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OCLC’s report on privacy and trust: the nut graf

(And if you’ve never heard that term…)

The Big O‘s long-awaited report on “sharing, privacy and trust” begins by pointing out that lots of people use the Web, and adds (the far more interesting point) that people increasingly build the Web. “We have moved from an Internet built by a few thousand authors to one constructed by millions.” By the last chapter, the report has delicately but firmly drawn sharp distinctions between users at large and a category they examined up close and personal: “library directors.” It’s a valuable, useful report — though useful in more ways than OCLC may have anticipated.

Key take-aways: the report stops just short of pointing out what a lot of us muse over privately and publicly, which is that traditional values about user privacy hold us back from a level of personalized service people increasingly expect.

“Library directors” use the Web as a tool; they don’t live it and breathe it as a natural environment. They’ve been on the Web since Moses was a circ clerk, but (my conclusion) that may actually work against them, as their concept of the Web was built at a time when it resembled a digital card catalog.

Based on one telling detail — the difference in social networking habits between older and younger library directors — the much-examined “library directors” category appears to be a synonym for “librarians with pre-Web values and education.” My addition: keep in mind that these directors do a lot of hiring, and their young clones march in many squadrons in LibraryLand.

I ponder to what extent this report is intended to be a design template for OCLC itself. It’s a report that’s ostensibly directed at us, the backward unwashed masses who need to be told — are you ready? — people are using the Web! Yet when I look at OCLC, I see an organization grappling with its very traditional vendor-like structure, a world of NDA’s and back-room decisions and a governance model best described as Father Knows Best (no, really: the members’ council is advisory, and the real power brokers, the trustees, are largely self-appointed), an organization where their staff show up for training classes and parties garbed in suits and ties (CIA agent or OCLC trainer? You decide).

The report feels undecided about the book-as-brand paradigm, yet WorldCat itself is so firmly book-oriented (and so fundamentally unidirectional) that a tool called “WorldCat Identities” grossly misrepresents my opus by limiting it largely to my slender, pre-millenial book output. (That is so not my identity, and if they don’t stop using that grandiose and inaccurate label, I’m going to buy a large package of Marshmallow Peeps, name them after OCLC staff, take pictures of them, and create the “OCLC Identities Project”!)

Yet OCLC is also the organization that brought on board people like Roy Tennant to champion initiatives such as the (unfortunately-named) Grid Services and that twice a year hosts popular, fun symposia where we all explore the joys of trust and transparency (just not where OCLC’s code is concerned) and that has key scientists blogging on and on about the network as destination and other au courant theories.

So who are they writing this for? Or about? Ah, every story has its meta-story.

Tantalizing tidbits, straight from the report (my comments in brackets):

U.S. library directors have an inflated view of the information privacy attitudes among the U.S. general public, particularly related to privacy of library information. While less than 20% of the U.S. general public indicated that library items checked out online or in person were extremely or very private, over 50% of library directors estimated users would consider this information to be extremely or very private. While 16% of the U.S. general public indicated that books they have read are extremely or very private, nearly half (48%) of library directors estimated users would consider this information extremely or very private. [Funny that some librarians encourage book groups so people can discuss what they read, but don't see the value of the same function online.]

We see a social Web developing in an environment where users and librarians have dissimilar, perhaps conflicting, views on sharing and privacy. There is an imbalance.

Librarians view their role as protectors of privacy; it is their professional obligation.

They believe their users expect this of them. Users want privacy protection, but not for all services. They want the ability to control the protection, but not at the expense of participation. ["Participation" requires tools. Most library software is designed to telegraph data in one direction, not engage users-though I find that is true of WorldCat, as well, with its grudging and poorly-wrought "social" features.]

Survey respondents told us that privacy absolutely matters. But more specifically they told us that what matters is the ability to be in control of their personal information. … They are not looking for privacy controls to serve as locked doors or barriers to their online activities. Rather, social Web users want privacy windows, shields of safety glass-permanent, impenetrable, but transparent and with the ability to open.

22% of U.S. library directors have used a social networking site, compared to 37% of the U.S. general public … [but] library directors ages 22-49 have used social networking sites (38%) at a rate on par with the total U.S. general public. [Damn duffers messing it up for the rest of us! Oh, wait...]

Amazon (92%) was the most used browsing/purchasing site among library directors. A library Web site was second, at 77%. [That's because you can actually find stuff on Amazon.]

MySpace, which launched in 2003, was the top social networking site used by report respondents in the U.S. (75%).

The general public respondents are more likely to have used a social networking or social media site (28%) than to have searched for or borrowed items from a library Web site (20%). [What! Is this report suggesting social networks might be more visible, available, and engaging than library catalogs?]

The percentage of Internet users that have used a library Web site has decreased. Library Web site use declined from 30% of respondents in Canada, the U.K. and the U.S. in 2005 to 20% of the general public in these same countries in 2007, a 33% decrease.

My friends use the same site (66%) is the top criteria in using a social networking site. [This statistic feels almost over-obvious. You'd be lonely if your friends weren't there, right?]

More than three-quarters [of respondents] are now using their phones for [social networking]. [So that sign in your library telling users to turn off their cell phones needs to be edited to ask them to mute their cell phones and take calls outside.]

Respondents do not attach a high degree of privacy to searching and browsing information. … Just 16% of respondents indicated that the specific books they read are extremely or very private. [Among users on LibraryThing: 0%. All hail biblioexhibitionism!]

Library Web sites … are not seen as any more private than commercial or social sites researched. [Too bad, since so many have that "confusion to the enemy" thing going for them...]

