Privacy Thursday, Jul 31 2008 

In today’s technological world where new information sharing devices and systems are developed on what seems like an hourly basis, the ability to keep ones personal information to oneself is becoming increasingly difficult. For some this is not a problem. For others, such as myself, it is of concern for I have lived long enough to see what serious harm can be done when personal information is used for misguided, immoral, unethical, or illegal purposes.

What is privacy? and Why do many individuals place such a high value on maintaining personal privacy? Roger Cook an Australian who has studied in this area for many years states that,” Privacy is the interest that individuals have in sustaining a ‘personal space’, free from interference by other people and organizations”. This is as good a definition as any.

As each of us is a member of society our desire for ‘personal space’ must be balanced by the society’s need for personal information in order complete the transactions needed for the society to exist. Taxes must be paid, living places acquired and maintained, health and welfare information gathered, essential functions of commerce provided for and so on. Each of these requires that we as individuals give personal information of one type or another to other organizations in order to function as members of our society.

Libraries are in the forefront of any discussion of privacy as they have historically protected the right of individual users to maintain privacy in what they read, view, or see in the Library setting. Library records in most states are protected by confidentiality statutes that require that a court order be obtained before the library divulges information concerning the individual’s use of the library.

Recently in my role as a member of the Board of Directors of the Intellectual Freedom Round Table of the American Library Association, I have been involved in an effort to begin a National Conversation on Privacy. As an initial step, small discussion groups have been held in all areas of our country to gather information from citizens on what privacy concerns they have. Information from these meetings is being evaluated and work is progressing towards the development of a format for this National Conversation.

Some of the questions asked in these small discussion groups are ones that all of us need to think about as we look at how our society influences our ability to maintain our ‘personal space’ in our daily interactions. Think about the following:

1. What is important to you personally about privacy?

2. What information about yourself are you comfortable in giving out?

3. How do you feel about privacy? What concerns do you have about privacy?

4. What types of information could hurt a person if made public?

5. What information about others do you feel you need to know?

6. What trade-offs or compromises would you be willing to make with your privacy?

Think about these questions and how you would address each one. Discuss this with your family and friends. I will keep readers informed as to the progress of the National Conversation on Privacy.

So long for now!

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Technology Friday, May 23 2008 

As an individual who remembers growing up in a home without running water and indoor plumbing technology has its distinct advantages.

However, in this day and age technology can become overwhelming. Before you get used to a new technology it becomes obsolete, outdated, or superseded by a “newer” or “better” version. Being human beings there is the desire to not be left behind or appear outdated.

In our strategic plan, the Library indicates that it will “use technology appropriately”. In our plan this is presented as a part of the “provide excellent collections” section of our strategic directions. However, it also applies to all of our strategic directions as technology plays an important role in all aspects of library service provision.

The question becomes what is the appropriate use of technology? This is a question without easy answers. It is a question that I wrestle with and will continue to do so until I am no longer here.

What I do know is that the Williamsburg Regional Library emphasizes personal service to our user community. Some technology such as automated phone systems do not fit into this concept. This is why we directly answer our phones during the service day and my direct phone line is listed in the phone directory. Sometimes this provides me with interesting conversations, but I enjoy them.

Technology such as self-check machines, enable busy individuals to quickly checkout materials from the library. WiFi in-house networks enable users to employ their own laptops within our building. Projectors and Internet connections enable groups to better use our meeting facilities. These are examples of technologies that enable users to quickly access information and services without staff assistance. In today’s fiscal climate, technology assists our staff in providing the individualized personal service for which we are known and respected.

As we look at the immediate future, what technology will the Library employ or participate in and what will it decide not to? I do not know. What I do know is that our staff will have many discussions as a part of the on-going decision process. What technology we end up deciding to employ or participate in will not satisfy all. This is the only guarantee in the whole process. However, our decisions will be driven by the firm conviction that technology is only a tool, not an end in and of itself. For it to be employed at or by the Williamsburg Regional Library any technology must prove that its use is fiscally responsible and will enable us to provide better personal service to the members of the community we love and serve.

So long for now!