This is a personal comment on a publib discussion. Several thoughts occurred to me but circumstances prevented me from posting in a timely fashion there. Truth be told, I dislike late arriving additions to the thread for the most part unless they are really, really well written. Otherwise it just seems like somebody is trying to get the last word in. Blogging is a better way to do that!
Perhaps I’m showing my age now but I clearly remember calling Directory Information (Area Code-555-1212) for phone numbers when a human operator still answered the call. She (or every now and then, he) would give the caller a listed phone number but not an unlisted one. Never would the operator divulge an address. Back in the day this was a service AT&T provided free-of-charge; later these calls became an itemized line on monthly bills.
Technically, public records are those collected by government agencies. In the absence of other guidelines, it’s safest to assume the public agency knows what it is doing when it makes the information available. Names and addresses are public record but I don’t think the phone number, because of the popularity of cellular phones and unlisted numbers, is considered as such, unless the community uses a reverse 911 system.
Public agencies began gathering these records long before the telephone was invented (the Constitution requires a census be taken every ten years), there was no need to include phone numbers. Phone companies had a business reason to gather addresses — they need the information for billing purposes and to recover their equipment if the customer stopped paying. Eventually they began printing addresses in directories of phone numbers as a public service, but they shared this information outside of the printed and published directory only in special cases.
I’m not arguing one way or the other if libraries should give out phone numbers, address and other telephone directory information since giving out information from published sources they’ve acquired is part of their job. My argument is that justifying it on the basis of public record is incorrect. It’s a published record. There’s a difference.
Being listed in the published directories is part of the service customers pay for from privately held corporations – AT&T or its various successors, local phone companies, Sprint, etc. Non-customers are not listed in those directories, nor are people living at a residence other than the phone company customer and, by extension, his or her spouse. If a customer wants additional listing – for a spouse or partner with a different last name, for the names of children or others who use the same phone, they have to pay for the extra listings. The directories themselves are no longer distributed as free of charge as they once were, because of printing and delivery costs.
There’s been an interesting discussion on A&A List (SAA’s Archives and Archivists List) about redacting email addresses when documents are digitized and shared online. Here’s what Maarja, a most knowledgeable and generous historian/archivist employed by the Federal government contributed to that discussion:
“The National Archives does redact email addresses. It’s because some people close hold them, share certain accounts only with certain trusted recipients and use other accounts for a more public presence. If you look at the Recmgmt-L and other listservs, you can see that email addresses are masked. See
http://lists.ufl.edu/cgi-bin/wa?A1=ind0906C&L=RECMGMT-L Only subscribers who log in can see them.
Telephone numbers also can be problematic as some people with landlines pay extra for what is called “unpublished unlisted” numbers.”