[Library] directors are using Internet search engines (97%) at a rate greater than the U.S. general public (86%). [I now only get about one "where are the PUBLIB archives" question per month. The remaining 7,000 subscribers have apparently found Google.]

More than a third of social networking users (39%) log in at least daily, often several times a day. [However, when you do it, it's play; when directors use social networking, it's] in conjunction with their work. [Ah, double standards.] The U.S. general public is more likely to utilize these sites for social functions.

Both the total general public respondents and library directors indicated that hosting book clubs was the top social networking service that libraries should consider if they were to build social networking sites. [It's hard to read OCLC's take on this finding. If the library "brand" is "books," this would make sense. Books are good, right? Um... right?]

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  1. Steve Lawson wrote:

    Interesting post. One small correction: LibraryThing users do have the option of keeping their catalogs private. I don’t know how many do, but it is an option.

    Wednesday, October 24, 2007 at 10:30 am | Permalink
  2. But I’ll bet 100% of the ones who don’t keep their catalogs private agree with my statement! ;-)

    Wednesday, October 24, 2007 at 10:39 am | Permalink
  3. Karen, thanks for the props and, yes, even the knocks.

    But the OCLC governance structure is not quite as hermetically sealed as described. The Board of Trustess is composed of 15 people. Eight are elected by the Members Council, six are appointed by the sitting trustees (including those who are elected from Members Council). The CEO holds the final Board seat.

    Members Council also must approve or reject any changes to the foundation documents, the Articles of Incorporation and the Code of Regulations.

    Finally, we’re in the middle of a study of our governance structure, so all of this is being reviewed now. The study committee includes Board members past and present and three Members Council delegates.

    Thursday, October 25, 2007 at 11:27 am | Permalink
  4. Robin wrote:

    I’ve been out of library school long enough to have forgotten the exact numbers, but I do recall that most information-seeking behaviour research shows that people typically turn to a trusted friend for information long before they approach a more formal source like a library. It will be interesting to see what happens as libraries start to place themselves in the middle of peoples’ online social networks. I’m wondering if the barriers will start to fall as social networking tools make it just as easy and comfortable for people to contact a librarian as it is to contact a friend. The library itself may assume the role of ‘trusted friend.” Of course, all of this is contingent on libraries figuring out a way to place themselves in those networks in a natural and non-contrived manner. I’m quite sure we’re not there yet, but evidence of innovative thinking does offer some hope.

    Thursday, October 25, 2007 at 1:58 pm | Permalink
  5. Glad it’s under review. Regarding your numbers, what I see on the website: “In addition to the six Members Council-elected members, the Board consists of the President of OCLC and eight trustees elected by the Board itself.” I count that as nine self-appointed trustees and six member-elected members. Am I reading that wrong?

    Thanks for the clarification on Members Council voting. I wondered, OCLC being a nonprof and all! My governance point is still (largely) correct — and most people don’t understand that Members Council is (largely) advisory. I certainly didn’t until I started studying OCLC close up.

    I’d love to know the precipitating history for Members’ Council. *Tell* me there’s a story there!

    Thursday, October 25, 2007 at 2:24 pm | Permalink
  6. Oops. Your count is right, mine is wrong. It’s a good thing this governance is under review—even I can’t remember it, and I work here. Oy…

    Friday, October 26, 2007 at 10:49 am | Permalink
  7. *tee hee*

    Friday, October 26, 2007 at 3:15 pm | Permalink
  8. Mark wrote:

    Uh, you’d lose your bet, Karen. I’m willing to bet that you are pretty close but it is not 100%. Those of us who might have an issue with the public display of certain titles but still leave our LibraryThing catalog public just don’t add them to our catalog.

    Perhaps not worded well but clearly understandable nonetheless.

    Monday, October 29, 2007 at 2:43 pm | Permalink
  9. Robin (a different one) wrote:

    Cheap shot about the suits. Clothes are tricky signifiers at the intersection of personal, corporate and regional cultures. Best not to judge. :-)

    I don’t know about you, but I definitely game LibraryThing. I run multiple accounts, I select what goes in and doesn’t, to take best advantage of the recommender features and to manage my comfort level with self-disclosure. Plenty of people handle privacy concerns on Web 2.0 apps by managing multiple identities and obscuring or, um, fabricating aspects of their identity. As library apps go 2.0, people may want similar capabilities, which we’re not currently configured to support.

    Thursday, November 1, 2007 at 12:33 pm | Permalink
  10. I don’t game LibraryThing, and from freshman anthro, I still believe clothes make the man. The suits are a statement, just as jeans/leather/silk/spike heels are statements.

    I wonder if gaming 2.0 apps is restricted to the 2.0 elite… or widespread? I’d believe either thing.

    Friday, November 2, 2007 at 1:10 am | Permalink
  11. Robin (a different one) wrote:

    The 2.0 elite… oh, yeah, that’s me. Not. Thanks, though!

    The people I know personally who are doing this are largely digital natives (though I would not call them elite, per se: e.g., none of them blog about anything 2.0), heavy on the twenties, though teens and middle agers are represented, too. Some are avoiding scary exes, others trying to confound the copyright infringement squads and/or Actors’ Equity, others merely managing their privacy comfort level.

    Re the suits. A new curator here, yesterday named among the most stylish Bostonians, was asked what the difference was coming to the East Coast from L.A., and he noted that he could finally wear a tie without having to explain that there was no funeral. I agree clothes have meaning, but presuming to know what they mean without thorough context is dangerous ground.

    Friday, November 2, 2007 at 9:23 am | Permalink
  12. I don’t even want to contemplate the symbolism of OCLC dressed for a funeral…

    Friday, November 2, 2007 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

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