Panlibus Blog

Privacy and Library 2.0

Writing on LISNews, Blake draws my attention to a post by Rory Litwin on Library Juice.

“Privacy is a central, core value of libraries”

Is it? Ensuring access to a wide range of material, yes. Protecting the individual’s right to go where they wish without censorship or censure, yes. But ‘Privacy’ is a term that can quickly become overly loaded, and can equally quickly become a quite ridiculous justification for not doing anything interesting.

“As serious as privacy concerns may turn out to be, the features of Web 2.0 applications that make them so useful and fun all depend on users sharing private information with the owners of the site, so that it can be processed statistically or shared with others. This presents a problem for librarians who are interested in offering Library 2.0 types of services. If we value reader privacy to the extent that we always have, I think it’s clear that our experiments with Library 2.0 services will have uncomfortable limitations. This is probably going to lead many librarians to say that privacy is not as important a consideration as it once was. They will say that the Millennial generation doesn’t have the same expectations of libraries in terms of privacy that older generations do, and that we should simply adjust.”

Mungeing of data streams to create large anonymised sets, opt-in, informed consent. Each is a powerful tool in ensuring that we can leverage value in the aggregate whilst protecting the individual, and we should not be afraid to make full use of them in delivering services to those users.

There is a balance to be struck between surrendering ourselves fully to the Cloud in order to gain maximum ‘benefit’ from personalisation, network effects, wise crowds of strangers with long tails and all the rest on one hand, and presenting an opaque and impermeable face to the outside world that reduces our capability to benefit from the network’s intelligence on the other.

That balance is not for the library to strike on my behalf, although the library may well have a role to play (along with many others) in ensuring that my decisions can be informed.

Rory raises a number of points that are worth thinking through, but whilst recognising the importance of upholding and protecting personal freedoms we must not become trapped in endless agonising over whether or not our poor misguided users should be ‘allowed’ to ‘give up their privacy’.

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3 Responses

  1. Library 2.0 w/ Helene Blowers Says:

    Commenting & Privacy

    Both Rory Litwin’s<span style=”font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;”…

  2. Michael Casey Says:

    I made this comment on Library Juice but I want to repeat it here: If we, as librarians, begin to second guess our users and their privacy decisions then we are entering a slippery slope of parental-style oversight. At some point we must accept the fact that customers are responsible for their own decision making and that sometimes customers will make decisions that they will later regret. This may sound cold but we are in no position to second guess our customers’ privacy decisions, even if we do feel that they may regret those decisions at a later date. All we can do is allow them to make an educated decision regarding their privacy. We are neither counselor nor parent.

  3. Paul Miller Says:

    Exactly! 🙂

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