One of my colleagues at Galvin just sent a me really interesting article from the Chronicle of Higher Education, "As Libraries Go Digital, Sharing of Data Is at Odds With Tradition of Privacy." The article discusses the the growth of social media use in libraries and how this culture of sharing personal information comes into conflict with librarians' tradition of protecting patrons' privacy.
This tradition, which grew out of incidents in the 70's and 80's where the FBI tried to figure out what scholars were studying by getting library clerks to reveal the reading habits of their patron, led to the passage of laws in may states to protect this data. Librarians' commitment to protect the confidentiality of patron information has been in the American Library Association's Code of Ethics since 1939, and this commitment has only become more strongly voiced over time, with the 2008 code stating, " We protect each library user's right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or recevied and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted," in article 3 of the code.
However, as anyone who has walked in to Galvin or another library knows, the use of social media is spreading, from the use of Twitter to connect with students and to share new book purchases, to allowing users to add their own tags to materials in the online catalog. If librarians did end up using patron information in the same way that Amazon or Google did, librarians could develop exciting new search features that go far beyond showing what books and articles other scholars researching your topic have consulted, and who knows what else.
Many libraries, as the article points out, have contractual agreements with Amazon that allow library users with a Kindle to check out books for free, and Amazon keeps track of what these patrons check out. So how far can we go in sharing user information when we have the aim of improving the library user experience? Is librarians' dedication to article 3 of ALA's Code of Ethics outdated, or is this a standard we should continue to uphold?