I was emailing with a friend this week and he was saying how it seems strange that librarans are so aggressive in their defense of privacy while at the same time the population seems to be more and more shifting towards openness and “hey here’s my list of books” behavior outside of their library. I always draw the line between what people reveal about themselves versus what their institutions reveal, or must legally disclose, about them.
I also often feel that one of the reasons we’re in this strange place is because many privacy issues are ones that technology could be solving for us. Yet, at the same time the technology we’re working with doesn’t allow us the granularity of making, for example, patron reading information available in the aggregate while still keeping the patron’s identity completely private. We have many patrons
Patron 1 wants to make sure no one ever knows what they are reading. Tells the OPAC to not keep his reading list. Knows his PIN. Wants to make sure the public access PCs don’t retain records of the sites he’s visited. Is a bit horrified that the library data we do keep isn’t in some way encrypted or otherwise protected.
Patron 2 wants to know every book she has ever checked out. Wants the library to leave the name of the book she has on hold on her answering machine. Wants her friend to be able to pick the book up for her at the library. Doesn’t remember her PIN and finds it vaguely annoying that she needs more than her library card number to use the OPAC.
A privacy solution that works for Patron 1 becomes a usability impediment to Patron 2. While libraries have the responsibility to keep both patrons’ data safe, they also have the responsibility to be usable and accomodating to both patrons. Technology, in my opinion, can address these issues but librarians have to a) embrace it b) request it from their vendors c) be willing to tolerate the learning curve that comes with any new technology.
I’m off to the tiny library today to help them with their slow automation project. In the meantime, these are the articles I have been reading about privacy lately. They’re about the information the mailman has, not the librarian, but it could apply to any of us at our job as well. The blog post is about an NPR story following a mail carrier on her route. She talks about what she knows about the world and the economy based on what people are getting delivered. She is supposed to keep people’s mail private, and she never mentions any names. Yet, there’s a lot of metadata in mail delivery, things the mailman knows. The blog’s author wonders how simple it would be to identify the people getting mail delivered from the information the mail carrier imparts. Feel free to read the rest.
If you’re into the whole usability idea — and more and more our interfaces to technology are all we have when interacting wiht the goods, services and government in our lives — then you might like to know that World Usability Day is tomorrow. I’ll noodle around a bit looking at my own websites and I suggest that you and your libraries do the same.
Technology should enhance our lives, not add to our stress or cause danger through poor design or poor quality. It is our duty to ensure that this technology is effective, efficient, satisfying and reliable, and that it is usable by all people. This is particularly important for people with disabilities, because technology can enhance their lives, letting them fully participate in work, social and civic experiences. Human error is a misnomer. Technology should be developed knowing that human beings have certain limitations. Human error will occur if technology is not both easy-to-use and easy-to-understand. We need to reduce human error that results from bad design.
I’ve been writing more and travelling more this year in compensation for not doing teeny library work as much. One of my newer gigs has been as a reviewer for Rachel Singer Gordon’s new project The Tech Static, helping librarians do collection development for tech titles. I did a short review of a DVD/manual for people learning Access 2007. There’s already a lot of good content up there. Add it to your feed reader and check the meta category for more background information.
FreeGovInfo — whose guest blogger this month is none other than Ric Davis, acting Superintendent of Documents and Director of Library Services & Content Management at the U.S. GPO — points to a well-researchd report about vulnerable web browsers and the problems they pose. The article concludes that only 60% of web surfers use current versions of whatever browsing software they choose to use. This isn’t one of those “Hey, get Firefox!” articles, though it does point out that users of the Firefox browser are the most likely to be using a current version of the operating system — IE users are least likely — and part of the reason for this is that browser and plug-in version updating is built in to the system itself and turned ON by default. Read this article and then go make sure your library’s browsers are updated to the latest version. It’s important.
Understanding the nature of the threats against Web browser and their plug-in technologies is important for continued Internet usage. As more users and organizations depend upon these browser technologies to access ever more complex and distributed business applications, any threats to the underlying platform equate to a direct risk to business continuity and integrity.
The incident with the library computers being taken by law enforcement that I mentioned a few weeks back has now made a splash in the big media. Girl’s case had library, cops in privacy standoff. It’s interesting to see how the headline of the same AP article changes depending on who is using it. In another place it’s titled Library confrontation points up privacy dilemma or Kimball Library required warrant to view Brooke Bennett’s record’s