The sheer variety of privacy issues in libraries

Privacy issues in library and information services can manifest themselves in many different ways, and these can be loosely grouped together by (at least) three categories:

One category would cover the physical layout of the library. That could include things like whether or not the way in which public access terminals are positioned makes it easy for others to see what someone sitting at the computer is looking at. Or whether it is possible to see the librarian’s screen at the enquiry desk. Or whether the library building houses a number of different council functions, and whether people could potentially overhear conversations relating to non-library issues. Or indeed, whether the library is expected to carry out functions not previously undertaken at the library enquiry desk (such as the stories in the last few days about the police experimenting with libraries being a first port of call for reporting crimes – one example of a newspaper report on this is from The Sun).

Another category would cover the manner in which library services are carried out. One example, which I hope doesn’t happen now relates to the chasing up of overdue books and leaving voicemail messages containing the details of which titles are overdue; because potentially someone other than the person who had borrowed the item(s) could pick up that voicemail. Or another example involving the chasing up of overdue books, where the library would send a postcard to the borrower to chase up the overdue item, thereby letting the postman and whoever else see what reading interests a person has. Another example within this category would be where the library puts reserved books into a central area for people to pick up and take to the checkout desk or checkout machine.  Doing so would mean that anyone who reserved a book would then be looking through a row of books with the names of who had requested which item.

A third category would be around internet security for services delivered via the web, especially where that also involved cloud computing. A useful thing you might want to experiment with is to download the Firefox addin Lightbeam, and then go onto your library’s discovery service. Lightbeam shows you the websites you have visited in a list and as a visual map. But what is more interesting is that it tells you all the third party websites that you had no idea were also keeping track of your activity online. Another example to think about is whether your library’s catalogue is hosted on a site using https://.