I/S: A Journal of Law and Policy for the Information Society
I/S: J.L. Pol'y for Info. Soc'y
Libraries collaborate to digitize collections large and small in order to provide information with fewer geographical, temporal, or socio-economic barriers. These collaborations promise economy of scale and breadth of impact, both for access to content and for preservation of decaying print source material. Some suggest this increased access to information through the digital environment comes at the expense of reader privacy, a value that United States librarians have advanced for nearly eighty years. Multiplying risks to digital reader privacy are said to weaken librarians’ commitment to privacy of library use and to overwhelm libraries’ ability to ensure confidential access to information. This article reviews some recent national and international organization statements on library privacy and finds continuing commitment to library privacy but varied approaches to balancing privacy with other goals and challenges in the digital environment. The article also evaluates privacy protections arising from libraries’ digital collaboration work with Google Books and the related HathiTrust project, and finds a number of vulnerabilities to confidential library use of these resources. These reviews confirm that reader privacy is increasingly at risk even as librarians confirm their commitment to protecting reader privacy through organizational statements. The article concludes that libraries can use their collaborative traditions to develop better approaches to protecting privacy as they develop digital collections. Even if libraries have limited success negotiating for or creating digital spaces for perfect digital reader privacy, much can be gained by making privacy an important feature of digital library design. Incremental but meaningful improvements can come from user authentication systems with privacy features, wider adoption of encryption, and innovations in website analytics tools. Reader privacy pressures and compromises are not new to libraries, and incremental solutions in the digital environment are worthy efforts that honor the tradition of libraries’ commitment to reader privacy.