Reconsidering the Think Tank

(Note: This post was originally written when the group had been changed to Closed, meaning it could be not viewed except by members. That has been reversed as of the moment of publication, but I still wanted to post this as is. –A)

With a click of a button, the ALA Think Tank is gone. Well, gone is a relative term here since it still exists but as a closed Facebook group. The days of drama voyeurism are not necessarily gone, but now you have to join the group in order to see what the fuss is about. I’m sure it won’t be a loss to the lives of many librarians (provided they have even heard about the group, whether through direct contact or rumor), but this sudden move and the online reaction to it has made me waxing philosophical about the group and what it means.

I remember being asked if I wanted to be part of the first group that would become the Think Tank, a collection of individuals looking to find a better, cheaper way to attend an ALA conference. It was the summer of 2010 and the annual professional get-together was being held in alarmingly steamy Washington DC. I was attending because it was the year of my Mover & Shaker award as well as being a conference within easy travel distance. I declined the offer for mostly personal reasons that I won’t go into here, but I do recall a number of stories told afterward. To vastly oversimplify it, I missed a hell of a party.

When the Facebook incarnation came along, I was eager to be a part of it. These were my creative peers, people who look at the librarian world with just enough tilt to skew the perspective. Being slightly less cynical and more idealistic, this brand of professional iconoclasm drew me right in. I was less drawn to the “party hard” side and more to the “make it happen”, an unflappable belief that the system cannot keep good ideas and concepts down forever. I don’t have any specific memories from that time, only good feelings about the group and the topics.

Skipping to the present, I can say I’ve left the group twice now. Both times were out of a sense of frustration from message threads with individuals that I will very generously refer to as “intractable”. I don’t think I’ll be looking to join again unless it’s an important enough cause or purpose that I feel should get the attention of the group. But as I sit here and think about the group, there are some observations I want to make.

First, for all the fuss, the group is rather tame, even dull at times. Between the giant threads that fuel the librarian drama engine, there is a lot of pretty normal posts. People asking about summer reading, applying for MLS programs, talking about news articles, library memes, and other mundane material are the general daily output for the group. It reads like any message board online: people post something, some comment, others like, and eventually it slides down the page into Facebook oblivion. Not exactly a den of scum and villainy that should be burned to the ground.

Second, when there is controversy, it reads nearly exactly like the comments for your average internet story. The original issue (whatever it may be) eventually turns into a full spectrum analysis of all potential tangential issue. In its most infamous example, the question of “Should I hook up with other librarian at a conference?” became a commentary on society, gender, professionalism, sexuality, and power structures. It escalated well beyond the original question itself and became a bloody arena for clashing personal beliefs. While there are excellent arguments for the inclusion of such topics in the thread as it does flesh out related elements in coming to an answer, it took the thread into enough tangential areas to make nearly any answer completely moot. It was less of a struggle between “consensual adults doing what they want to do versus professionalism within a relatively small community” (a personal puzzle requiring extensive context) and more of a personal conflict of “I’m right, you’re wrong” (or, worse, “you shouldn’t be allowed to say or think those things”). Thus, the Think Tank’s reputation was made not for the debate of ideas, but the conflict of individuals. Taken in the larger context, it is simply not so.

Third, for a profession that is a proclaimed defender of free speech, it certainly doesn’t seem to recognize it when it sees it in the wild. One of the main “faults” that is commonly cited is that use of real names in discussions, generally summed up as “how can that person put their name those words?” Literally, this is the principle of free speech being exercised and it is seen as a complete detriment. This is not to say that there shouldn’t be social consequences to such expression (there should be, naturally), but to leery when someone actually acts on it is rather troublesome. We fight for people to speak their minds openly but balk at the actual practice. Given our aversion to anonymous speech through the general contempt for bloggers like The Annoyed Librarian, there seems to be no acceptable answer.

Personally, I see it as a symptom of how the profession can’t handle the many conflicts that freedom of speech raises. To me, free of speech is not beautiful like a butterfly or a sunset, but tied tightly to the fringes of popular ideas, thoughts, and concepts. It is hate and fear, offensive and awful, troublesome and anxious, an act that arises from speaking out against governments and societal institutions to the offensive, vulgar, and profane writings and utterances of individuals. In reality, it’s a daily fight and, unlike the simplistic affection associated with Banned Books Week, there is no romance to it.

