Tuesday, May 2, 2017

You see, there are two kinda people in the world today

(a guest post by the smart, thoughtful, wonderful Anna-Sophia--friend of the Unified Library Scene!)

Last week, my library’s ILS vendor hosted a webinar about their subscription linked data services. While my institution isn’t currently in the market for these services, it seemed like a good opportunity for me to learn more about how the linked data transition is being marketed to stakeholders. While the majority of the webinar focused on how easy the vendor made it to transform MARC into LOD and how important it LOD is to raising the library’s profile online, a few other features slipped quietly into the discussion.

One feature that the representative touted would use the patron’s location data to show them library resources and services nearby, and caused me to do a bit of a double take. What surprised me was not that vendors might choose to borrow this idea from ecommerce, but that they might be so nonchalant about the exchange of privacy for convenience in the library sphere, and without even a passing nod to protecting user privacy.

I was gratified that one participant did ask a question about this use of location services; although the question was framed specifically about whether location data was being shared with Google, it seemed clear to me that the question’s genesis was a concern for patron privacy and the collection of sensitive data. Instead of addressing this latent concern, though, the vendor representative sidestepped privacy altogether; everyone already has location services enabled anyway, they say, and it will offer a desirable and marketable convenience, end of story.

Concerns about patron privacy and the data collected -- and potentially broadcast -- by ILSes are nothing new, and have been written about in prominent venues by folks such as Eric Hellman and Marshall Breeding. The ALA’s Privacy Toolkit explicitly mentions geolocation as a “concern” with “emerging technologies,” warning that we shouldn’t assume that patrons no longer care about their privacy just because they have adopted technologies with privacy issues. Instead, the toolkit’s authors say, “we owe them the truth and some options.” I haven’t, honestly, seen that concern and commitment applied to our evaluation of linked data services. I worry that we’re too caught up in the glamor of the shiny new technology, the weight of its inevitability, or our anxiety about the required financial, infrastructural, and human resources to ask ourselves whether we should be collecting and using all of the data now available to us. Our calculations in deciding when and how to adopt these technologies, however, must include the policies, practices, and outreach needed to continue to uphold patrons’ rights. The New York Public Library, for example, recently went through an exhaustive process to create a new privacy policy and educate its users.

As linked data collection management systems become a less theoretical and more concrete part of our library future, we have a huge opportunity to work together, on both the front and the back ends, to continue to protect user data, push vendors for options for our users, and educate our users ever more thoroughly on privacy threats both inside and outside the library. Let’s not give in to the pressure to provide convenient consumer services without stopping to hold ourselves accountable to the values that define us.



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