Hot Topic – Library Related Privacy Concerns

The International Federation of Library Associations considers privacy to be a basic human right, based on statements from Article 19 of the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Office of Intellectual Freedom, 2010, pg 8). The United States Bill of Rights also upholds the right of citizens to privacy, and grants Americans access to publicly funded libraries. The American Library Association states that the right to privacy is “essential” to the right of free speech and free association, and created their Library Bill of Rights in response, saying: “The American Library Association affirms that rights of privacy are necessary for intellectual freedom and are fundamental to the ethics and practice of librarianship” (ALA, 2014). Therefore, privacy is seen as a core value of librarianship. For years, libraries have worked to educate patrons on privacy issues and to keep the information provided by patrons confidential. But rapidly changing technology is challenging libraries’ approach to privacy issues. Recent government policies, such as the Patriot Act, make the job of the library much more difficult when it comes to privacy and confidentiality. Libraries are having to change the conversation about privacy issues and work to reevaluate how to handle these issues within the library to ensure that the ethic of privacy is being appropriately upheld.

The ALA maintains that all library professionals have a responsibility to uphold privacy ethics and to facilitate free access to information. While providing access to information without censorship, libraries have upheld basic standards such as withholding patron information from third parties, not monitoring what materials patrons access, and not retaining any information collected in the course of regular patron use of resources (ALA, 2014). In the past, this has been relatively easy. Libraries have disposed of any personal information collected on patrons, such as check out histories and interlibrary loan requests. But with the advent of new technologies, like cloud sharing, this information is not so easily lost. And recent federal laws have made it even harder to deny government requests for information. Libraries continue to try to maintain control over personal information and actively work to resist government violations of privacy rights, but find themselves having to carefully balance lawful requests for information with more stringent, often unethical rights violations from government authorities (ALA, 2014). Federal agents often make this much more difficult by giving federal orders to librarians that tell them that they cannot share the information that the federal government is looking into personal information on patrons in libraries.

The emergence of the internet, Open Access and other communication technologies changes the traditional methods of libraries in regards to privacy issues and concerns. Resources that libraries have conventionally provided in print are now being offered online, and the field is at a crossroads for collecting and managing collections (Zimmer, 2013, pg 29). Web search engines, like Google, provide instant access to millions of information sources, allowing patrons unprecedented access to unfiltered, unverified data. Libraries are having to integrate this new electronic environment into their traditional services, and to approach these platforms as widely accepted sources for their users. But this brings up new questions for library ethics, especially in regards to privacy issues. In the past, intellectual activities have been protected by standards in the library field. But now, unlike in the past, to harness these new resources, libraries have to “capture and retain personal information” in order to “create user profiles, engage in activities that divulge personal interests and intellectual activities, be subject to tracking and logging of library activities, and risk having various activities and personal details linked to their library patron account” (Zimmer, 2013, pg 31). And unfortunately, due to excitement over new possibilities for access, privacy concerns are often being compromised by libraries enthusiastic over new digital possibilities (Zimmer, 2013, pg 36). The lack of clear guidelines that address developments in the new technological age creates a policy vacuum that libraries must consider going forward to further their goal to uphold patron privacy.

The difficulty comes from patron privacy being seen as a “facet” of intellectual freedom. In his article on privacy concerns and electronic resources in libraries, Alan Rubel says: “While electronic resource use, coupled with policies regarding that use, may diminish patron privacy, thereby diminishing intellectual freedom, the opportunities created by such resources also appear liberty enhancing. Any attempt to adjudicate between privacy loss and enhanced opportunities on intellectual freedom grounds must therefore provide an account of intellectual freedom capable of addressing both privacy and opportunity” (Rubel, 2014, pg 184). Vendors of electronic resources provide customized services for patrons, which in turn allows vendors to collect much more personal information on patrons and their usage of resources than ever before. While patrons receive a better product and service, they give up personal information without the ability to control how that information is used. Vendor privacy policies are not usually on par with that of library privacy policies, and vendor ethics do not line up with the ethics of libraries (Rubel, 2014, pg 185). Libraries have to walk a narrow line between service and ethics that is becoming harder and harder to navigate as time goes by. Licensing contracts often require libraries to monitor usage and provide those statistics to vendors. While this information can be used innocently to keep track of what resources are actually needed, it can also be used to track personal usage without patrons ever being aware that this information is being shared.