In the past, I was someone who said that they would never hire someone who posted in the ALA Think Tank. That’s only a partial truth; it would really depend on what they had to say. It would have to be something so detrimental, so completely outrageous that I would have to question the inherent character of the poster. Otherwise, I don’t really care. 

Finally, while ALA Think Tank welcomes everyone, it is not a community for everyone. Like listservs, committees, and bad dates, it will not fit everyone’s interests, time, and/or purpose. This is neither a good or bad, it just is. Imagining that it would be better with you (or conversely without someone else) is a fruitless exercise. If it’s not your cup of tea, then it’s best to simply move on.

One aspect that can’t be denied is the potential influence that the group can exert in the coming years. In taking their membership numbers at face value against the total number of library jobs in the US (148,000 jobs and 11,400 ALATT members), it’s roughly 7% of the  total librarian population. Granted, the use of those numbers is based on pretty speculative presumptions but I don’t think that that reality is more than 2% lower. For comparison, ALA membership is around 55,000 members (37%) and it is one of the largest (if not THE largest) librarian organizations in the world.

We can fiddle around with the numbers all we want, but it can’t be ignored that it has broad representation (including leadership positions) within the ALA organization as well as the clout to bring ALA presidential candidates to the forum to court votes. It has influential members who can act on both a national and state level in terms of actions and initiatives, nevermind the countless state association positions that ALATT members hold. It has all the mechanisms to influence the current and next generation of librarians, regardless as to how people feel about it.

This tail can wag the dog.

I hope this post gives people an objective look at the Think Tank as a whole. I’m not here to simply praise it nor bury it in its problems, but to give it a frank look once more. From that rental house in hot Washington DC summer, they have built something… sprawling. It’s easy to dismiss, but it would be foolish to ignore. There is much potential, a commodity that should not be squandered these days. I’m still curious to see how it unfolds. 

Two Thumbs Down

Over the weekend, this image found its way into my social media streams:

that other ugly ass sign

Because no minor librarian outrage can go unchecked, this image appeared on the ALA Think Tank:

that ugly ass sign

My gut reaction has been mostly focused on the word “stupid” with a variety of adjectives dancing around, but after a few hours of consideration I think it’s worse than that. Just as two wrongs do not make a right, two stupids do not make a smart.

From what I know, the top image is hanging in a high school library, which we all know is a natural destination for adult erotic books. The perceived slam against public libraries in the bottom paragraph raises two questions for me:

First, does the library only collect well written versions of mentally and physically abusive sexual relationships? I suppose it would so that students who are or have experienced either form of abuse would find refuge in literature, so if you could just point me to the eloquent abusive relationship collection, I would love to see what makes the cut.

Second, does the library own the Twilight series? That series gets some of the same charges as Fifty Shades but without the BDSM component (unless you factor in the reader’s experience).

I say it’s a perceived slam because I know how much educators in my area rely on the public library to supplement their class materials, meet with students for tutoring, and otherwise avail themselves of the public library facility since the public education funding has become a political point to make for a contingency that breathes exclusively through their mouths.

Not to put too fine a point on it, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that school libraries need their local public libraries more than the other way around. In my estimation, this is an unfortunate consequence when the majority of library advocacy resources are aimed at supporting public libraries rather than school librarians. Public libraries have more or less held their ground overall while the very presence of school librarians has been curtailed or eliminated in places like Chicago and Philadelphia. A sign like this isn’t so much bridge burning as cutting off one’s nose to spite the face. It’s a cheap shot over a crappy book; how smart is that?

As for the bottom image, it’s a feel good intellectual freedom rah-rah bullshit sentiment. It sets the basic measuring stick of a good collection as the inclusion of Fifty Shades, hardly a standard by any means. It also wholly feeds into the “we-need-to-give-them-what-they-want-or-else-they-will-leave-us” mentality that turns rational people into fearful ones, chasing every trend, fad, and dream in the hopes of satisfying the multitudes of whims and lusts of the service community. At my former place of work, there were signs begging people to donate their copies of Fifty Shades so as to put a dent into the extensive hold lists for both the physical and the hyper expensive $50 a copy eBook. Writing quality or content be damned, the library NEEDED the book to survive.

