Reasonable Expectation of Privacy, the NSA, and the value of metadata | Pegasus Librarian
This last line isn’t directed at librarians, but it is a key fact. But the idea that metadata isn’t private, and as such libraries should get better metadata from publishers is interesting (and should be given a try).
Let me tell you a story:
About six months after 50 Shades of Grey came out, I was manning the circ desk at work (a smallish public library). The book was at the top of its hype, and the wait lists were a mile long. A regular came in. He was absolutely fuming. He marched up to the desk, slammed the book down in front of me and said, “I would like return this book. Then, I’d like to have it removed from my wife’s record, immediately!”
I took the book, discharged it, and thought it prudent to explain to him that once we discharge a book it is automatically removed from all patron records. Obviously, he wasn’t aware, and I think that this is something all of our patrons should be aware of. I was very clear, but the concept was clearly beyond anything he was willing grasp in his current state. Suddenly, one of my co-workers snatched the book from me, ran it under the barcode scanner of a neighboring computer, clicked the mouse a few times at random (our circulation program wasn’t even running on that computer, this was just for show) and informed the gentleman that she’d removed the book from his wife’s record. The gentleman stormed out immediately.
Can I tell you how angry I was? That was a teachable moment, and my coworker blatantly decided to perpetuate—and even encourage—ignorance. Granted, it was a tricky interaction. She was obviously only trying to diffuse the situation. However, I repeat,I think that this is something all of our patrons should be aware of. Was it worth the quick fix to let this patron believe that we normally keep records? I don’t think so.
Patrons should be taught that library ethics demand user privacy. We should emphasize this constantly, not only in our professional circles, but also to the public. There should be signs in the library, and posts on social media. It should be prominent in the welcome literature that comes with every new library card. We should sing it from the mountaintops.
It’s this last sentence that really gets at the heart of this. Not just for library advocacy (of which this is a prime moment to go out and use this for) but also to serve as a wider example of an institution that’s really up with the times and technology that refuses to collect and retain user/patron information beyond that data’s actual use. I mean, we’re going to know who you are so we can get the book back, but after that? No one needs to know. Not us, not the government, not anyone. (If you check out the book again and realize that you’ve already read it, you can take it back and get a new book free of charge)
We’ve managed to utilize an amazing amount of bountiful data about how our collections are used, and all of it while protecting patron privacy. More institutions/businesses can do this too if we (even we!) can do it.