Posted by: bluesyemre | July 28, 2015

Solving the hard problem of patron privacy in digital libraries by John Hubbard


A library should only collect, retain, and disclose members’ personal information so that it can provide or improve services. The law prevents us from selling demographic details and reading lists for commercial gain, or even giving away identifying data about your use of the library to the public. Requests to violate these rules can be as innocent as, “can you tell me who has that book out because I think they’re in my class,” or more sinister, as in, “I think my son is gay so you need to show me the books he’s read” (the latter is why a parent, who is liable for the fines their children accrue, still cannot see what was checked out).

Businesses would love to get ahold of library records for marketing purposes, and law enforcement always has a keen interest in gathering as much precautionary data as possible. Libraries do this too. One of the reasons we track who has what checked out is to know who to go after if the books aren’t returned. My library also has safety and security video cameras in the building, and archives the footage. When a crime is committed on the premises, we now have evidence that aids in the investigation and prosecution. This is not a bad thing, just as reverse surveillance, from Rodney King to Eric Garner, has likewise shone a light on police misconduct.

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