It’s also a crap sentiment because it conflates judging a person on the basis of their reading material (which ideally we don’t do) with the notion that we don’t judge the materials themselves (which we do every damn day). Everything that graces our shelves and websites has been judged to be worthy of selection on a variety of criteria. Hell, we even have committees who give awards to the “best” books, graphic novels, and other library material. Fifty Shades is not magically above that decision making process and there are good, honest reasons for not buying the book for one’s library and community. We are non-judgmental in many ways, but buying library materials is not remotely one of them. (And from some of the behavior I’ve seen on social media, neither is our interactions with each other on all sorts of sensitive topics.)

This sentiment belies to the basic tensions that exist within collection development: is our role to be tastemakers, the cultural connoisseurs, using our expertise in literature and reading to pick the best and exclude the rest? Is our role that of a public service, providing people with the materials that they want when they want no matter what that is? What of our ideals of intellectual freedom and the freedom to read when it comes up against the limitations of budget, space, and our own human biases? It’s the theories of the profession against the realities of the practice, something that can’t be reduced to a simple sign.

Ultimately, each of these images leaves me with a sense of profound disappointment. It’s thoughtlessness on a very public scale, visceral reactions to a book and movie that will be pop culture trivia game questions in the future before fading into footnotes on collegiate papers for our grandchildren. It’s a distraction as well as a waste of time and energy for a profession that certainly has other more pressing fundamental issues.

Fatherhood (So Far, So Good)

Last week, we had the anatomy scan for The Wife’s pregnancy. For those unfamiliar with what this entails, it is an assessment that is done about halfway through a pregnancy in which they take a look at the development of the internal organs, measure the limbs, and examine the baby from top to bottom. It’s a milestone in the pregnancy, one that is both exciting and stressful since you see how things are progressing while on edge that a problem (however remote a chance) might appear.

Unlike previous ultrasounds where the sonogram images of The Baby were pretty obvious within moments, this one took some time to figure out what gray blob was what. The previously laid out figure was now scrunched up, legs and arms drawn up into the perfectly literal example of the fetal position. Add in the jerky movement of these body parts and the picture took awhile for a layman like myself to discern what exactly is on the screen.

Eventually, all of the requisite baby parts were observed, recorded, and examined, despite the best effort of our unborn son who can magically sense the position of the ultrasound apparatus in order to avoid it. Seriously, this unborn child has made ultrasound technicians chase him around The WIfe’s belly despite his limited movements options. Even when “cornered”, to use the term loosely, he has drawn up his hands over his face like a boxer covering up. He is just like his mother already: stubborn and not interested in getting his picture taken.

But in that brief moment when the technician got his facial profile on the screen, I could feel my heart leap in my throat. For all the things I couldn’t make out on the computer screen, this was one I recognized immediately. My mind soared at the sight of this little grainy face on the screen. It was an emotional moment, the impossible one to describe, but brought clarity to some of the experiences I have been told by other fathers. I now knew what they meant.

I’m certainly not the first to say or think this, but fatherhood in utero still remains a state of mind. Aside from these sonogram images, it can feel like a pretty remote experience at times. I can observe The Wife and how things change for her as the baby develops. I can talk to her about how she is feeling and what sensations she can feel going on now that we are solidly into the second trimester. But it’s still a very much mental, a contrast of knowing what is going on but not being able to see it which traditionally doesn’t always jibe well for my brain.

To the outside world, the only thing I can do when it comes to the baby is talk about him. As an expectant father, it’s hard not to sound like a North Korean press release when talking about the baby. (“Baby Woodworth, under the superior guidance of The Wife supported by The Father, continues along the fabled path of his remarkable genetic destiny!”) Furthermore, there really isn’t much to go on either. I found myself proudly relating how much fetal weight estimate to coworkers (in addition to the aforementioned ultrasound story). There is going to be a healthy dose of irony for being excited that my kid has a bladder which I will shortly become very familiar with in the next three years (give or take). I’m excited for everything going on at the moment, but it’s hard to make anything resembling a conversation for a stage of human development that is basically eating, sleeping, and kicking the crap out of The Wife’s immediate internal organs. And yet, I look at the sonogram prints and smile like a goofy idiot. I just can’t help it.

For my part, I’ve done my best to support The Wife through a very tiring first trimester and a getting better second. Perhaps I am going back to my days of living with my grandmother when I went into caretaker mode. Even before the pregnancy, we both did the housework; I’d like to think we are a modern couple that way. With her energy levels low, for now whatever housework that needs to be done, I do it. I love her and I want to do these things for her so that she has time to rest and relax.

