Privacy and Patrons – A Non Issue?

When I worked in a public library, patron privacy was a top priority for me, but now that I’m no longer at one every day, my ideas about privacy have morphed considerably. 

OK, I admit to being too lazy to enter all the books I read and movies I watch into a spreadsheet, so I just jot them down in a notebook I use for random stuff. 

The other day, while spending 20 minutes paging through three years of said notebook to see if we’d actually seen the movie Crank yet, I started getting my dander up.  The old Dynix ILS used to keep a list of everything I’d put on hold (which went about halfway towards being a comprehensive list of everything I’d seen or read since starting to use that library), but when Horizon came along, that feature had disappeared.  I read a lot of series fiction and watch loads of movies and TV series, so it’s not easy to remember which season of South Park I’m on, or if I’ve already read Death of a Witch by M.C. Beaton (I love her books, but the plots are very similar).

So while I know that libraries don’t want to keep lists of what patrons read (especially since the Patriot Act and secret FBI subpoenas came along and we decided the best defense was not keeping records of patron use), as a customer, I really wish they (and the catalog vendors) would give me the chance to keep a list.  Obviously you’d want to set this up as “opt in”, and make users read and sign a statement explaining why this might not be a good idea, but I bet this would be a hugely popular service.  As a reference librarian, I was asked for this information numerous times by people trying desperately to remember titles they wanted to recommend to friends or cite in a bibliography.  Sometimes it seemed that librarians were the only ones who cared about privacy.

I’ve also heard privacy used as the reason why we don’t let patrons sign up to be alerted when a favorite author writes a new book, or a movie or TV series comes out on DVD.  Since I don’t get first crack at review journals anymore, I often don’t know about the latest Evanovich title or Harry Potter movie until the holds list is of epic proportions.  I check the Hot Picks lists every couple of weeks, but others must be more diligent as invariably I end up at number 300 in the queue.  Just think of all the effort customers must make – wouldn’t it be good customer service to allow users to sign up to be notified when a title is available to have holds placed on it?

Suggestions are my last wish in this rant against privacy.  When you find a title at Amazon, they tell you that customers who’ve bought x also bought y.  I’d love to see this feature at my library, so was really pleased that the Houston Area Library Automated Network does have a service along these lines.  Judith Hiott, its Chief, discussed this in the Library Journal webcast Push, Pull, Delight: My Library, My Collection, My Expert (click on View Archive – you have to register, but it’s free) that covers online reader’s advisory efforts (among other things).  As she said “The total package is not just about books but services that point to each other in non-linear ways.”  So based on programs or items you sign up for, they’ll tell you about other resources you might be interested in.   And they load their new ISBNs into NoveList so you’ll only see titles that they actually own.  To see an example of this, go to Houston Public Library catalog, enter “frozen Thames”, then click on the title and towards the bottom you’ll see similar titles with the shared terms listed. 

Sure, the Personalized Reading Recommendations that Jefferson County Public Library’s Collection Development Manager, Rhonda Glazier, showcases in the webcast are a great service (I love the way it’s tailored for each customer, though it’d be nice to be able to get Watcher and Listener Recommendations (films and music) too), but as a patron, I also want something more interactive, automatic and instantaneous than a service that can take up to two weeks.

So tell me, do you think libraries need to worry a little less about privacy these days?

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2 Responses to Privacy and Patrons – A Non Issue?

  1. Kathy says:

    Our library’s new ILS coming in the spring will have the exact option you’re asking for, and I am absolutely thrilled for all the reasons you mention.

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