How are analytics being used in your library? If they’re not in use, are they being talked about as a possibility? What opportunities do you have to push back against the use of analytics? What arguments would you make?
This is my recent experience. My library wants to make it official Head of Technical Services, who has been filling in the acting capacity for the past couple of years. This division is in charge of many back-end responsibilities, including cataloguing, acquiring and processing print and electronic resources, and managing and negotiating licenses. So, we had a library-wide presentation for the only candidate. During the Q & A, I asked her perspective or opinion about protecting user privacy when the digital products we subscribe to only function properly when they share user information with third-party analytics, such as Google Analytics. The time was running out, and my question was the last one for her to address. She looked for an appropriate answer for a while, then she mentioned something to the extent that there is no concern for user privacy. She referred to the Electronic Resources Librarian for more details. The Electronic Resources Librarian sent me a message indicating that, in the end, there is no way for the libraries to find out what the vendors/providers are doing with user information. I sent a message listing various user privacy concerns and how digital products provide their services in reply.
Here is the entire message in my reply:
"Thanks for your message. I was curious if any privacy issues are discussed in the Tech Services.
I am learning the complexity of privacy and security issues related to user information in the broader digital landscape and how librarians address them, vis-à-vis vendors/publishers, both in academic and public library contexts.
I looked into some vendors’ privacy policies and noticed some vagueness about how user data is being used. It isn’t easy to fully understand how the user data is being used or to what extent it is protected. I used to encourage students to create their accounts on EBSCOHost and ProQuest, for example, for convenience and extra features. But now I am not 100% sure if it’s a good idea.
At least, I am more inclined to mention the trade-off.
Another big topic about user information and the ethics of the vendors is the concern raised by a group of professionals, including librarians, about RLEX (Elsevier’s parent company) and Thomson Reuters, their contract of selling their data with the immigration enforcement agency in the States (ICE):
A law librarian/professor, Sarah Lamdan, wrote in the article:
It takes a long time for the entire field to catch up with the issue. For example, I attended a meeting with Ebsco sales representatives; xxxx and xxxx were there. I wanted to raise the problem of their ebook contents not being accessible. Unfortunately, I was not taken seriously because all the sales documents say they were. Since then, Ebsco has taken a long time to reframe its approach to accessibility. Now they are more vocal about accessibility, especially to the content publishers, promoting accessibility by design. "
In spite of my sarcastic nature, I am often a silver-lining person. Yes, we are poor… but it means we haven’t been able to spy on our patrons! Huzzah!
But seriously, I think analytics should be very basic. I get that we want to know EVERYTHING, but we can’t… and we shouldn’t. I think it’s find to make a mental note of a reference question you get asked a lot that indicates the need for a particular book, site, database, or training. But when we start getting into demographics, it feels icky. I think just plain numbers are enough to give most people a picture of what the library is doing. We get so obsessed about demographics without any idea of what we plan to do with the information.