I’m writing that last part here not because I want to toot my own horn (ok, maybe a little ego in there), but that I’m was shocked to find that I was in a minority of husbands who do this for their wives. I felt naive when this was related to me; I would have thought that because you love your partner that you would want to do these kinds of things for them. But the old gender roles still hang on, perhaps diminished in the last fifty years but nowhere near destroyed. I feel stupid writing out a truth that one gender knows pretty damn well, but if this post can be shown to the husbands to the world to shame motivate them into action, then I hope it helps.

It’s hard to think that we have arrived at the halfway mark for the pregnancy, but the time continues shrink towards the due date. We are now faced with, well, everything left to do. Pediatricians to interview, nursery to ready, birthing classes to take, and what can only feel like a million little details to handle between now and mid-May. I really don’t know what to expect; it is both exciting and terrifying all at once. Furthermore, the idea that Baby Woodworth may read this as a remembrance of his dear old dad pushes the surreal factor through the roof. I don’t have much to say to that except a few heartfelt things:

I hope I did well. I love you. And fatherhood is the best thing in my life right now, even though it remains abstract waiting on reality. So far, so good.

In Transition

In going through various boxes to find things to hang in my office walls, I found the picture of myself that hung at the Mover & Shaker luncheon reception back in 2010. My friend Mo had saved it and mailed it to me since I had split before the end of that social event for some reason or another. Looking at it on the eve of the New Year, I had to take time to pause and reflect on that moment and everything afterward.

Even though the passage of time has been only half a decade, it felt like a lifetime ago. I’ve been divorced, moved, remarried, moved again, found a new job, bought a house (and, of course, moved again), and am now an expectant father. It’s not that the Andy of 2010 wouldn’t have predicted some of those events, but back then I was very much focused on my librarian career. I wanted to speak at conferences, meet my peers across the country, and put my mark on the profession. I can readily admit that I was naïve; I hadn’t really done much at that point so I really didn’t have much to say. But if it worked as a ticket to travel and meet people, then I was going to use it.

At the time, it was also an escape. Back then, the library administration wasn’t interested in professional development, staff morale, or properly managing any of the talent individuals (and there were many) who worked at the library system. Promotions were put on hold for years and there were little to no advancement opportunities. Moving for a position isn’t just for the new graduates; it’s very true when it comes to career options down the line. At least I loved the people I worked with at my branch, even if the work lacked challenge I really wanted. Later that same year, my involvement in the public embarrassment of the Revolutionary Voices book removals netted me the somewhat deserved blame for the embarrassment to the administration and the library system, which turned me into persona non grata. I wouldn’t get out of that dog house until they retired two years later; needless to say, it was a very long time to be in exile.

I feel very different about the librarian part of the social media world these days. It feels more contentious, jaded, and trivial. In the last few years, I was more reluctant to interact for fear of being labeled the ‘worst person in the world’ on the basis of a single tweet that might offend someone. It directly conflicted with my passionate beliefs in the freedom of speech and expression, even in the ugly, awful, and distasteful. I got a few slaps on the wrist in that time period, a strange and sick paradox of a profession that professes to defend the vulgar and profane.

I have no interest in re-fighting those battles for even the thought of them makes me emotionally exhausted. I am just left with a heavy heart, sad and disappointed. It would be easy to be mean, to deliver a comeuppance to those I find intolerable. I have the energy for it, but I lack the will and interest to do so. Maybe this is what maturity looks like, but I try to remember that there are human beings on the other end of the screen. Move on, I think, just move on.

But for all these negatives, I can still find energy in those principles and issues that I hold close to my heart. I’ve taken steps into shifting that energy towards other, less conspicuous projects. As the Reference and Adult Services Supervisor at my new place of work, I’ve got ideas and plans that I will finally be able to try out. I am happy to have joined the editorial board of the Journal of Creative Library Practice, working with people I admire as well as important principles such as the use of Creative Commons and open access journal publications. I’m very happy to have been selected for the Intellectual Freedom Subcommittee for NJLA; we have some projects underway that will resonate further than our state boundaries. These are the kinds of things that put a smile on my face.

While a good number of New Year’s posts offer a vision of the future, my sight is cloudy these days. My brain just sees too many variables in play; as I acquire more experience, the filtering for these factors seems to go a bit wonky. I just wish that for all the talk about understaffing and underfunding we wouldn’t take those limited budgets and spend them on materials, products, and services that further undermine our principles. A lack of financial security should not translate into throwing money at vendors who collect and sell patron information, or crush us under intrusive licensing agreements, or impose digital scarcity as a business plan.

