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Hiding My Candy: Give Me The Option To Share My Reading

Over on Twitter I saw a tweet this morning: “Would displays in the library that displayed just returned titles be cool or too much of a privacy violation?”

The short answer: no, in fact, many libraries do most of their circulation from returned-book carts. (Do they teach this stuff in Liberry Skool?)

But since you raise the issue…

Ten years ago, I would have laughed if you told me I would have put my personal book collection online and shared it with the world. Now I feel remiss if I don’t get a new book into LibraryThing fast enough, and I’m irked when I return books and realize I can’t share that information with others.

That’s how much my perspective on “patron privacy” has changed in just that time — and I’m a traditional librarian, defender of the right to privacy, suspicious of gummint’s prying eyes and all that.

These days, like a lot of people, I want the option to share with the world what I read, view, listen to, eat, and photograph.

That means I want to share my current, past, future, and wished-for reading, and have that be the default. Let me deselect the rare exceptions (or even choose to never deselect).

I want to see what others read, and I want to learn where we overlap and where we are different. I want to learn from others.

I don’t want to limit my sharing to a handful of “friends” walled behind some cumbersome silo in one small database.

I don’t want to have to reinvent myself and my “friends” for every social network.  I expect my networks to be aware that I have active presences elsewhere and to leverage these presences whenever possible.

I don’t want librarians to “protect my privacy” by purging my reading history from their catalogs. (One of the most useful features of Amazon for me? My purchasing history. Not just as a personal record — but as data Amazon uses to improve my experience.)

I expect librarians to protect my privacy by going to bat for me when the government or industry over-intrudes, not by designing systems that make it impossible to have an online presence in their systems.

I want companies and organizations that gather this data to use it in ways that improve my experiences — making my life more efficient, fun, and interesting — and yes, they can use it to improve their experiences, as well.

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19 Comments

  1. Natty wrote:

    What an interesting and fresh new perspective on the “patron privacy” issue they pound into our heads all thru lib-skool.

    While I am a fairly freshly-minted liberrian, who has, up to this point, been rather militant in my absolute insistence on patron privacy, I will definitely continue to mentally nosh on this concept. I think this perhaps over-strong attitude of mine toward patron privacy is likely a direct result of my coming of age as a librarian rather immediately post 9-11, and being rabidly opposed to the Patriot Act, highly suspicious of the current government, and just generally on guard about vanishing civil liberties, etc.

    Thanks for putting it out there so eloquently!

    Saturday, December 6, 2008 at 9:33 am | Permalink
  2. Lazygal wrote:

    Karen, I think it’s great that you want to share all those things with others. However, that’s you. What I want is the option to “opt out” – to hide my presence (I rarely use Amazon’s recommendations, ditto those from Netflix) if I choose, and to share if I choose. Responsible companies will allow for both kinds of customers/patrons.

    Saturday, December 6, 2008 at 11:30 am | Permalink
  3. Carrie K wrote:

    It would be nice to be have a list of previously checked out books, if only so I don’t keep checking out the same one over and over (neglected series). Boy, times change. We used to decry any information released at all and now we’re signed up everywhere for just that purpose and our friends can track our whereabouts by cellphones. I often wonder what my 60′s protester ex husband would think of all this.

    Saturday, December 6, 2008 at 12:58 pm | Permalink
  4. Shelly wrote:

    More and more, as I get older, I’m less concerned about the things that concerned me when I first got online in 1995, but I still want limits and to be able to opt out or opt in (maybe we should get to choose and not have it default one way or the other).

    I keep two personas. One, the real life me, is the one on Facebook and the one that orders things, so that’s how Amazon knows me. And the library. But the other me, the one who blogs and uses other social sites, is more anonymous, just Shelly or Shelly S. I’m not ready, nor do I know if I’ll ever be ready, for the two to intersect.

    Saturday, December 6, 2008 at 1:31 pm | Permalink
  5. Shelly and Lazygal: I too want the options. That means the ability to do something, as well as the ability NOT to do something. As you point out, Lazygal, it’s best to have BOTH options.

    I think my turning point was the day I heard a library immediately say “Patriot Act” to a question about using social data to improve services. The answer to that question needed to be “how can we serve our users,” not a kneejerk “Patriot Act.” It has become a placeholder for ossified data practices that hobble the services we can offer our users.

    Saturday, December 6, 2008 at 3:27 pm | Permalink
  6. Alexander wrote:

    I still think this needs to be an opt-in thing, both to participate at all and also to have the books I’m returning be added to my publicly-viewable history only if I want them to be. Maybe give someone the option of applying a rating to a book once it is returned – with an easily selectable option to not show it in my history, similar to how my iPhone asks me to rate an app when I delete it. This way I can have some more fine-grained control over my online presence, something power users demand, while not having to go out of my way to keep it up-to-date. It will also result in an overall more useful cloud of information.

    Saturday, December 6, 2008 at 4:48 pm | Permalink
  7. Alexander, yes on the first part (given this is new for libraries) but on the second, users should have the option to “add all books I read.” Otherwise we’re making assumptions for people. It should be clear, but it should (in my opinion, of course) be an option–look at LibraryThing and similar tools. Otherwise we’re saying we know better than users, to the point where we’ll frustrate their workflow if we need to.

    However, I do like the idea of inserting rating/ranking into the item-return workflow. I discussed this about tagging in an earlier post, Tagging in Workflow Context; rate/rank options need to be presented at the right moments in user workflow. Perhaps the next time you log into the OPAC you’re presented with your recently-returned items, for rate/rank/review (like Netflix).

    Saturday, December 6, 2008 at 7:24 pm | Permalink
  8. Jon Gorman wrote:

    I’ve been dreaming of something like this for a while. At some point I’ll get a librarything membership. Then it would be nice if I could write a review once and have it submitted in several places, including my library catalogs.

