Ohio State University Library Colloquium: “Is Library User Privacy still Paramount in the 2.0 Era?”

I’ve been invited by the Ohio State University Libraries to contribute to an ongoing campus-wide series of Conversations on Morality, Politics, and Society (COMPAS). This year’s theme is “Public/Private“, and I will be presenting today on the topic  “Is Library User Privacy still Paramount in the 2.0 Era?”. Abstract and slides are below.

Traditionally, the context of the library brings with it specific norms of information flow regarding library patron activity, including a longstanding professional commitment to user privacy. In the library, a patron’s intellectual activities are protected by decades of established norms and practices intended to preserve patron privacy and confidentiality. However, these norms are being increasingly challenged as libraries embrace Web 2.0 and “big data” paradigms and platforms to better serve users.

These new so-called “Library 2.0” services promise to improve the delivery of library services and enhance patron activities, yet require the tracking, collecting, retaining, and sharing of large amounts of data about patron activities. Further, given the dominance of social media – where individuals increasingly share personal information on platforms with porous and shifting boundaries – librarians and other information professions are confronted with possible shifts in the social norms about privacy.

Launching such Library 2.0 features, however, poses a unique dilemma in the realm of information ethics, particularly in relation to protecting patron privacy. Library 2.0 threatens to disrupt these ethical norms, since the Web 2.0 world introduces competing norms that lean toward the open flow and sharing of personal information. Despite these concerns, many librarians recognize the need to pursue Library 2.0 initiatives as the best way to serve the changing needs of their patrons and to ensure the library’s continued role in providing professionally guided access to knowledge.

In a relatively short amount of time, Library 2.0 has taken hold in hundreds of libraries, and the question before us is not whether libraries will move towards Library 2.0 services, but how they will do it, and, from an ethical perspective, whether they can maintain their long-standing concerns for patron privacy in the process. This talk will provide an ethical examination of the emergence of new Library 2.0 tools and technologies in relation to existing norms of information flow within the library context.


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