All the worry about the destruction and deprofessonalization of librarianship revolves around the size of the staff and the paycheck, but we do it to ourselves when we turn away on our principles and beliefs. Any knucklehead can sign a contract, but librarians should be the ones saying no to those that have privacy intrusion, burdensome restrictions on information access, and other onerous gatekeeping clauses. Our budgets are our power; if enough of the library world demands certain changes, we can change the market to fit our needs. But unity within the field is our Achilles heel; the belief that we need to give patrons everything or else they will bail is the hole in our armor. Libraries enjoy unprecedented public support and we squander it every damn day with the fear that the moment we stop hugging our patrons tightly is the moment they slip away and never return.

That is the anxiety that will wear us down to dust with nothing to show for it. (I happen to know a few things about anxiety, so you can take my word on that.) I can’t tell you what the next big trend in libraries will be, but I feel confident enough to say that what will matter just as much is how we do those things as it reflects our principles and beliefs. We are fiercely admired when we take a stand on those principles whether it is a material challenge or a National Security Letter or using Tor browsers to protect patron privacy. Librarians will remain not because we have advanced into the future, but because we retreated back to who we are and what we represent in the world of knowledge and information.

Happy New Year. Let’s go do this.

I Stand With Bridget (And So Should You)

All I wanted to do was post a link on Twitter to Bridget Bittman’s GoFundMe campaign to raise money to help with legal fees arising from her defamation lawsuit against Megan Fox (no, not the actress), Kevin DuJan, and Dan “SafeLibraries” Kleinman. (Story here, complaint here) GoFundMe has a Twitter button on the page so you can share it easily. Simple, right?

Oh, if it were, that would be the end of the story.

bittman1

“That’s odd, I thought.” I didn’t think much of it till I waited for that nubulous “later” and tried again. Nope. I related my observations on my Twitter feed where my friend Andrea suggested a bit.ly link and see if that worked. It accepted the tweet, but when I clicked on the link to make certain that it worked, I got this message.

bittman2

“Huh? What the hell is that?”

Whether you click on the original GoFundMe link shortener or the bit.ly address, you get the same ominous message as above. Hell, if you try to tweet or click on any of the links on the GoFundMe account, it gives the same error messages in both instances. (Thanks again to Andrea for discovering that.) I guess there are some ongoing fraud concerns for some of the campaigns, but I can honestly say that it’s not the case when it comes to this particular GoFundMe campaign.

That frustration has lead me to write this post.

I’ve been following the ongoing harassment of the Orland Park Public Library and its employees since it started in October 2013. Harassment is the best term for this ongoing campaign against the library because of the manner in which the rhetoric has been carried out. For myself, I am happy to protect the rights of individuals and groups who want to speak, leaflet, and protest for their cause; free speech is a great cornerstone of society and a principle of the library world. I’ll even stand up for mockery of public officials, even though unkind words and names were something they told us not to use back in kindergarten. Personally, I’m pretty liberal when it comes to putting limits of speech, even in some of the more dubious gray areas.

But it crosses a line (many, in fact) to engage in the level of character assassination that has been endured by staff at the Orland Park Public Library. I’ve seen some of the behavior listed in the lawsuit for myself as it unfolded; I’ve read the insinuations about the personal lives of the Orland Park Public Library staff. It’s simply grotesque and wholly outrageous in content and character.

Furthermore, in what can only be called “attrition via FOIA”, Fox and DuJan have cost the library over $125,000 in legal fees fulfilling their requests. I went through the Village of Orland Park’s online FOIA records and found twenty six requests that were readily identifiable as being related to this ongoing debacle starting in October 2013. Here’s a link to a Google Drive folder containing screencaps of all the requests so you can read through them yourself. There are two worth highlighting.

Jan2014-MF

It’s the scenic route to a main theme: that the library is operating as a adult business by charging a fee to use the internet which in turn allows men to view pornographic material. It’s just a masterpiece of the ironic phrase, “short story long”. I can’t help but admire the longform trolling here.

This second picture is the request that interested me the most.

Jul2014-JPP

The term “SassyPlants” (top paragraph) caught my eye; it appears in the complaint filed by Bittman.

bittman-ls1

It’s not ironclad, but it’s really hard to ignore the timing of the Facebook page and the request, the email associated with the FOIA request being one of the defendants, the use of the term “SassyPlants” in the request, and the juvenile use of Bittman’s pictures on the page’s profile and photos. I mean, REALLY HARD to ignore.

