Why Privacy Literacy Is Crucial to Student Success

Teaching students this vital skill may make for a better future

What is privacy literacy?

Privacy literacy may be a new term to you, but think of it as an offshoot of information literacy that relates specifically to privacy. Being privacy literate means understanding what privacy is, what privacy risks you are taking, how to protect your privacy, and having the critical thinking skills to decide if the privacy risks are worth the reward. It’s worth exploring outside of information literacy because private data is becoming an essential part of both the information and the regular economy. Privacy literacy is also an offshoot of data literacy, because much of the data being collected is personal information. Two of the first librarians to discuss this topic were Sarah Hartman-Caverly and Alex Chisholm. They have already developed a privacy literacy toolkit. This post seeks to show why privacy literacy is crucial to student success.

So, what does privacy literacy have to do with student success?

While student success (particularly in academic libraries) is defined and assessed in many ways, as student success librarians we define it to mean how well a student is prepared to meet their academic, personal, civic, and professional goals. Privacy literacy falls into these goals, because students must be aware of both their individual and future employers’ privacy rights, particularly concerning data. Data collection is ubiquitous and done with little oversight; the onus is on individuals to control their own privacy. Due to the newness of the field of big analytics, privacy is not always discussed in formal education. We see it as part of our job duties to make sure students are not only information and data literate but privacy literate as well in order to be successful in academic, personal, civic, and professional life.

Why should librarians teach privacy literacy?

Conversations surrounding privacy literacy are crucial in an increasingly digital world. Privacy literacy is not typically a part of the curriculum, which leaves the question of when and where students will get this information. We would argue that since privacy is a key tenant of the ALA’s Code of Ethics, it falls to librarians to include privacy literacy as a part of their work in educating students.

As we try to add topics such as media literacy, data literacy, etc., to our teaching agenda, it’s important that we also focus on the basic fundamentals of privacy for students who don’t receive this education from other areas. This is particularly true for academic librarians, because we are helping to shape not only the users of this technology but also its creators and thought leaders. In a world where technology moves faster than the law, we increasingly rely on the ethics of those in the field. Educating the future workforce on the inherent risks of these technologies is a step toward protecting users and hopefully instilling an ethical approach to the use of the collected data. 

🌟 Read more about new directions in information literacy:

Learning analytics

Privacy literacy becomes all the more personal for students when we begin to scrutinize learning analytics. Learning analytics collect data to understand learners and make data-driven decisions to improve teaching and learning. While this is a noble goal, it has the potential to violate students’ privacy. Many higher education institutions have begun relying on learning analytics from third-party groups that are created with profit in mind. While the tools are powerful and intriguing to administrators, their scope and use of personal data are rarely disclosed to students.

Scholars Kyle M. L. Jones and Lisa J. Hinchliffe have been addressing learning analytics, libraries, and ethical practices through research and their ILMS-funded project “Prioritizing Privacy: Data Ethics Training for Library Professionals.”Alison Macrina has been addressing this by teaching librarians about surveillance threats, privacy rights, and digital tools to thwart surveillance through the Library Freedom Project. Having taken part in these workshops, which we recommend, we were left with the strong conviction that it is the ethical duty of libraries to make sure students are aware of the data being collected on them.

Because students are key stakeholders and bring funding to universities, they are able to address concerns and make substantial changes when they feel their privacy is being invaded. We saw this when many institutions implemented online test proctoring services with questionable privacy measures during the pandemic and changed their policies once students pushed back. If students are taught to think critically about data collection and privacy rights, they are more likely to pay attention and call for action from the institutions (academic, work, commerce) that collect and use their personal data.

How to get instructor buy-in

There are several ways to get instructor buy-in to teach privacy literacy. When doing your regular outreach duties, talk to faculty about the conversations you want to have with students. Bring up the conversation with colleagues in your library. Creating a united front on the topic can make it easier to disseminate this information to the student body at large. A united front also helps when discussing it with faculty; privacy literacy wouldn’t just be a project for you but a focus of the library. Also consider making this a campus-wide conversation with workshops and faculty learning communities based on the topic. When you have these conversations, come ready with examples of how this will benefit students as well as the instructors. If you’re not able to get the buy-in you need, try to incorporate it in to your general library instruction. This can be the search terms you use in class or as a part of classroom activities. 

How to integrate privacy literacy into the work you already do


  • Classroom – facilitate classroom discussion, activities, and present
  • Workshops – host a workshop with privacy literacy as the topic.
  • Events – host events that focus on privacy literacy


  • Create displays focused on privacy literacy
  • Create or connect to a libguide about privacy literacy
  • Create online modules for students
  • Lead by example, have a fully formed and effective privacy policy for your library,


  • Celebrate Data Privacy Day on January 28
  • Have materials in the library that students can take with them (bookmarks, sheets, etc.)
  • Include privacy literacy as part of any tabling events you work

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✍️ Interested in contributing to LTI? Send an email to Deb V. at Choice with your topic idea.

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Gale partners with librarians and educators to create positive change and outcomes for researchers and learners. The company empowers libraries to be active collaborators in the success of their institutions and communities by providing essential content that leads to discovery and knowledge, and user-friendly technology that delivers engaging learning experiences. For more information, please visit gale.com/academic