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Fister on Privacy, Facebook, Google, Libraries

This is a very useful and thoughtful piece that starts with musings on Facebook and privacy issues and addresses much larger issues that affect libraries and library users and academic publishing. This is a must read.

  • Face Value, By Barbara Fister, Inside Higher Ed (Feb. 18, 2008).


Libraries have always taken privacy seriously – not because it’s valuable in itself, but because it’s a necessary condition for the freedom to read whatever you want without risk of penalty. When the PATRIOT Act was passed, librarians checked to make sure their databases erased the connection between a book and its borrower as soon as the book was returned. That erasure, however, makes it harder to offer the kind of personalization, such as recommendations based on previous book choices, that the public increasingly expects from online systems. After all, it’s what they get from Amazon.

…[W]e’ve barely begun to examine the unintended consequences of the Faustian bargain we strike when we share content through privately-owned digital domains of the public sphere.

Joe Esposito pointed to this article in a posting to the liblicense-l mailing list and he says:

As I was reading this, I reflected on an ongoing conversation with a friend of mine, a former Congressional staffer, about the growing political need for Google to be declared a regulated public utiility, like the AT&T of yesteryear. Too much power in the hands of too few: it’s morally wrong, and socially dangerous.

I would just add to this that, when we rely on the government to be the only official repository of all government information, we are putting too much power in the hands of too few.  We are allowing the government to be the only entity that controls access to that information and the privacy or lack of privacy of all readers of that information. The solution to that is to build  collections of digital government information is libraries.  We have barely begun to understand the Faustian bargain we strike when we share content through a single government-controlled digital repository.

Fister is a librarian at Gustavus Adolphus College. Her blog is barbara fister’s place.


CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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