As for Fox and DuJan, I don’t what else to say but I will let them speak for themselves. Fox believes that what people described as dragons were actually dinosaurs. DuJan believes that Obama is secretly gay. I really can’t compete with that.

As for Dan Kleinman, well, that’s another story for another blog post. All I’ll say for now is that his attempts to connect his lawsuit plight with that of #teamharpy have been disgraceful and utterly contemptible.

However, this blog post is not about them; it’s about helping Bridget.

The most important thing and the entire purpose for this blog post is to encourage everyone to assist Bridget Bittman with her legal costs. I’ve donated because no library staff member deserves to be bullied and harassed, especially to the extreme lengths taken to violate her personal privacy. Please do consider giving what you can. Let’s raise the remaining $6,500 and send a message that the library community stands together in the face of this petty and vile conduct.

Let’s do this.

Rock Star Librarian Redux

The latest round of the cyclical discussion regarding the concept of the ‘rock star librarian’ has been sticking in my blogging craw for awhile. Yes, I can read a calendar and notice that the publication of this post is about a month late (or roughly two Annoyed Librarian blogging cycles, based on the timeliness of their posts regarding current events). The term itself has shifted towards an ironic pejorative in which, unlike the many years of work, time, and effort typically spent by musicians to rise in their craft, the library version has slowly shifted to a second definition as a person who has name recognition in the field but no discernable or useful talent, content, or point. It now sits between a compliment and a slur, discernable only through the accompanying context.

There were certainly plenty of strongly worded opinions about how terrible a term it was, how terrible the people who are called it are, and how terrible its terribleness is. As much as I’d like to jump into that pit of rhetoric quicksand, it’s not what was keeping the topic on my brain’s backburner. What I noticed is what was missing out of the topic: what a role model in librarianship should embody.

Perhaps I’ve traded one quagmire for another, but there was much column space dedicated to saying what it was not without indicating what it should entail. Granted, some of the ideals could be inferred from the inverse of the discussed undesirable traits, actions, and other characteristics on display. But if the question was posed, “What should a role model (aka rock star librarian) be?”, there wouldn’t be enough words or terms discerned to satisfy a game of Mad Libs.

It’s a loaded question as well, threaded with all of the nuance that comes with human beings and their personality. Should a role model librarian be assertive, but not overbearing? Be outspoken, but not self-aggrandizing? Be confident, but not arrogant? And so forth and so on, a never-ending recitation of positive traits and their malignant cousins.

For myself, this intermittent topic seems like the symptoms of a deeper professional issue: the identification, nurturing, and enabling of librarian leadership. To oversimplify what I have observed in the last half decade, there is a distinct call for leaders in the profession that is counter balanced by suspicion for those who are put or place themselves in that spotlight. It’s pure cognitive dissonance to believe that a library should be in the heart of the community it serves but the librarians should act purely as background characters to the overall entity. That’s nuts. It’s untenable, undesirable, and now irresponsible when it comes to proving the value of the institution to our constituents.

In going back to the question as to what a role model librarian should look like, I don’t have an answer either. What I do know is that we eliminate any individual who isn’t a paragon of professional ideals and personal virtue, then the answer will be “no one”. I’m not saying this to advocate for anyone, but to encourage you the reader to consider what it means to be a role model to other librarians. Rather than just treating it as simply something we know when we see, take a moment to articulate it.

Say Yes No Maybe So To Privacy

I honestly don’t know whether to laugh, cry, or just let the apathy take over me when it comes to libraries and their relations to vendor that collect usage information. It must be active cognitive dissonance in which we tout the confidential nature of patron records, the freedom to read anonymously, and the actions we will take (up to and including jail and legal proceedings) but let such data slip through our fingers first with database providers, then with social media, and finally now with the landscape of apps. It’s either that librarians aren’t serious about principles of privacy protection or we have to accept that the cultural norm has shifted to the point of passive acceptance where the less work it takes to do something, the better.

