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Reader Privacy in Digital Library Collaborations: Signs of Commitment, Opportunities for Improvement

13 I/S: J.L. POL'Y FOR INFO. SOC'Y 199 (2016)

UNC Legal Studies Research Paper

46 Pages Posted: 30 May 2017  

Anne Klinefelter

University of North Carolina School of Law

Date Written: December 8, 2016

Abstract

Libraries collaborate to digitize collections large and small in order to provide information with fewer geographical, temporal, or socio-economic barriers. These collaborations promise economy of scale and breadth of impact, both for access to content and for preservation of decaying print source material. Some suggest this increased access to information through the digital environment comes at the expense of reader privacy, a value that United States librarians have advanced for nearly eighty years. Multiplying risks to digital reader privacy are said to weaken librarians’ commitment to privacy of library use and to overwhelm libraries’ ability to ensure confidential access to information. This article reviews some recent national and international organization statements on library privacy and finds continuing commitment to library privacy but varied approaches to balancing privacy with other goals and challenges in the digital environment. The article also evaluates privacy protections arising from libraries’ digital collaboration work with Google Books and the related HathiTrust project, and finds a number of vulnerabilities to confidential library use of these resources. These reviews confirm that reader privacy is increasingly at risk even as librarians’ confirm their commitment to protecting reader privacy through organizational statements. The article concludes that libraries can use their collaborative traditions to develop better approaches to protecting privacy as they develop digital collections. Even if libraries have limited success negotiating for or creating digital spaces for perfect digital reader privacy, much can be gained by making privacy an important feature of digital library design. Incremental but meaningful improvements can come from user authentication systems with privacy features, wider adoption of encryption, and innovations in website analytics tools. Reader privacy pressures and compromises are not new to libraries, and incremental solutions in the digital environment are worthy efforts that honor the tradition of libraries’ commitment to reader privacy.

Keywords: Libraries, Reader Privacy, Google Books, HathiTrust, American Library Association, ALA, IFLA

Suggested Citation

Klinefelter, Anne, Reader Privacy in Digital Library Collaborations: Signs of Commitment, Opportunities for Improvement (December 8, 2016). 13 I/S: J.L. POL'Y FOR INFO. SOC'Y 199 (2016); UNC Legal Studies Research Paper. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2977302

Anne Klinefelter (Contact Author)

University of North Carolina School of Law ( email )

Van Hecke-Wettach Hall, 160 Ridge Road
CB #3380
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3380
United States

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