At the end of Libraries and the Enlightenment, I suggest that libraries are places “where values other than the strictly commercial survive and inspire, places people can go, physically or virtually, and emerge better people, their lives improved and through them perhaps our society improved.” The key is “values other than the strictly commercial,” because I think public and academic libraries are examples of public spaces where commercial values don’t dominate. They are public goods founded upon the values of democratic freedom and critical reason and provide a possible location within society to promote and protect anti-neoliberal values. Librarians in general are committed to open access to information and education. As Barbara Fister just wrote, they are gatekeepers who want to keep the gates open.
Neoliberal thinking tells us a successful reference “transaction” provides the patron with the most efficient answer to their immediate information need. Neoliberal thinking mocks the idea that library instruction and reference might be about encouraging students to think critically not only about their own information consumption but also about the whole system of knowledge creation & access, and about who controls how we search and what we find. Neoliberalism scoffs at the idea that librarians ought to encourage browsing and serendipity and other forms of “inefficient” research and learning.
Neoliberalism frames this as a contrast between giving patrons what they want vs what giving them what we think they need. That formulation is a rhetorical strategy that makes librarians sound like condescending bunheads who aren’t hip to what the kids need.
What I want to suggest is that we can and should resist that rhetoric – both because it is incredibly sexist and ageist and because the tension is not between what our patrons ask for and what we want to give them; the tension is between a neoliberal, transaction model of library services and a model based on the mission of promoting critical thinking and equipping students to interrogate power and authority.
Complex data sets raise challenging ethical questions about risk to individuals who are not sufficiently covered by computer science training, ethics codes, or Institutional Review Boards (IRBs). The use of publicly available, corporate, and government data sets may reveal human practices, behaviors, and interactions in unintended ways, creating the need for new kinds of ethical support. Secondary data use invokes privacy and consent concerns. A team at Data & Society recently conducted interviews and campus visits with computer science researchers and librarians at eight U.S. universities to examine the role of research librarians in assisting technical researchers as they navigate emerging issues of privacy, ethics, and equitable access to data at different phases of the research process.1
What are the benefits of libraries in this day and age?
Like a good librarian, Tony Marx of the New York Public Library has some answers. Today’s libraries still lend books, he says. But they also provide other services to communities, such as free access to computers and Wi-Fi, story times to children, language classes to immigrants and technology training to everyone.
“Public libraries are arguably more important today than ever before,” Marx says. “Their mission is still the same — to provide free access to information to all people. The way people access information has changed, but they still need the information to succeed, and libraries are providing that.”
Or as Andrew Carnegie said many years ago: “A library outranks any other thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never failing spring in the desert.”
I realized a few weeks ago that I haven’t said nearly enough about the technology and plans for Measure the Future. Mostly I haven’t because I’m in crazy ramp-up mode, trying to get technology sorted, read All The Things about computer vision and OpenCV and SimpleCV, get some input from my Alpha testers, and generally keep the fires stoked and burning on the project. If I expect the library community to be excited about the work I’m doing, I need to get some of the things out of my head where you can all see them and, hopefully, help make them better.
The thing that I’ve gotten the most comments and emails about is the degree to which Measure the Future is “creepy.” There is both and implicit and explicit expectation of privacy in information seeking in a library, and when someone says they are thinking about putting cameras in and watching patron behavior…well, I totally see why some people would characterize that as creepy.
So here’s why what I am planning isn’t creepy. At least, I don’t think so.
What I want to do is measure movement of people through buildings, as a first step towards better understanding how the library building is used. There are dozens of ways this can be done, and among the ones that I’ve had suggested to me or asked about in the last month include:
- Infared sensors
- Ultrasound sensors
- Wifi skimming
Discusses the uses of iBeacon technology in libraries.