The Digital Reader reported late yesterday that Adobe was collecting user information about people’s eBook library through the latest edition of their program, Adobe Digital Editions. Among the many problems here, two are chief in this librarian’s eyes: first, that the data is sent unencrypted and insecure to the point where anyone can just tap in; second, that Adobe is provider of digital authentication to Overdrive, the leading supplier of library eBooks in the United States. The first is somewhat laughable (a digital security company that cannot encrypt) but the second is absolutely enraging. The two come together as one with Adobe’s statement about their data collection that I will (unfairly) sum up as “It’s totally in line with our privacy policy to take that data to make sure that you aren’t stealing.” It’s like checking for identify theft by screaming out the person’s social security number to a person across a crowded room checking it against their records. It’s digital security at its Super Troopers best.

But I save my fiery gaze of fury for the entity that I can do something about: Overdrive. As of the moment I am writing this, they are currently “aware” of the situation and I await their comment with deservedly given suspicion. While I struggle with giving them the benefit of the doubt with Adobe (but seriously, COME ON MAN), I did make it a point to look up the privacy policy of their app which they are pushing people (aka our library members) to sign up. I encourage you to read the whole thing since you are serving it up to your community, but I’ll highlight some passages for you.

What is “Personal Information”

“Personal Information” describes information that can be associated with a specific user and used to identify that person, such as your name, email address, birthday, gender, location information, etc. Personal Information, specifically your name and email address, will be submitted by you when you create, access, and use your OverDrive account. Other information, that is not personally identifiable, may be collected automatically by creating, accessing, or otherwise using your OverDrive account.

What information does OverDrive collect?

We may collect certain information about your interactions with us and information related to you and your use of your OverDrive account, including but not limited to, Personal Information, your online activity, digital content selections, reviews, ratings, your library card account number and/or Adobe® ID as well as Internet Protocol addresses, device types, unique device data, such as device identifiers, and operating systems.

By creating and using an OverDrive account with OverDrive and/or otherwise consenting to the sharing of information with us, you authorize OverDrive to collect and retain your Personal Information and, at your option, you library card account number and/or Adobe ID, and other information. Please be aware that your OverDrive account cannot be used unless you identify yourself to us.

How does OverDrive use information?

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OverDrive may also use and share non-personally identifiable information, such as general demographic or location information, or information about the computer or device from which you access your OverDrive account. Additionally, we may anonymize Personal Information and share it in an aggregated form with third parties, advertisers and/or business partners in order to analyze service usage, improve the OverDrive service and your experience, or for other similar purposes. The use and disclosure of such information is not subject to any restrictions under this Privacy Policy.

Even as I copied and pasted these passages, I felt the swell of apathy rise within me. How much can I care about this when people (including myself) are giving away their personal information everyday in exchange for free web stuff or customization or personalized deals? It’s hard to reconcile that at times, especially since I know I will copy this link into my social media accounts.

But, for me, this is an instance where action is called for. The freedom to read anonymously is simply that important. In a world that seeks to find, track, and record our mundane moments, our principles should not be flexible on this invasion of privacy. There is a reason and a damned good one that library records enjoy a higher level of protection: uninhibited curiosity and the intellectual pursuits are the hallmarks of thought, discovery, and being. We must act if not from these ideals but from our legal duty to protect our member’s privacy.

What happens next? I’m not entirely sure. For myself and my library, it’s a hard look at the expenditures and price (legal, moral, and financial) we pay for them. I will be taking a hard look at 3M and their privacy policy and consider what options are available. I don’t know about any other companies at this point, but I’m willing to consider more options. Honestly, even for the delight it brings my members in getting books online it poses an ugly question: at what cost? Can libraries back away from eBooks now or have the claws sunk in too deep? At what point is “giving them what they want” to we allow to give ourselves away?

I remember attending the Public Library Association annual conference when it was in Philadelphia a couple years back. Overdrive threw a bash at the Constitution Center complete with food, drinks, and entertainment by a wide ranging cover band. As the revelry played out in front of me, one of my thoughts was how libraries had paid for the extravagance. It really was a good party, though the attention to detail there could have been used on the app at the time.

It’s not any different now. If you think about it, nothing is new here, just unfortunate. Privacy intrusions abound these days, but there should be lines. There needs to be lines or else the concept erodes away under the constant drip of internet cookies, app permissions, and other forms of tracking software. We as a profession have to draw that line. Or just go home as glorified content caregivers who will do or say anything to keep the general public coming to an inadequate building with funding commitments based on whether cutting or adding is the favored community political position.

So, get on the phone or send an email to your eContent providers. Find out what they are doing to comply with state laws and the ideals of the library. It’s up to you to do it.

Draw your line.