In their article on the paradox of privacy, Campbell and Cowan state that “Privacy, then, exists at the juncture between the user and the information used. Free and untrammeled exploration of the library’s information resources can only take place if users are free from showing others what they are reading and having to explain why and users need not fear that the information they use will enable others to identify them” (Campbell and Cowen, 2016, pg 493). Technology has the ability to create both positive and negative opportunities for privacy, and Campbell and Cowan point out that the exploitation of personal information can exist without patrons knowing that it is happening. In order to ensure that the true library ethic of privacy is attained in this new world, libraries have to continue to acknowledge the right to privacy, no matter what excuse or rationale is given.

Campbell and Cowan examine the experience of LGBTQ library patrons who use the library as safe space to locate information about their gender and sexual identities. While the library should provide a private place to research this type of information, if that privacy is given up for technological advances, these users could be “outed” and harmed unintentionally. The library assists these users to “identify information [which] requires the gradual evolution of an ability to modulate and control one’s own revelations” (Campbell and Cowan, 2016, pg 501). The library has created an image of itself as a safe space for these individuals to come and do research for themselves, but this can easily change if the library is not mindful of the type of personal data that it is giving out to third parties. Staff need to be trained in how to handle these privacy issues and concerns, and libraries need to be mindful of the electronic infrastructure that we are creating and using to ensure that traditional ideas of privacy can be maintained in a very new technological environment.

Social media is another resource that needs to be examined. While budgets are being cut, social media is a very good way for libraries to advertise services and continue to bring patrons through the doors. Social media allows for multiple opportunities for exposure and advertisement. But social media is a tool for Big Data Analytics to turn users into resources for information. By tagging users, or following a page, patrons give up information about themselves that they aren’t even aware that they are sharing (Campbell and Cowan, 2016, pg. 503). As libraries, we have a responsibility to monitor these privacy issues and to police ourselves to make sure our patrons are aware of the risks, as well as the rewards, of using these types of resources.

Because of a constantly changing digital environment, privacy is an ever evolving concern, and libraries need to be constantly mindful of how we are handling this concern. One way to stay on top of privacy assurance in the twenty-first century is to keep doing what we are already doing, only do it a little better: “The ALA’s Core Value of Privacy rests on an assumption that continues to be valid: namely, that by exercising up-to-date collection management and accurate and effective bibliographic control, we empower users to locate information with a minimum of interference” (Campbell and Cowan, 2016, pg 505). In the future it will be necessary to continue to be mindful of the effects of technology on privacy issues and to be willing to be flexible in how we tackle the use of these technologies. There is no one right answer to the question of how to fully maintain an ethical policy in regards to privacy, but libraries must not overlook privacy in their excitement over new and better technological products. Privacy as a core library value has not diminished: in some ways, it has only become more necessary than ever before.

 

References

ALA Council. (amended 2014, July 1). An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights. Retrieved

July 1, 2016, from

http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/librarybill/interpretations/privacy

Campbell, D. G., & Cowan, S. R. (2016). The Paradox of Privacy: Revisiting a Core Library

Value in an Age of Big Data and Linked Data. Library Trends, 64(3), 492-511.

Office of Intellectual Freedom. (2010). Privacy and Freedom of Information in 21st-Century

Libraries. Chicago, Ill: American Library Association.

Rubel, A. (2014). Libraries, Electronic Resources, and Privacy: The Case for Positive

Intellectual  Freedom. The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy, 84(2),

183-208. doi:10.1086/675331

Zimmer, M. (2013). Assessing the Treatment of Patron Privacy in Library 2.0 Literature.

Information Technology and Libraries (Online), 32(2), 29-41.

