Please use this thread in advance of our weekly conversation to share any of the following:
- Who within your library do you most need to convince about the importance of privacy? Admin, IT, fellow librarians?
- Who within your community do you most need to convince about privacy?
- What anti-privacy arguments have you come up against that you have a hard time challenging?
*Collection development librarians, admin, IT
*Everyone benefits from better privacy practices. When thinking about specifics, public library users benefit from personal protection information. Public library patrons and academic library users would benefit from knowing more about privacy protections guaranteed (or not) by the library system, as well as surveillance software.
- Surveillance for the “greater good” re: community safety (for policing). I haven’t personally run up against this argument made against surveillance software for student performance, but it feels easy to imagine the argument extending there. Another imagined scenario is the difficulty of challenging vendor agreements, people feeling like they cannot challenge the vendor because we ~need~ their services.
The collections department makes decisions on which databases and other e-resources we provide. Funds for databases come from donors, and my understanding is that the Board (consists of powerful and wealthy individuals) hold an important role in bringing in these donations.
Based on this, convincing the collections department and/or donors seems practical. Talking to fellow librarians in our system before approaching the collections department seems strategic. If there’s a need to convince the donors who provide funds for our e-collection, approaching community organizations to raise awareness as a counter-PR move could be a good tactic.
I think almost everyone understands the importance of their privacy, including cyberprivacy. (I sometimes have patrons who even refuse to have documents scanned because they are hypersuspicious) Thinking of threat-modeling, the two demographics that might have most to lose when taking measures to protect their cyberprivacy are the elderly population and Gen-Z. The first, because they tend to be less proficient with computers and the internet, and taking additional privacy measures can be overwhelming. The latter, because of their immersed dependency on the internet and their acclimation to giving away their personal data.
I haven’t personally come up against hard arguments against cyberprivacy measures. The only resistance I’ve met is that these measures take more effort than people are willing to give. For general privacy, the argument that we need to choose safety over privacy is prevalent, especially when it comes to policing and surveillance. This argument is tricky for me to navigate when coming from lower-income black populations in our city (Baltimore).
Possibly everyone. So far, I think most of the staff like the decisions I’m making, but I’m not sure they are going to understand why I’m doing what I’m doing when it comes to stuff like privacy. I’m hopeful that I can explain it in a way that makes it seem logical, but also not like it should be painfully obvious.
Based on the community I am in, I can see there being some concerns from local LEOs possibly. But then many of those people are very interested in privacy too, and I don’t get the feeling that they think our reading histories or anything like that are all that important in terms of crime-solving. At least not so far.
Not many, really. One I haven’t heard in a LONG time (but used to be popular) involved people viewing pornography on computers (which isn’t allowed anyway) and how they could use computers to view child pornography. My arguments have always been that the computers are in a public space, so there is little chance that someone is going to do that without someone seeing anyway. So why do we need to track their personal information since that would mean we are tracking everyone’s information… and that opens people up to identity theft or worse.
Within the library those that need convincing are those who fund the library or “need” to justify the library’s existence through statistics and data gathering. We also have trouble with some librarians who think that we should know everything about our patrons.
In the community it is mostly people who do not use the library regularly, and those who are in a higher socioeconomic bracket. They don’t experience surveillance but somehow think its ok for others to have no privacy.
Some arguments I have heard against privacy practices are: that we need to know who we are serving and what they are doing so we can meet their needs.
While we do need to know what our patrons need and how we can support them, basically spying on their information and activities is wrong and unnecessary.
I can only think of one librarian in our system who needs to be convinced about the importance of privacy. This librarian mentioned in a meeting that when students have overdue reserve items, they inform on the students to the instructors. This incredible breach of privacy is justified (in their mind) because the students have “broken the contract” by not returning items in time. I completely disagree with this behavior.
Within our university community, I think staff and faculty need the most convincing about the importance of privacy. It always surprises me when people are selectively private: for example, refusing to use Facebook over privacy concerns, then happily installing cloud based video surveillance of their homes. Jennifer, Anna, and I are discussing giving a presentation on student privacy issues to faculty. Nobody on campus is talking about the security concerns of course management systems and test proctoring software, even the committee charged with replacing or upgrading Blackboard. As remote classes become more widespread, there needs to be an increase in privacy literacy campuswide.
In our rural, isolated town in west Texas, we have a lot of folks to convince. In short: everyone.
In my public library, we need to work on helping patrons, staff, law enforcement/folks in political power, and the general public understand and protect one another’s right to privacy.
Totally fabricated and dramatic, yet completely plausible scenario in our environment:
A patron (P) is on public computers trying to get his vital documents together so he can relocate, and is asking staff for help requesting his birth certificate. The police come in to ask if P is here, so they could follow up on last night’s DV statement, and uninformed staff may page P over the intercom, which alerts P’s estranged mother-in-law who is reading her daily paper. She then calls her daughter to let her know where she can find P.
Thankfully, staff are currently too busy (and self-conscious) to use the intercom, so we never page anyone, but I know of some area libraries in the surrounding communities that do.
I miss the anonymity that larger towns afford me. Is it just small towns, though? or is a cultural thing where you are expected to share more in order to be vetted and make the community feel safe?
I’m not currently employed by a library, so I’m going to focus on the third question.
I think at my last library, the anti-privacy arguments that I have the hardest time challenging are those that view the loss of privacy as a necessary evil for the providing of adequate service and technology, particularly for marginalized communities such as disabled people or people with minimal computer literacy.
These are tricky situations, because sometimes the choice is presented as either having assistive technology that jeopardizes disabled user privacy to a greater extent than technology used by able-bodied patrons or not having assistive technology at all, and thus barring disabled users from equitable access. Obviously both of these choices are extremely ableist, and in most cases this false binary is entirely imposed rather than inevitable. But, when these are the choices given by administration (due to the lack of equivalent assistive tech that does not include these privacy issues, or due to equivalent assistive tech with better privacy policies being more money that the library is unable or unwilling to spend) it is ethically difficult to maintain a stance towards consistent privacy.
I think the “Physical-Equivalent Privacy” article by Dorothea Salo is very useful in outlining this issue. "The differential privacy harms to patrons with disabilities and patrons belonging to marginalized or minoritized populations are especially abhorrent."
However, I anticipate advocating on this issue will continue to be difficult because of the structural ableism in so many library spaces. When administrators often think nothing of ableist abuse towards their own employees, neglecting to follow basic ADA standards, or calling police on people with psychological disabilities, convincing them to care about privacy rights of disabled patrons feels like an enormously challenging task.
Great points, Lena. Thanks for bringing attention to that article too.
Who within your library do you most need to convince about the importance of privacy? Admin, IT, fellow librarians?
Sadly, I would need to convince everyone. Librarians think it’s a losing battle and won’t engage until the ball starts rolling. After the librarians, Admin would need convincing. If Admin is brought onboard, IT would be forced to at least begin a conversation about privacy solutions.
Who within your community do you most need to convince about privacy?
Friends would be the group within my personal community that I would most need to convince. They tend to blow privacy related conversations off as paranoia.
What anti-privacy arguments have you come up against that you have a hard time challenging?
“There’s nothing that we can do. These kids practically sign away all of their rights just by enrolling.” That is an argument I hear a lot. I guess that explains all the “research” that is carried out using data from students who have graduated years prior. I wish colleges (all organizations actually) were more transparent about the data they are collecting.