Libraries and the Newest Privacy Issue

Libraries no longer act solely as repositories of books. They now act as living rooms, offering anything from craft programs and makerspaces to computer classes and technology assistance. But what happens when one of those services violates the privacy of the communities we serve?

Hopefully many of you have seen the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom’s statement concerning LinkedIn Learning’s terms of service (a.k.a. Lynda.com). It’s the most recent issue libraries and their vendors have had, although there have been others in the past. The LinkedIn Learning issue has been on my mind after seeing it on the Library Think Tank Facebook page back in May. As someone who offers a wide range of one-on-one technology assistance, I saw my library’s potential addition of LinkedIn Learning as a great opportunity to fill in gaps to what I couldn’t teach. As a library student working my way into the profession, I saw a major issue concerning what personal information we were allowing vendors to access.

My most requested classes are Facebook 101 and Facebook Security and I willingly teach them knowing that Facebook will use their personal information to drive revenue (here’s to hoping that will change). I normally mention a quick disclaimer at the beginning of the class and do my best to answer questions concerning privacy. At what point do I stop offering the class knowing that my patrons are giving away their personal information? Herein lies my primary argument for teaching topics I know do not protect personal information. Looking at Ranganathan’s five laws and substituting “resource” for “book,” I see how these are necessary evils within the library. Not every person will use every resource, but the public library needs to provide as many as possible to help it’s patrons. Similarly, not every resource will match the needs of every patron. Public libraries should be adding resources for their patrons, especially when the occasional patron may need to wait days to receive a one-on-one appointment for help with a resource.

I also see how we, as gatekeepers, need to educate the public we serve. Time after time, I see patrons lose access to their Facebook accounts because they google “Facebook” and click on the first link, not knowing that the top result on our public computers is usually a scam site that looks identical to the social networking platform. I try to explain how to avoid that scam and attempt to help patrons recover the accounts they’ve lost. Would a disclaimer on a library’s website before the link to go to LinkedIn Learning not act in the same manner as my attempt to deter patrons from giving away their information? Also, LinkedIn’s privacy policy lays out exactly what information it gathers and how it plans to use it. (As a LinkedIn user, I admit that I never read the policy and continue to use the service.) Here again lies Ranganathan’s fourth law. I absolutely hate making a patron wait for an appointment, so LinkedIn Learning offers a way to save the time of our patrons.

The topic goes much further than my personal thoughts tied to Ranganathan’s laws. I am sure some of us would be happy to include the Library Bill of Rights and other documents we live by into this argument. Public libraries pride themselves in meeting the needs of their communities and we do our best after dealing with understaffing and poor budgets. At the end of the day, my library decided against offering LinkedIn Learning to our patrons, and I’m happy that it wasn’t up to me to make the final decision. Do you have thoughts on the issue? Share them down below!


Photo by Jens Lelie on Unsplash

Conrrado is an online MLIS student at the University of Washington

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