10 library-related examples of temporal ontological friction

First of all, I should make clear what I am talking about when I refer to “ontological friction”. I am thinking of the forces that oppose the flow of information with a region of the infosphere. It is connected with the amount of effort required for some agent to obtain, filter, or block information about other agents in a given environment, by decreasing, shaping or increasing informational friction (Floridi 2014)

In other words, those things that make it easier or harder to have direct access to personal data.

And, more specifically, frictions in the temporal dimension – so time-related frictions.


(Gutwirth, Leenes et al. 2014) refer to temporal ontological restrictions (like the opening times of libraries). To me that seemed a very odd choice. Clearly library opening hours would determine ease of access to printed books (though not to the electronic resources offered), but it stumps me as to how that would limit access to personally identifiable information.

Nevertheless, it spurred me on to think of temporal ontological frictions in a library context. So here are ten I came up with:

  1. How long is a library user’s reading history retained by default?
  2. Does the user have a choice as to whether the data is retained or not?
  3. And can they personalise to determine precisely how long they want the data kept for?
  4. How long are details of previous searches kept for on each of the online services the library subscribes to?
  5. Is user data is anonymised at a certain point in time? If so, when?
  6. What is the average response time for any data subject access requests?
  7. How long are any paper-based records for computer bookings kept for?
  8. For what length of time is any library CCTV footage held?
  9. Do public access computers get restored back to their native state after each user has finished their session?
  10. When was the last time any data protection training was provided for library staff?



FLORIDI, L., 2014. The 4th revolution: how the infosphere is reshaping human reality. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.

GUTWIRTH, S., LEENES, R., DE HERT, P. and SPRINGERLINK EBOOK COLLECTION, 2014. Reloading Data Protection: Multidisciplinary Insights and Contemporary Challenges. Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands.