Sacred Trust: Libraries and Patron Information

Sunday, October 19th, 1:00 to 2:30 Presenter: Amy Benson of Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard <>
Amy Benson

  • How social networking and 2.0 technologies impact privacy issues and policies.
  • How libraries can use patron information to customize and individualize services.
  • What must be kept private? There are issues of trust with regard to customization and targeted adverts.

Discussion of libraries & privacy: legal aspects, technological aspects, mindsets, opportunities, expectations offline & online, on both the library’s website vs in the physical library

In the “Real” World, both online and offline, we leave footprints, often without knowing it: Consider requests for your zip code and tel #, the proliferation of discount/loyalty cards, online credit card transactions, cell phone use. Consider the dry cleaner who can ascertain your personal information from knowing your phone number, use of EZ Pass (individual tracking could get you a speeding ticket, while aggregate tracking could keep you out of a traffic jam by providing accurate traffic reports).

In the “Web” World, sharing personal information is a requirement Searches, email, maps -all require sharing personal information.

“Hanging out” on the Web Americans watched 558 million hours of online video during the month of August 2008, according to

Users should:

  • Check set-up applications carefully. Facebook shares your personal info with other “Know who I am and access my information” applications.   You can set categories of viewers and individual viewer settings as well.
  • Read Privacy policies
  • Note Trust/Privacy symbols on websites.

Users want control but not barriers to sharing & collaborating.

Library website use declined between 2005/07, the only segment of web search that declined- young people don’t find library systems intuitive so they turn to Google and Yahoo. They are used to having their info tracked, and it doesn’t particularly bother them. The barriers of log-ins and authentication checks irritate them. According to a recent OCLC survey, consumers believe that information found on the Web is as creditable as that found in a library.

User profiles and histories allow sites to supply targeted info – Amazon, Gmail, iTunes, Facebook’s newsfeed. Young users rely on this customization and don’t mind giving out personal information to get it. Users self-filter through customization. Examples: Pandora, the music genome project, allows users to their music preferences in order to hear “sound-alikes.” Downside: The user can be profiled into a cocoon and never challenged. Using Rollyo (Roll-your-own-search engine), a library could customize searches in preselected sites with a roll-your-own searchroll designed for a certain demographic. Use Google web history (tracks your own search history) so you can track your searches – any registered user of a Google product can use this.

Questions to keep you up at night Filtering narrows the information flow. Can libraries automate information delivery? Can libraries allow people to customize the flow of information from the library to them? Do we librarians want to go in this direction? If the trend is toward self-service, where does that leave libraries? What value can we add? What if the only economically sustainable model is to generate revenue based on content supplied?

What is data made of:

  • personally identifiable
  • Anonymized (anonymous)
  • Aggregated
  • Archived

Lack of control: Data is often hosted on systems and servers that we have no control over (Ex: Flickr – Note here the value of and difference between individualized tags rather than more formal objective aggregate ones) See YouTube: Supermarket 2.0.

What do they do with all that data? Personal information is a very valuable commodity, especially the preferences and habits of consumers. Analysis of this information is used for creating personalized suggestions for purchase (targeted adverts), as well as aggregated feedback for what is popular. Example: Gmail electronically generates ads based on content of emails in return for the free email service. Look at Google’s privacy policy. Note: If libraries offer customization based on personal profiles, patrons must have the option of opting in or out of this service.

Consider what aggregated data can produce, like Wikipedia, exemplifying individual personal tags versus collective wisdom. Google Image Labeler, Who is sick? Google floats beta tests out there all the time. Check out “Big Brother Pizza Shop” on YouTube posted by the ACLU.

It all comes down to trust: No such thing as a free lunch. We give up a measure of privacy for a measure of convenience. Users must be allowed to judge the trade-offs Steven Colbert “Wikiality” Libraries can bring more trusted and vetted resources to the table. is accessible to anyone, LibraryThing

Libraries can make use of personal information to customize, but patrons must have the option of opting in or out of these customized services. According to an OCLC survey, personal information on the Internet is more private now than 2 years ago; 52% of young people are less likely to feel the privacy constraints. 60% of respondents trust the library. Only 11% of respondents rate activity on a library website as private. On the other hand, Web searches were considered private by more than 25%. 54% look for security icons. Respondents had reservations about giving out credit card #s and phone #s. 24% are unsure if the library website has rules on how private data is used. Note from Jay the blogger: don’t take the above stats as gospel, “The hurrider I went the behinder I got” (paraphrased from AA Milne’s Winnie the Pooh).

Librarians should check their state’s RSAs, not just the legislation but also case histories, etc.

Patrons must retain control over their personal information. There is a balance between privacy and convenience, transparency vs restriction (log-ins, etc) which should be thoroughly explained to patrons.

In conclusion: libraries should:

  • Eliminate barriers
  • Strive for transparency by letting users know what to expect, and how to opt in and out of these personalized services.
  • Strive for ease of use
  • Serve as information guide and trusted source
  • Permit end users to contribute content on and off the library webpage.
  • Do more with the data you are currently collecting
  • Move from counting stats to watching users to understand their needs, habits and desires and to capture and analyze user behaviors.
  • Use that data to recommend, suggest, serve, and assess those services.
  • Offer users ways to contribute and collaborate (Use focus groups or bibliographic classes).