ROI in Academic Libraries

In the current climate of economic downturn, ROI is a way for libraries to assess and evaluate the value of e-collections. Libraries are pressured with an increasing need to account for the money that is being allocated towards their collections and services, and to prove that what is being purchased is actually being used. Return on Investment is a way for libraries to “quantify” the value of these collections. While prices for library services are increasing, academic institutions are looking closer and closer at the ways in which academic libraries are using their budgets. Carol Tenopir looks at these issue on her article on ROI in academic libraries: “The value gap occurs when the cost of library collections and services increases over time, while the perceived value declines” (Tenopir 2010, 40).

Tenopir reports that ARL libraries have begun a major project to determine better ways of looking at ROI in academic libraries. While public libraries have many ways to study ROI, academic libraries are just getting started and have not yet adapted the necessary tools for an adequate ROI process. ARL statistics are being collected and analyzed internationally. The University of Illinois started this case study by looking at “the value of the library in the grants process through proposals, the return in grant funding, and grants reporting” which will allow them to see a definable source of library income and how it impacts library budgets (Tenopir 2010, 40). The project will continue to look at grants among more institutions and then, finally, look at other sources that show libraries’ return on investment.

Tenopir concludes: “What we hope to show as the studies progress is that the library’s products and services help faculty be successful, help students be successful, and generate both immediate and downstream income that provides good return for the investment” (Tenopir 2010, 46). When I first heard of ROI, I was almost offended. When purchasing collections and databases for the library, the immediate need and use is not always quantifiable. After further reading, I don’t think that ROI is a bad thing and I think Tenopir explains why very adequately with her conclusion. We are spending large amounts of money for these products, which does in turn affect our services. Why spend money on collections that are not enhancing services to our patrons? I think that ROI is probably a good means of proving the effectiveness of our spending, and is a good way to prove to administration and other library funding services that what the library has to offer is creating a wide and immediate impact. Perhaps in an era where we don’t have to pinch pennies, this wouldn’t be as important. But in today’s academic atmosphere, ROI could become an important tool in proving the importance of the budgets allocated to the library.

social-media-roi

Tenopir, Carol. 2010. “Measuring the Value of the Academic Library: Return on Investment and Other Value Measures.” Serials Librarian 58, no. 1-4: 39-48. Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts with Full Text, EBSCOhost (accessed December 7, 2015).

Librarians as Faculty

In comparing the two blogs, we can see that the issue of tenure is a thorny one. Tenure is often difficult to achieve, and once achieved it complicates the role of academic librarian in a multitude of ways.

Librarians exist in a strange space within the university structure. I think Freedman and Dursi hit the nail on the head when they ask whether librarians are fish or fowl. As they state in their introduction: “Every situation appears to be different and it is difficult to look across our discipline to find a common policy and procedure existing for these topics” (Freedman and Dursi 2011, 284). Librarians occupy liminal space within the university, so the issue of tenure often changes the way they are viewed by other academics within the university structure, as well as how they are treated by the university itself.

Does tenure help or hinder the status of the library profession?

While it may be believed that tenure promotes scholarship and ensures that librarians are in a position to pursue such, it seems that the reality is often the exact opposite. As Farkas states in her blog: “I know at some places, librarians are told that they can take x% of their time for scholarship or that they can take one day/week for it. At most places, that isn’t the case. You try to fit it into your work week while you’re doing your ‘real work’ and are expected to take it home with you because it’s how you’re going to keep your job” (Farkas 2014). Tenure, instead of helping librarians pursue scholastic work, chains them into specific research that doesn’t actually assist them in their mission as librarians.

