CC.3: Vendors

  • Where do you see opportunities for resisting or challenging the awful vendor practices we discussed today?
  • What are small, harm reduction steps? What are starting points for bigger action?
  • Where do you have power? Where could you build power?
  • What are the challenges to standing up to these vendor practices?

Links shared in today’s discussion:

Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion policy development and actions are the common trend across higher education institutions in North America. I feel very wearisome to observe the current proliferation of EDI activities in academic libraries and higher education institutions. As Thomas investigated, this sadly amounts to the “diversity regimes,” whose purpose is to sustain the status quo while the society is going through massive changes. The University of Massachusetts at Amherst (Home | Office of Equity and Inclusion) and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (Office of Equity/Diversity Services) clearly display their commitment to the EDI policy. Yet they use the race-based risk score algorithm with the intention of cutting the cost of managing the diversity. Markup’s article explains the nature and the characteristic of the universities’ commitment to the EDI policy. It is a hypocrite! They don’t seem to get out of the racist thinking.

These are all difficult questions. I can see the opportunity to incorporate and discuss some privacy and security pitfalls of using vendor databases while teaching your constituencies. Find an opportunity to discuss and show interest to the electronic resource librarians or the collection librarian in privacy and security concerns for users as an extension to the interest in user statistics the vendor allowed libraries to retrieve. The computer department of my university takes multiple steps to investigate any digital products the University acquires a license as the procurement procedure. For example, they are taking some time before signing a contract with Pressbooks, an OER platform. Ask electronic resource librarians to invite them to the Libraries to discuss what it involves. Or conversely, ask the electronic resources librarian to give us a workshop on the procurement process they go through to acquire a new database or digital product especially the matters dealing with user security and privacy.

I’m curious to look through our own contracts. Most of our resources come through the State library, so I don’t know how much room there is there to push back. Which brings up an interesting thought about consortia. The academic libraries in our state are part of a major consortium that allows the libraries to get more bang for their buck. They might have more power to push back… and possibly more interest. Right now, they are doing a lot to push on the open access issue. It does make me wonder, as a former academic librarian, the conflict between seeking those protections when utilizing a database for marketing or fundraising–ones that specifically identify real people based on their interests, income, how they spend their money, locations, etc. I remember showing business students a database that showed this info, and they were horrified. And I understand… but it was a Saturday, so I had my keys on me instead of in my office… and I took that moment to shake my keys at them and say where do you think they are getting this information? It’s from the Winn Dixie card that gives you discounts on your gas… the Walgreens card that gives you discounts… sure, some comes from credit cards, but the vast majority of the information used about us is signed over of our “own free will” because we don’t read or understand the fine print.
Who knows… maybe some of those business students will grow up to change how the industry works. I just found the irony of it all… amusing? Bemusing? Interesting, at least.

Where do you see opportunities for resisting or challenging the awful vendor practices we discussed today?
I’m answering for my case, personally, here. Presenting the issue to student organizations would be an excellent opportunity to bring in allies. The transition to online learning and the personal challenges it caused has sparked student interest in basic privacy issues. I think becoming involved with student events that focus on privacy and offering to help and/or speak would open the door to further discussion on broader topics. Maybe bring in the hacking clubs, computer science clubs, student law groups (and so on) to all speak to some portion of privacy rights.

What are small, harm reduction steps? What are starting points for bigger action?
As [insert drug of choice] Anonymous as it sounds, I think admitting that a problem exists is the most obvious first step. Privacy advocates may be aware of vendor issues but the average college attendee isn’t. With that in mind, being purposeful in launching an awareness campaign may be a decent starting point to prompt “bigger” action.

Where do you have power? Where could you build power?
As mentioned in my first answer, I think student rights/protection is where academic institutions have power. Schools and colleges could leverage protection of student rights by somehow combining the issue with FERPA (or something related). Institutions would then be forced to address it as a matter of law.

What are the challenges to standing up to these vendor practices?
I think the corporate backing that vendors have presents the biggest challenge. It’s overwhelming when we look at the big picture / money involved with maintaining that hold on patron/student information. Someone mentioned it the meeting last week (or I heard it in a fever dream) that fighting data gluttony is comparable to fighting the tobacco industry in the 70’s/80’s. There should be a group that focuses on that issue as their main issue; a group that sticks with that issue and continues to bring it back to the public when “big money” tries to bury it.

Ugh! Scratch the FERPA tie in for GA. I’m currently reading the “GA Public Schools and Open Records Act” citizen’s guide. State “law” supersedes FERPA here. So if big money and law makers have mutual monetary interests, leverage is nullified. (my head hurts now)

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A great example of the difference between DEI statements and actual practices. Most of those statements aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. You’re absolutely right that they have no real intention of challenging the status quo.

I really like this idea for helping library staff understand the process, especially having IT staff present as well. These conversations are where we need to start this work.

It’s a short hop from open access issues to privacy issues! And I think youre right that the big academic libs have some power to wield.

I have…opinions about business majors. But the fact that they were all horrified about these practices is hopeful!

Love this! Student privacy alliance!

Raising awareness is so important, and I think it also validates the fears that a lot of these students are probably having. They might not know exactly what the issues are but they know that something is happening to their data.

Great example. And how did we fight the tobacco industry? Part of it was a huge public awareness campaign about the dangers of smoking. Part of it was policy which included restrictions on where people could smoke, and banning cigarette advertising. Part of it was big tax/price increases. The point is, this is a diversity of tactics, and we needed ALL of them to fight Big Tobacco. But it can be done!

My heard hurts too lol. I’m pretty sure this is what’s happening currently with Follett, because of the changes to state laws in TX and FL. It’s bad.