Interview with the Editors: Berman & Tijerina, The Ultimate Privacy Field Guide

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

July 26, 2022

Erin Berman and Bonnie Tijerina are co-editors of The Ultimate Privacy Field Guide: A Workbook of Best Practices that will be published by ALA Publications this fall. My interview with them is below.

Lauren: Why are you both passionate about privacy?

Bonnie: I am passionate about the role libraries can play in supporting their communities as they navigate the digital world. Privacy is a right we all deserve. It’s also a core value of librarianship. I am passionate about the work libraries do to create unfettered access to learn to learn, explore, and be who we are without surveillance.

Erin: Privacy is an equity issue. Those with money are able to buy their way into privacy. Those in lower socio-economic classes have to exchange their personal data to access services and goods regularly. We all have a right to privacy, but for many that’s not possible. This is especially true today as we live in a world of surveillance capitalism. One of the library’s core values and ethical commitments is to uphold the privacy of our users. Libraries are the last place you can go to find information without being heavily tracked and monitored.  

Lauren: What has changed in librarianship over the past decade that makes privacy an important topic?

Bonnie: It’s not about what has changed in libraries, in my opinion. It’s about what has changed in the world in the past decade. As we are spending more time in the digital space, we are losing privacy and more and more data about us is being collected, aggregated, and sold. The reason libraries matter when it comes to privacy is that they (in small and big ways) can help inform and protect their local communities through education, awareness, and advocacy.

Erin: I don’t think that privacy has ever stopped being an important topic for libraries. The first mention of privacy as an ethical commitment was way back in 1939. In fact 30 years before that librarians were discussing the need for privacy because businesses were trying to access user records for advertising. Honestly, not much has changed in that respect. One thing I do see quite a bit of is libraries disregarding that commitment to privacy. I’ve seen libraries be captivated by the latest analytics or marketing tools, throwing privacy out the window. We now have the ability to track users’ every movement in the library and some do just that.

Lauren: Will you describe the format of the book?

Bonnie and Erin: We created seven hands-on, easy-to-read guides for a grant-funded project. The book pulls these seven guides into a useful, usable workbook full of simple explanations of complex concepts and exercises to try right then in the reader’s library. The topics include:

  • Digital Security Basics
  • How to Talk About Privacy
  • Nontech Privacy
  • Privacy Policies
  • Data Lifecycles
  • Privacy Audits
  • Vendors and Privacy

Lauren: What sparked your interest in writing a field guide about privacy? Why this format?

Bonnie: In a previous grant where I had conversations with library workers from across the country from various types of libraries, one common thread I heard was, I care about privacy but I don’t know where to start, or I don’t have time to dig into this topic, or I’m not tech savvy enough.

Based on that and similar experiences Erin had, we believed that if we created guides that walked through a privacy topic in a simple and concise way and gave people real exercises they can do in their libraries, that people could see how they can take steps on creating a safer, more privacy-focused space. 

Erin: During my time as Chair of the ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee’s Privacy Subcommittee, I heard from library workers that while they cared about privacy they didn’t have the resources to take action. It can be a lot of work to change the culture and practices at an institution. We all have our day to day jobs and adding say, a privacy audit, feel daunting. There were great resources out there, but they were dense and hard to parse. There wasn’t anything out there that gave people clear, concrete steps to take. Bonnie and I met during her work on a previous IMLS grant. Upon speaking to one another we saw that people were asking for these field guides and we wanted to make it happen. We chose this format because we acknowledge that most people aren’t going to become privacy experts. The guides are structured in a way to allow library workers to pick them up and go make changes right away.

Lauren: What are two primary points that you hope readers take away from the book?

Bonnie:

  1. Making Privacy actionable in your library is possible! Everyone can do something. 
  2. We can all be privacy advocates, no matter what our role is in libraries.

Erin: I’ll agree with Bonnie’s two points here. 🙂

Lauren: As you look to the future, what should librarians be doing now to help ensure library data is kept as secure as possible? There may be many things, so please feel free to pick one or two.

Bonnie: The most important thing any library can do to ensure library user data is kept secure is to understand what is actually collected, where it is stored, how long it needs to be stored, and how it is safely discarded. This could for anything that has personally identifiable user information, whether paper slips kept in a filing cabinet to library user data in a database. Even if a library can’t do a full privacy audit, where you do a deep dive into each of these areas, understanding what is collected and why is a great first start. 

Erin: 

  1. Talk with vendors and create contracts and licensing agreements that protect user data.
  2. Practice data minimization. You have a lot less risk of data being exposed if it isn’t collected in the first place!

Lauren: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Bonnie: All seven of our guides are available in an interactive web version at https://libraryprivacyguides.org/. I hope that can be a useful resource for readers! 

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Instructional Technology at the University of Central Missouri, and a frequent presenter on topics related to libraries and librarianship. Her expertise includes information literacy, educational technology, and library and information science education.  Please read Lauren’s other posts relevant to special librarians. And take a look at Lucidea’s powerful integrated library systems, SydneyEnterprise, and GeniePlus used daily by innovative special librarians in libraries of all types, sizes and budgets.

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