Fister believes in tenure and says: “What I do notice is that there’s a rather odd disconnect between what the tenure process promotes (especially in the area of contributions to scholarship) and what academic librarian career paths depend on (which is primarily focused on experience managing other people’s work)” (Fister 2014). She sees tenure as assisting her in being the best teacher she can be. She continues by stating: “It involves us in the life of the college through service, and that gives us the opportunity to see our work in the context of the entire institution’s mission and operations. It gives us support (though never enough, it’s there) to be formally curious about the world, the freedom to ask the questions we find compelling, and an obligation to share what we learn for the public good and to speak up when necessary. It tests us to see what we’re made of but, in exchange, guarantees that if we say unpopular things or ask difficult questions, our colleagues will have our back” (Fister 2014). But I fell that these are troubling statements. While the academic library is there to support the mission of the university, the librarian should be supporting the library’s needs (i.e. patron needs) over that of the overall university, and scholarship should be done in support of that mission, not done because it is being forced by the larger university. Also, the ideas of the freedom of information and open discourse should support whatever scholarship is being done and whatever the librarian has to say without fear of reprisal from the larger institution. If librarians (and any faculty) live in fear of the lack of support for their research, than the larger institution has already lost.

In my own personal experience, I think that not having tenure can hinder the position of the librarian within the greater university. I work for an institution where librarians are faculty, but without tenure. They are hired within a promotion track process where they must achieve a certain level of promotion within a certain amount of time before they are offered a permanent contract. Right now, the university I work for is cutting benefits and changing the structure of the university hierarchy. Because librarians do not fit within the faculty/tenured track and yet, are not considered staff, they have been largely left out and ignored in the discussion, leaving our librarians on edge and fearful of their position within the university. From a purely professional viewpoint, I can see where having tenure can protect the status of librarian and make sure that the university treats them as the important members of the academic institution that they are. It is often easy to overlook librarians as scholars and teachers, and the process of tenure makes sure this doesn’t happen.

Do tenure requirements promote reflective practice?

But at the same time, I am pursing librarianship because I do not want to teach on the classroom level like academic faculty do. I also want to publish scholarship that I wish to pursue, not scholarship that I am forced to pursue. I don’t want to worry that my job depends on publication, when service to my patrons is much more important to me. I observe that while publication may help, but there are times when it has nothing to do with the work of librarianship.

Tenure is sort of a trap. There are both good and bad things about tenure. Several people have brought up how badly adjunct faculty are treated, and I think that in many regards, librarians are treated in a similar manner.

We are expected to have advanced degrees and to publish research and engage on a much larger community level such as on national committees and in professional organizations, but we are not seen as faculty unless we obtain tenure.

I don’t think that tenure promotes reflective practices. In fact, I think it does the exact opposite. The profession of librarianship itself constantly encourages that reflective practice and most librarians will continue to seek out new ways to improve what we are doing without the lash of tenure at our backs.

Will you look for a job on the tenure track?

I don’t know whether I will seek a job on a tenure track. The idea of tenure upsets me and I don’t want to have to work for tenure, but at the same time I see what happens when librarians do not have tenure and are regarded with less respect within the university structure. At the end of the day, I think the notion of tenure is something that needs to be addressed at a much higher level, and viewed across the board for the entirety of the university. The downsides of tenure do not just affect librarians, they affect everybody.

phdcomics

Farkas, M. G. (2014, July 23). On tenure, after three years on track [Blog]. Information Wants to Be Free. Retrieved from http://meredith.wolfwater.com/wordpress/2014/07/23/on-tenure-after-three-years-on-the-tenure-track/.

Fister, B. (2014, July 29). Should academic librarians have tenure may be the wrong question [Library Babel Fish Blog]. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/library-babel-fish/should-academic-librarians-have-tenure-may-be-wrong-question.

Freedman, S., & Dursi, M. (2012). What’s in a Name: Are we fish or fowl? Something’s Gotta Give: Charleston Conference Proceedings, 2011 (pp. 284-­292). doi: 10.5703/1288284314913. Retrieved from http://docs.lib.purdue.edu/charleston/2011/Administration/5/.

