Patron Privacy

Summary of the Patron Privacy Technologies Interest Group meeting at ALA Midwinter 2015 

Feb 04, 2015 03:53 PM

The first in-person meeting of the LITA Patron Privacy Technologies Interest Group occurred on Saturday, 31 January 2015 at ALA Midwinter 2015, at 8:30 a.m.

A total of 18 individuals attended. IG chair Galen Charlton was present. Co-chair Emily Morton-Owens attended the LITA Joint Chairs meeting, which was scheduled for the same time slot.

There were two invited speakers, Alison Macrina of the Library Freedom Project and Gary Price from Library Journal INFOdocket.

Alison Macrina described the mission of the Library Freedom Project (LFP) as making real the promise of intellectual freedom in libraries.  It had its origins in a project that Alison had initiated to work with folks from the ACLU, the Electronic Freedom Foundation, and a local Radical Reference group to conduct workshops on libraries and privacy.

The workshops were structured to start with an ACLU attorney speaking about privacy rights and advising to librarians on how to respond to warrants.  Alison Macrina would then talk about technologies, including HTTPS and Tor.

The workshops had high demand in Massachusetts, and interest grew exponentially after BoingBoing published an article by Alison Macrina and April Glaser called “Radical Librarianship: how ninja librarians are ensuring patrons’ electronic privacy”.

During the conference, it was announced that the LFP was one of the recipients of a grant from the Knight Foundation.  The grant will permit Macrina to run the LFP full-time for two years, offer the workshop at more venues, and add resources to the LFP website.

Gary Price, co-founder and editor of Library Journal INFOdocket, then spoke on various issues regarding reader privacy.  Themes in his talk included:

  • The need for education about privacy and data security for various library constituencies, including users, vendors serving libraries, and librarians themselves.

  • The irony that many library systems can make reading history available for snooping exactly the same way that Adobe Digital Editions 4.0 does by not using encryption.

  • The potential huge marketing opportunity that taking a firm stand on protecting privacy can be for libraries: libraries could serve as the go-to place for privacy.

  • Comparing privacy regulations for libraries internationally: for example, most UK libraries have privacy policies on their websites, while rather fewer US libraries do.

  • Privacy was a major theme of CNI’s December 2014 member meeting, during which Peter Brantley (NYPL), Marshall Breeding (consultant), Eric Hellman (Gluejar), and Gary Price ( conducted a panel called “Swords, Dragons, and Spells: Libraries and User Privacy”. A recording of the panel is available on YouTube.

After the presentations, the attendees introduced themselves. Some concerns and issues mentioned during the introductions included:

  • The design of physical environments in libraries to promote privacy.

  • The interaction between privacy and current trends in library assessment and analytics.

  • How libraries will small (or no) systems staff can implement privacy technologies.

  • Dealing with scientific datasets that contain human research data -- in other words, privacy as it is applied not just to library patrons, but to individuals who are described in library holdings.

  • Getting our own house in order -- for example, many ILSs and discovery systems can leak reading history in ways similar to the problems with Adobe Digital Editions 4.0.

  • As another example, some library systems continue to print hold slips that by default contain a great deal of personally identifying information.

Much of the discussion after the two presentations concentrated on ways that the IG could engage in advocacy and education.  Various ideas that were discussed included:

  • Conducting webinars. Deborah Caldwell-Stone shared some of her experiences, and mentioned that past webinars about privacy  have easily attracted a hundred participants, but that there has been little to no success getting people to be willing to pay for them.  ALA’s webinar service via  Adobe Connect has 99 seats available by default.

  • Producing educational materials. One focus will be writing posts for the LITA Blog; Galen Charlton will be aiming to get at least a post a month published on behalf of the IG, and issued a call for writers.  The LITA Education Committee is also a resource.

  • Alison Macrina mentioned that the LFP will be making its instructional material available on its website under a Creative Commons license.

  • Deborah Caldwell-Stone also mentioned ALA’s Choose Privacy Week, which could be used as a source of materials for reuse and possibly a place for the IG to publish material. Subsequently, at the meeting of the OIF Privacy Subcommittee on Sunday, Galen Charlton volunteered to help with the 2015 Choose Privacy Week.

  • The IG should propose programming and preconferences at ALA and LITA conferences.

  • The IG should reach out to other ALA divisions.  For example, ALCTS has committees that work on issues around electronic resource contracts, while public services librarians are often the ones doing one-on-one education of patrons about privacy issues.

The meeting concluded at 9:30.


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