Privacy and Data Literacy for Librarians

By Seeta Peña Gangadharan, Senior Research Fellow, Open Technology Institute

METRO, together with the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute (OTI), is hoping to jumpstart a new effort focused on privacy and data literacy.

The proposed collaboration grows out a demonstrated need for privacy knowledge, tools, and techniques among frontline library professionals, and is unfolding against a broader, White House-led conversation about the impacts of big data on privacy.

Recently, I wrote about the importance of privacy and data literacy for library professionals. To me, the capacity of libraries to help patrons confront new and sometimes perilous encounters with data profiling is enormous. Whether on the floor or in introductory classes to the Internet and computers, patrons want to know how their information is being collected and used. And staff members want to learn more about how targeting works. Altogether, everyone wants to feel secure, comfortable, and confident when using the Internet.

To make privacy and data literacy a reality, we need policies that support them. That means investing resources in the institutions — like libraries — to expand the scope of digital literacy programs that address topics like data profiling, data-driven discrimination, and digital footprints. Though libraries can benefit from resources like ALA’s Choose Privacy campaign, a more hands-on program is also in order. Libraries need better knowledge, tools, and techniques to support patrons as they try to steer patrons away from predatory, discriminatory, or exploitative situations that jeopardize digital opportunities.

Unfortunately, most policy debates on digital inclusion have left privacy out of the conversation of digital opportunities and broadband impacts. It’s time to change that. With our planned collaboration, OTI and METRO hopes to bring much needed attention to the topic and grow the capacity of library professionals to support healthy digital inclusion for all.