Re: [ACAT] From privacy to Orwell

Posting to Autocat

On 23/05/2012 22:45, Kyrios, Alex wrote:

I think one of the other problems we as librarians encounter is that in a world where it’s increasingly intelligent to assume you have no privacy, we, as a whole, continue to hold an almost religious level of zeal for maintaining user privacy. Now, I certainly don’t see this as a bad thing. We can certainly parlay this into a strength, with marketing that says to patrons, “You have no privacy online, but with us, you’re safe.” So why is this problematic? People are used to Google and Amazon’s suggestive algorithms based on their history, and I suspect many users today believe we have such technology, when in most cases, we specifically avoid such tracking of reading history. I would suggest not that we jump on the bandwagon, but that we keep such records when a patron wants us to, either in an opt-in or an opt-out system, depending on how cautious we want to be. I suspect some libraries are already doing this. As long as we exercise due responsibility in informing patrons that, say, the Patriot Act could make such records available to the government, I think we could please the majority of people involved. Bottom line, more options for patrons is a win for everyone.

While personally, I completely agree and think that libraries need to begin in earnest to create their own roads instead of merely following those of others, it remains to be seen whether these issues are really important to the public. I have mentioned before that I believe that one of the main ways the library field can survive and thrive is if we focus on the ethical aspects of librarians: privacy, lack of bias, no making money off of what we suggest, etc. Also, I believe that our conceptual searching vs. searching of text could be exceptionally valuable.

But, the public must both be made aware that this is what they get when they search a library catalog, and to appreciate it. I don’t believe it will be an easy task. I honestly feel that people want an unbiased selection of worthwhile materials, and then to be able to navigate through that information in a conceptual way, not just through text. Yet strangely, such ideas have become completely foreign to many member of the public and are difficult to understand. Unfortunately, library catalogs still are very clumsy tools and it is tough to demonstrate their advantages.

Still, it is critical for libraries to strike out in new directions. Privacy may be a fruitful area for some concerned citizens, but as I tried to point out in my last message, this means you opt out of Web2.0. This must be addressed. Otherwise, I fear that libraries will be fated to remain–in the popular mind–as an “inferior Google” or a “poor type of”.