Users as Selectors – Traditional Collection Building vs. PDA

Changes in technology and lowered budgets have shifted the focus of collection building from librarians to the hands of patrons. Patron driven acquisitions (PDA) allows libraries to lower acquisitions costs by giving patrons access to a larger amount of electronic resources without having to buy each title (Draper 2013). Vendors provide MARC records for titles dealing with selected subjects, and patrons can choose and download these titles as needed. While libraries have traditionally taken patron input into account when choosing titles for acquisitions, PDA changes the traditional selection model and puts it almost entirely into the hands of the patron. In the past, items have been purchased with the anticipation of patron needs; now items are being purchased only when immediately needed by patrons (Hodges, Preston and Hamilton 2010).  The issue of whether or not PDA should entirely replace traditional forms of collection building is a difficult one. In general, libraries do not have the budgets to keep building collections with items that will not be used by patrons. PDA allows libraries to purchase specific titles only as needed. But PDA also complicates records management, and changes the face of the library’s core collection. Librarians build collections with specific purpose. The items they choose support specific topics and subjects within their institution. Often the library itself has very specific focuses, and part of a librarian’s job is to keep those goals in mind when making acquisitions decisions (Douglas 2011). PDA takes collection building out of the hands of the librarians and changes the focus and goals of a collection.

While costs of subscriptions and databases have continued to rise, ensuring that libraries cannot continue to purchase these types of resources in perpetuity, PDA seems to be the answer many have been looking for. But in many ways it seems like its the easy way out. It puts too much of the collection building into the hands of patrons and libraries will see an increase in very unbalanced subject acquisitions. While written policies help ensure that PDA functions within certain limitations, these restrictions don’t change the fact that collections are being built by patrons who do not see the bigger picture of the collection. Policies need to be regularly revisited, and libraries have to balance the immediate needs of patrons with the needs of the institution and the collection itself (Douglas 2011).

In my personal experience as an library acquisitions manager, PDA is something that patrons don’t necessarily understand. They know that they have immediate access to a title, but they don’t understand the economic impact of their click on a title, only that they have access to the title they are interested in. We implemented a PDA program for the first time last year, with policies for the type and price of the items within the program, just as the OSUL libraries did in the Hodges, Preston and Hamilton article. We set aside $10,000 from our approval budget for this purpose. This original $10,000 was intended to last the entire year, but the budget was gone within the first four months of the program.. We found, in doing a study of the pilot program, that one patron alone had spent $1200 on titles relating to one specific subject. While one patron obviously needed access to these titles, who else will want to focus on this very specific subject? When the patron chose these titles, it was to help their research and had no regard for the research of other patrons within the larger institution.

I see PDA as being a sort of stop gap response to the current budgetary crises in libraries, and to the increased need for items in the present moment. One of the other university libraries in our area has changed to an entirely PDA driven collection because their budget has been cut so significantly that they can only afford titles that they know will fill patron needs. But at the same time, academic vendors are slowly changing their licensing and prices in response to libraries standing up to them and insisting that they can no longer afford such huge price tags. We had a vendor come in last week to introduce their new ebook program, which will for the first time ensure that once an ebook has been purchased by our institution, our institution will actually own that title and will not be renting it, as is the case with many others. We will always have access and not have to pay more licensing fees at the end of a specific period of time. Their pricing was also for multiple users and was more affordable than even the more traditionally affordable ebrary titles. This is an example of how publishers are changing their pricing and licensing policies in a way which might render PDA unnecessary. Another issue with PDA is how vendor generated records flood our catalogs. This might seem like a small thing, but while we have access to these records, we don’t necessarily own them, and this also changes the face of a collection. When looking at the collection as a whole, how do these records affect what we want to be seen? In the end, PDA seems a reasonable response right now, but I wonder how we will view it in the long run?

catalog cartoon

References:

Draper, D. C. (2013). Managing patron-driven acquisitions (PDA) records in a multiple model environment. Technical Services Quarterly, 30(2), 153-165. doi: 10.1080/07317131.2013.759813

Hodges, D., Preston, C., & Hamilton, M. J. (2010). Patron-initiated collection development: Progress of a paradigm shift. Collection Management, 35(3-4) , 208-221.

Douglas, C.S. (2011). Revising a collection development policy in a rapidly changing environment. Journal of Electronic Resources in Medical Libraries, 8(1), 1521. doi:10.1080/15424065.2011.551487