Friday, November 30, 2007

Give them what they want, but with a side order of what they need.

My response to an interesting post by Rudibrarian about confidentiality, Library 2.0, and our responsiblities to our users.


I think these are all good questions. I really believe that the only way libraries will solve this problem is if they ally with other groups who are committed to keeping personal information private. Because the thing is... if a tool is compelling enough and makes a person's life significantly easier, most will continue to use it despite privacy concerns. I mean, I certainly won't be giving Google the entire contents of my hard drive if they ever implement their "G: Drive" backup service, but the convenience of a one-stop high-quality provider for my email, calendar, and feed reader is something I'd be hard put to give up. And something like LibraryThing just makes public library catalogs better, and once users have seen that they're not going to want to go back.

And if libraries keep withholding features that users want due to privacy concerns, most users won't see that their privacy is being protected; they'll just see that the library can't keep up with Google, Amazon, or whatever other tool helps them get what they want faster and better.

So I think the only solution is for libraries to partner with companies/universities/organizations/whatever that can help them stay current technologically while still being firmly committed to privacy. When the partnership is with a company this becomes difficult, though. I mean, Google is still nominally guided by the "Don't Be Evil" ethos, but what that actually means in practice changes based on their bottom line. A company like LibraryThing is doing everything right so far, but since it *is* a company there's no guarantee that it won't change or be sold to people who would change it. So maybe it's time for libraries to do some coalition building and become the masters of their technological fate, instead of letting others lead the charge.

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