This webinar was moderated by Davis Erin Anderson, the Assistant Director for Programs and Partnerships at METRO Library Council. The panelists include Erin Berman, Division Director for Alameda County Library System’s Learning Group , William Marden, Director of Data Privacy and Compliance at the New York Public Library and Gary Price, Co-founder and Editor of Library Journal’s infoDOCKET.

Privacy issues have come to the forefront now that many of us are spending more time online. Our work days often revolve around Zoom calls and adapting different software to our personal and professional needs. 

One of the first steps for our panelists during shelter-in-place was to figure out safe ways for their patrons and staff to work online without compromising their privacy. For William Marden at NYPL, this included creating workflows for software that were tested by staff within their Digital department. Deciding which program fit with the right content was part of this process. He uses the example of having author Neil Geiman do a reading, and using YouTube instead of Zoom for this purpose. 

Erin Berman mentioned that, understandably during this time, many libraries have favoured access over privacy. But does it have to be one or the other? “Generally speaking, we are people who got into this profession because we wanted to help people,” Berman said. She acknowledged that it’s difficult to not act immediately to help during this time, even though it might be beneficial in the long run, even in a state of emergency, to take a moment to assess the ways in which we might protect privacy and provide access at the same time. 

Gary Price echoed this by speaking about the library community immediately turning to Zoom as a primary platform. He stressed the importance of transparency in how personal information and data are being shared online through platforms and vendors, particularly within library systems. If personal data is being shared through online services, then the patron should be alerted before they choose to continue. Price proposes that an important initiative could include educating library staff about digital safety and teaching their patron base how to remove their personal data from third-party services. 

All of our panelists emphasized how important it is to read privacy policies before giving your personal data. The more you read, you’ll start to notice patterns in language that obscures important information about keeping your personal data safe. Berman spoke about the value in urging vendors and online services to use plain language in their privacy policies to ensure accessibility. 

Our panelists offered many suggestions to ameliorating these issues, including creating our own standards to which vendors should adhere, or using a variety of open tools to create our own software. Libraries could work with technology companies to create products that are safer and less invasive. “I think what we’re getting at is the word trust. How well do you trust third parties who are providing these services?” Price asked. As librarians, archivists, and culturals workers, we have the public’s trust; it is up to us to ensure that their private information stays private instead of being tracked and monitored by third party companies. 

Helpful Links

Many thanks to our panelists for these excellent insights and considerations. Please join us at one of our future events; a full listing can be found at metro.org/events.