Tag Archives: privacy

Library Technology Conference 2014

The program notes aren’t up yet, and my own notes/tweets/memories were erratic. If you were looking for a detailed reconstruction of the conference, I will be forced to crush your hopes utterly.

If this is March, there’s a Library Technology Conference, which was held on March 19 and 20 this year. I had a fine time overall, although I was disappointed that a session I’d really wanted to attend was canceled. The mysteries of library system developments will remain mysteries for now, it seems.

Each day began with a keynote speaker. Both speakers covered several topics, but I seem to have fixated on one or two for either of them, with the rest of what they spoke about evaporating from memory. What I remember from the first day’s speaker, Mita Williams, were the photos she showed us of a library in Denmark (I think it was Denmark) that has no staff and an academic library that was mainly just tables so that the students could use WiFi. She also talked about the idea of libraries as potential makerspaces. That sounded intriguing, and certainly more lively than empty computerized rooms, and I’m curious to see how that idea plays out in actual libraries.

The second keynote speaker, Barbara Fister, spoke in part about how libraries need to be less modest about their contributions to society. Not that this is a universal problem; she’d found one mission statement that just cries out to be on T-shirts and tote bags: “The purpose of the library is to preserve the integrity of civilization.” 😀 But she’d looked at several library mission statements and many of them were full of passive verbs like provide and support. I’m listening to this, thinking, aren’t those traditionally “feminine” roles? And isn’t librarianship one of the traditionally “female-dominated” professions? Hmm. I want to hear this speech again; I know there was a lot more interesting stuff than the snippet I’ve just mentioned, but I’ve forgotten so many of the details already.

At times, it felt like there were two parallel conferences going on. Call them the Patron Data Privacy Conference and the Patron Data Analytics Conference, if you will. I spent a fair chunk of the conference on Twitter, since attendees were live-tweeting sessions. At one point, several people were tweeting about preserving patron privacy. They tweeted about making private browsing the default for public library computers, securing the WiFi, avoiding adding social media sharing buttons to library websites, and resisting the gather-data-on-students trend. While I was reading all this, I was attending a session on collecting data on user behaviors so that librarians could adapt their websites to make them easier for patrons to navigate. The two “sides” both have good points. Even if a library is committed to preserving patron privacy, the library’s software may be allowing third parties access to patron data. At the same time, I admired what this presenter was showing us: a library website that can tell that a search has failed and that offers suggestions to the patron about what to do next. It can do this because it “watches” what the patron was doing and “recognizes” that the patron was searching for a journal article as if it were a book. So, reduce the amount of information gathered in the interests of preserving patron privacy? Or continue to gather as much patron data as possible to improve services and prove to higher-ups that patrons value and use the library?

And then there were the little things. Everyone got a nice reusable bag and a water bottle that folds flat when empty. Macalester is attempting to get to zero trash by 2020, and they’re well on their way. They banned sales of bottled water a few years ago (thus the water bottles in the goody bags), and all the plates, cups, plasticware, napkins, and so on was compostable. Impressive. There was an opportunity to play a bit with Google Glass, but I decided I was running out of energy to stand in line, so this will have to wait for a future opportunity. Also, I am getting way too old to spend a day in auditorium seating. Or perhaps I’ve been spoiled by ergonomic desk chairs at home and at work. You’d think all the time I spend in cafés would keep me in condition for rigid one-size-fits-all seating, but no. Ow. 😦 But slightly stiff muscles aside, it was an excellent conference, and I look forward to seeing what will be offered next year.


I have a new phone number. It came with an unexpected bonus feature: a window into the life of its previous owner. As far as I can tell, Jane Doe didn’t tell a soul that she’d dropped this number and now her life is calling me. In one month, I’ve learned:

  • She’s employed. This I learned when her employer called me at 5:00 AM to see if she could work the daytime shift.
  • She’s involved in some sort of child custody dispute. I found that out when the district court left a message on my voice mail.
  • English isn’t her native language (She’d requested an interpreter; the court wanted to know what language she needed.).
  • She has bought at least one item from Sears. Since I was standing at just the right angle when the sales clerk typed “our” number in, I saw the computer display, which is how I learned Jane’s full name and street address.
  • She didn’t register the number with the Do Not Call registry, so I can’t tell if the large number of debt relief calls I’ve been getting are what anyone gets in today’s economy or if they were calling her specifically. Since I did register the number, at least those calls are going away.
  • While I’ve given Jane a generic Anglo-Saxon pseudonym, when I Googled her real name, it appears to be fairly common among African women, especially near Ethiopia.

Privacy? What privacy? Please note that I was handed all this information except for the origin of her name, and Googling that was hardly complicated. If I were a nasty person, I’d be well on my way to committing identity theft.

Quite naturally, I’ve started wondering how many places I’ve used my old phone number at and what someone will be learning about me fairly shortly. I update it when I can, of course, but I’m not going to catch every instance. What are those stores where I’ve shopped once, left my number behind, and will never be back to erase it? (Sears, probably. I only seem to buy something there once every five years.)

I get why the stores are using phone numbers as identifiers. Everyone has a database nowadays. Names are way too easy to misspell. Social Security numbers are verboten. Phone numbers are unique and everyone has theirs memorized. Plus, now you can take your number with you when you move, up to a point, so they’re more reliable than they used to be. But, okay, now I’m getting just a little uneasy about all the privacy/identity issues that go along with this. And no, I have no ideas about how to get around it, so I won’t do anything; I’ll just fret about it quietly in the back of my mind.