Magazine article Information Today

Balancing Patron Privacy with Patron Data

Magazine article Information Today

Balancing Patron Privacy with Patron Data

Article excerpt

It is no secret that privacy continues to be a topic of discussion and concern for people around the world and across all industries, especially in light of increased data breaches and governmental inquiries. Frequently debated within the library community is the challenge of balancing patron data that protects privacy and patron data that relates to the usage of a service. Information service providers are working to instill privacy into the services that libraries purchase for use by their patrons. But this effort is more complex than for services offered by businesses directly to consumers. Addressing privacy and data protection in services that are offered to libraries for use by their patrons (users) requires collaboration with service providers and understanding of the implications for data collection, access for analysis and use, or data sharing--for which any one of these elements can be specific or broad in application.

As the library has long held the belief that privacy is paramount to its role, it is important to understand some trends in online services as they relate to the privacy of patrons.

Movement Within

Did you know there are a number of library-specific privacy initiatives to help librarians navigate the evolving challenge of protecting patron privacy? The American Library Association (ALA) recently released "Library Privacy Guidelines for E-book Lending and Digital Content Vendors" (, which outlines data management and security practices to ensure the privacy of patrons' data when they are using ebooks.

This past spring, NISO (National Information Standards Organization) launched a collaborative initiative to address the privacy of patron data. As the number of library functions and systems hosted by the library shifts to service providers, the security and protection of patron data also increases. One of the goals for the "Consensus Framework to Support Patron Privacy in Digital Library and Information Systems" ( tl/patron_privacy) is to create a robust set of principles for libraries, electronic service providers, and publishers that clearly defines the relationship, controls, and needed transparency among these entities to ensure the appropriate protection of library users' privacy as data is collected, stored, and shared.

These two examples represent positive movement within the industry toward establishing good standards for maintaining patron privacy. Practices and policies will continue to change as libraries and service providers work together to keep patron data both appropriately usable and protected. As guidelines emerge and evolve, librarians should expect some elements of complexity and may have questions regarding the implications or implementation of such practices.

Opt-in vs. Opt-out

There is a saying in the software industry: "If you are not paying for the product, you probably are the product." Information services provided to libraries are trending toward opt-in, while the free services that consumers are likely to use on the internet are primarily opt-out because the data collected is used as the currency to pay for the service. Regardless of the current or future state, understanding the variations and implications of both options is important.

For opt-in, by default, only the most basic data is collected about a user and his usage, until he gives explicit approval for the service to collect more. In some cases, additional functionality is also available based on the enrollment and acceptance of the terms of use, which can include more advanced data collection and sharing. …

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