Privacy and e-books

August 9, 2012

I really liked this article from Andromeda Yelton on Digital Shift:  http://www.thedigitalshift.com/2012/07/ebooks/ebooks-choices-and-the-soul-of-librarianship/.

If you haven’t read it, it is an excellent look at library values such as privacy, access, preservation, and sharing concerns, and what the implications are for the library of the future.  Here is an excerpt from the conclusion:

I believe it’s important for libraries to do this kind of work. We need to have passionate, engaged conversations, with our eyes open, about which values we most want to defend in the ebook fray — and which we’re willing to compromise on. We need to consider which of many imperfect models offer the best tradeoffs for enacting library values. And we need to do this, not just in service to the patrons of 2012, but to the patrons of 2020 as well. How do the choices we make today affect their options for private, shared, lasting, accessible ebooks?

I also wrote about stepping back a bit from the e-book fray  and being more careful about licensing vs. ownership for our future access.  Recently, privacy issues have become even more concerning.  When I personally buy/download a book, make a post on Facebook, or share a Tweet,  I am making a conscious decision as an individual to put my information out there for various businesses to use, with or without my permission.  As Yelton’s article discusses, printed materials are generally more private, and, in the past, libraries  could more easily protect your privacy for you.  If you look at the EFF’s handy privacy chart, you can see that some e-book businesses monitor and track your purchases and even what you are reading.  They can also share information that you have shared with others outside their companies.  Again, THESE ARE BUSINESSES–they are not libraries, and we really cannot expect them to act as libraries.  However, Yelton brings up an important point: how do we as libraries protect our patrons’ privacy when these businesses basically force us to accept their terms?

Yelton’s article reinforces our need to continue to hold fast to our values and not “give in” just because the landscape is changing so rapidly.  Of course we should have some e-books, and librarians should be developing  plans that will support our patrons and use our monies wisely. I may be willing as an individual to give up some freedoms, but what of our patrons, who possibly are not aware that they are being monitored and tracked and contacted every time they download one of our e-books?  Perhaps we should be educating them and making them aware of this.  Additionally, we should continue to give them options that are not solely licensed with “strings attached,” but truly offer personal privacy.

One of the great things about libraries and librarians is that our values of access, preservation, privacy, and sharing are worthy of acknowledgment and consideration, even in this day and age.  Maybe we as librarians can try to safeguard our values and work on behalf of our patrons to ensure that a balance remains between business needs and personal freedoms.

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