In response and extension of Sarah Houghton’s livid take on the patron privacy in the wake of the Overdrive and Amazon eBook agreement, I suggest that we use the opportunity not to reform commercial privacy issues but instead to educate library users on the issues at hand.
I can’t help but identify a key argument in this ongoing discussion that is seemingly flown over each time we fall back on our strident claims of patron privacy: There’s been a major shift in the power over privacy between libraries and commercial interests.
It’s honorable of us to uphold the enlightened value of patron privacy. In many circumstances our values have secured the freedoms of our users against scrutiny by law enforcement, but we do not own eBooks and therefore do not own the data rights to those eBooks. When a physical tome exists in our collection and it is our system that maintains that collection, we are the stewards, the protectors of the data that the checkout experience creates. And so we fervently choose to expunge patron records because of the control we have.
So, in the case of eBooks, we’ve lost that control (or, more accurately, never had that control) because commercial interests have created a product that they are the stewards of. To ask – or in Sarah’s case, demand – them to abide by our values and ideals to protect patron privacy is simply an unattainable request. It is laudable that our profession speaks out in defense of our patrons, but I envision that these efforts will come to naught.
Unlike others in this conversation who scream foul play and in response to some who argue to back out of eBook deals like Amazon and Overdrive’s, I’d suggest a much different and purposeful response. Continue to provide access to this great source of reading and also use it as an educational moment to engage your patrons in a discussion of privacy. Use this time to talk to your users about how library’s protect their data and how commercial interests use their reading and browsing records. Of course, discuss the risks of commercial data archiving and how it could be used against them but balance it with talks of how it leads to more efficient information and material finding. Simply, let them make up their own minds about their privacy.
(Thanks to Kate Sheehan’s post which motivated this response.)