Privacy policies to peruse: Boston Public Library, ALA code of ethics, Danbury Library,

Up & Coming Technology with Susan Hassler

Susan Hassler, editor for IEEE Spectrum, gave us a look at the possibilities for technology in the next 10 to 20 years in her talk on Up & Coming Technology. The subject of her talk came from the results of a survey of 700 members of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, known as the IEEE Fellows. They were asked to project out 10, 20 and 50 years on where they see potential technological advancements. The engineers balked at projecting out 50 years, but did come up with some predictions for the next 10 to 20 years. According to Hassler, the engineers were very serious about their predictions and stayed away from the sci-fi realm. For example, they did not see robotic nurses caring for the elderly any time in the near future or self-driving cars. She focused her talk on two major areas of potential advancement: extending biology and the smart interconnection of everything. The full article that IEEE Spectrum ran on the survey results can be found here.

Extending Biology

The surveyed engineers predicted biotechnology would impact us before nanotechnology. They were particularly interested in augmenting our own biologies, ie bionic humans. These developments could be used to fix people with injuries or trauma, but they also talked about enhancing people. Artificial retinas were one example. Not only could they cure blindness, but they may also be used to detect infrared or to enhance vision in other ways.

This was the first point where Hassler began discussing RFID, which we revisited later in “Sensor Nation” portion of her presentation. RFID is a great thing for companies like Wal-mart, she said, because they can keep inventory, but if you put it in your pocket, “they can track where you are.”

She mentioned a husband and wife who planted RFID chips in their hands so they would not need to use keys or passwords. You can read more about this couple here.

There are a couple of schools in Japan where kids have RFID tags in their backpacks or on their person. When they arrive at school, an e-mail is sent home saying they arrived safely at school. (Yikes! Personally, I find this very creepy.)

Smart Interconnection of Everything

Three areas of technology converge to get to the Smart Interconnection of Everything.

  • Computation and Bandwidth to Burn
  • Sensor Nation
  • Distributed Networks

Computation and Bandwidth to Burn

Many survey respondents (44%) predicted that in developed countries we will have Gigabit Internet access available in homes in 10 years or less. Another 45% said it will come in 11 to 20 years.

Sensor Nation

Hassler talked about a world where people have teeny tiny cameras and teeny tiny GPS sensors. Prices are falling for both RFID chips and RFID sensors. Hassler said the 1980s were shaped by personal computers, the 1990s were shaped by the Internet. “The next 20 years will be the era of sensor networks.”

Distributed Networks

Technology and other entities have typically followed a top-down, hierarchal structure. This is changing in many areas. For example, in the power industry, electrical power had always been delivered from the power source. We now have the capability for consumers to generate power during low-use periods and feed it back to the power plant for use by another consumer. Hassler saw this in the library profession as well, where users can have more of a role in library service.

What happens when these three areas converge. Hassler’s response is Google Maps, (powered by computers with large bandwidth, using satellite technology (Sensor Nation), on a distributed network.) But Hassler sees much more significant results as these three areas become bigger and seesmore convergence.

A note on Google: Hassler says Google’s search is very fast, very great. But it’s also very crude. They’re bringing audio and video into the search, “but it’s not like bringing a human being in” (hmm….like a super information-seeking librarian?) Hassler says, “When our technology starts to mimic our own abilities, we expect it to do more. ..Technologies are like extensions of ourselves, but we get disappointed when they don’t live up to our expectations.”

Hassler talked about a OptIPuter project out of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technlogy where scientists are using an enormous optical network and software that allows users to to look at multiple streams of video content in real-time to watch real-time video with absolutely no degradation (think of the jerky video you see when you’re streaming on YouTube.) I won’t go into too much detail here other than to mention that although this all seems like very high level stuff with no relevance to the ordinary user, Hassler noted that the Internet started out this way. Hollywood has been very interested in this technology as a way to delivery movies over the Internet, and this is something that can plausibly be available in households in the future.

Hassler did discuss some issues for libraries to consider amidst all this technology:

  • What does it mean to be literate? It no longer means just being able to read and write. How can libraries help people become literate?
  • Libraries need to think about archiving digital content. Will an academic library archive every podcast created by the class of 2007?
  • Physical libraries will still have a role in building social networks.

The discussion following this presentation was very interesting. The question of cost – who will pay for all of this? Hassler says it will most likely be private industry that will see a value in making this happen. Will the data collected by private industry with this technology make it worthwhile?

A comment was made that it may increase the divide between the haves and the have nots. Hassler’s response – maybe, maybe not. She didn’t see the cost lying in the devices, but in the bandwidth. With the growth of publicly available wireless networks, it may not be as much of an issue here. The $100 laptop project has sent computers to people in developing nations, but the problem there is they don’t have a telecommunications infrastructure that supports high bandwidth.

Hassler had talked briefly about the differences between digital natives (the generation that has grown up with computers) and digital immigrants (the rest of us) which led to a question about a younger generation of technology users who are looking for instant gratification and may not be fully considering the consequences of these decisions. In response, Hassler asks, “Are they less well educated? Are they less equipped to make plans? Or do they just make them in another way?”

An academic librarian said his concern is making technology relevant for students, and he doesn’t see that the current equipment in his library is supporting this. With the proper technology, he said, these students could be in digital group study instead of going to the library for group study. “I thought that as I walked through the exhibit hall,” Hassler said, noting that she was surprised there wasn’t more technology in the exhibits. “I thought where is all that stuff?”

I will attach Hassler’s PowerPoint to this post as soon as I get it.