minimally, if state or local laws prohibit unattended minors under a certain age from entering your facility, the library must provide mediated services.

Patron Conduct

Security measures to protect library users, staff, and collections must not hinder access to depository collections. All depository patrons must adhere to the same standards of behavior expected of other library patrons. Depository libraries have the right to bar or remove any individual who poses a threat to library staff, other patrons, or the security of their collections.  Each library determines the conduct policy for patrons.  GPO recommends that all libraries have a user behavior or conduct policy.

Patron Complaints

Occasionally GPO receives complaints from the public.  GPO will contact the library about any complaints; if it is found to be depository related, GPO will follow through with an investigation.  GPO will work with the library to address any findings.

Please contact the Office of Outreach and Support if you have any questions about patrons with complaints about depository operations.

Service in Libraries with Physical Access Restrictions

Some depository libraries are located where physical access is limited. This typically includes libraries in Federal agencies, courts, and military bases.

Because access restrictions in such facilities are beyond the control of your library and physical access to your library building is not always convenient for depository users, library staff have latitude in providing access to depository collections and services. Keep in mind that your depository must still provide for physical and electronic access to depository materials by the general public.

Work with your parent institution’s security office to make acceptable arrangements to ensure that public access to depository materials is met to the best of your organization’s ability.

Access policies may suggest that library users make arrangements in advance before they visit the library. Through this contact, you may:

  • Explain the admission process
  • Perform a reference interview to determine that your library has what the patron needs
  • Explain a requirement to show identification or have an escort within the facility, including the library
  • Advise a patron in need of immediate information where he or she may gain access to needed resources at other depositories

Your library must continue to assist depository patrons when you need to temporarily deny physical access to your library building because of security issues. You can use phone, email, fax, or other virtual means to provide this assistance. Scanning and electronic delivery of resources, resource sharing, or referrals to another nearby depository library where access is more readily available are all options.

Share any access limitations with your regional depository library and other depositories in the region to facilitate appropriate referrals.