    Of course, I occasionally read things I wouldn’t share… *cough*.

    But wouldn’t it be great if I could combine the books I buy for myself, the books I’ve read from the library and like and use that to get recommendations…. (Taking into account what similar folks have enjoyed as well).

    Ah well. One of these days I’ll get around to creating something like this ;). Right now I’m happy I got some cleaning done today. Now to go and finally read the first volume of Lone Wolf and Cub.

    Sunday, December 7, 2008 at 12:03 am | Permalink
  9. More thinking about this… in terms of workflow, I’m guessing it would be likely that readers would know *in advance* what books they want to keep private.

    Sunday, December 7, 2008 at 8:29 am | Permalink
  10. Shelly wrote:

    Good point re: the Patriot Act. Paranoia has been running rather high. Opting in rather than opting out, however, would be better, because people have come to expect that their information is private, especially older library users, so this would be a major change for them. Best would be to present people with the choices and they would opt in for their preferred option.

    I like the idea of tagging and reviewing. I was able to import my Library Thing library into my Facebook Visual Bookshelf, and I like the idea of interconnectivity, having this able to cross platforms from the library database to someone’s Facebook page to a widget on their blog if they have one, and so on. I’m sure there are security issues re: the computer databases that would need to be addressed, but I get excited by the thought that what I do on one site can show up on my others.

    Sunday, December 7, 2008 at 11:19 am | Permalink
  11. Shelly, for existing users, absolutely (if nothing else, because it would be a non-starter among librarians to do otherwise). But for future users, treat them like they’re treated on other social networks–where sharing is the default. It’s possible to present a default and ask “Is this what you want?”

    Of course, this is predicated on systems that support this level of engagement… which means data collection… which many systems are capable of, in theory at least. But it’s been practice forever and ever that we don’t keep useful data.

    Sunday, December 7, 2008 at 12:28 pm | Permalink
  12. Karen, that is so beautifully put! I just started playing around with Facebook Connect and our library catalog (nothing public yet…) and I’m sure one of the first things I’ll hear is privacy concerns. *This* – what you have just written – is what I tell people all the time – just not nearly so well. We have to support both groups of patrons – those who want complete privacy and those who want to share their lives and interests with others!!

    Sunday, December 7, 2008 at 5:30 pm | Permalink
  13. Peter Murray wrote:

    Karen — can you explain this sentence?

    Now I feel remiss if I don’t get a new book into LibraryThing fast enough, and I’m irked when I return books and realize I can’t share that information with others.

    Are you irked that you can’t share the fact that you’ve returned a book, or because you’ve returned a book you can’t share information about it with others? I can’t quite parse the latter half of the sentence.

    Monday, December 8, 2008 at 12:59 pm | Permalink
  14. smaximiek wrote:

    I have to agree with some others above. I don’t use Amazon because I find their privacy policies – or frankly, lack of – appalling. I do use a social network to keep track of what I have read; but I have the option of who gets to see it (my friends); and what I add in there. Maybe I wouldn’t mind it if my libraries kept “track of” what I had borrowed, but only if I could go in and remove what titles I wanted to from that record.

    I am not paranoid, but what privacy I do have and can have, I treasure. I think allowing people to control their freedoms is very important.

    Monday, December 8, 2008 at 1:03 pm | Permalink
  15. As they say in workshops, I need to “unpack it”… I’m irked when I return a pile of books and realize, ouch, now that I’ve returned that pile, I don’t remember what I’ve read, and I can’t share what I have read, either (hate the simple past of “read”–should be “red”). Is that a little clearer?

    Monday, December 8, 2008 at 1:57 pm | Permalink
  16. Peter Murray wrote:

    Ah, much better; I understand now. That happens to me, too. (I don’t travel in the LibraryThing community much, so I was wondering if there were community standards/values/practices against adding books that you didn’t actually “own”.)

    Monday, December 8, 2008 at 6:03 pm | Permalink
  17. It’s not well-designed for books you don’t own. I’ve concluded that’s intentional: it’s intended to collect the intelligence of passionate book-owners, not library users. I wish it were otherwise–then I’d use LT for this. Goodreads is like this too. The data from book /owners/ must be more valuable than book /readers/.

    Monday, December 8, 2008 at 9:13 pm | Permalink
  18. Jon Gorman wrote:

    That’s one of the things I liked about the Visual Bookshelf plugin for Facebook. It distinguishes between reading and ownership. You can own a book but not have read it yet and you can be reading a book you don’t own. And now it has csv output, so my little “write once, post many times” dream may still come true.

    Tuesday, December 9, 2008 at 10:44 am | Permalink
  19. Kristen Northrup wrote:

    I’ve ended up using LibraryThing for books that I own and GoodReads for books that I’ve read. It’s cumbersome but does seem to best fit what each site is designed for. And there’s remarkably little overlap between the two categories these days, so it’s not that bad. The FaceBook option does seem to be a good one, but I came to that site late enough that I wasn’t willing to add a third system.

    Our series-reading patrons would love us to be able to save their reading history somehow. But in our case, the librarian would have to be the one looking at that history. Most patrons still don’t have computer access and they’re getting their books by mail rather than coming in. So that could add another layer to the privacy issue. But it would be a great thing to solve, from a public services angle.

    Wednesday, December 10, 2008 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

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  1. The Liminal Librarian » Blog Archive » Mine! Mine! Mine! on Saturday, December 20, 2008 at 8:18 pm

    [...] of sharing, The Free Range Librarian also has an awesome post up: “Hiding my candy: giving me the option to share my reading.” I don’t want librarians [...]

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