Adventures of an eResources Librarian – Thinking About and Teaching Privacy Every Day, Part One

I wear many hats as an Electronic Resources Librarian in a public library. Technical support and user training are significant parts of my job. I spend a lot of time thinking about the best way to help users interact with eResources easily and knowledgeably. The how-tos of checking out and returning eBooks, logging into eCollections, reading eNewspapers, etc., are important. Still, I’ve realized that it is equally important to introduce users to concepts of online privacy and how to be proactive about privacy. 

Several years ago, I wrote a series of blog posts for my (previous) library’s website that provided step-by-step instructions for finding and adjusting privacy-related settings in our most popular resources. The series made me stop and think about my responsibility to educate users about some areas where they can take control for themselves. 

Getting Started

I moved to a new library a little over a year ago. I’ve been working on outlining a new privacy course and gathering information for some months, and it’s really just coming together now. Because this kind of tutorial is a lot of work, I thought it might be interesting to share some of my methods with others in the same boat.

As part of building this tutorial, I asked myself a few questions: 

  • Why is privacy important in the context of each specific resource?

Some resources aren’t going to need much explanation. For example, databases that authenticate using a proxy or IP inside the library gather little to no personal information about users.

Other resources require logins or have advanced features that collect data about users – either by asking for it or by collecting it behind the scenes based on usage behavior. It’s essential to do an audit of all of your resources to determine what they collect, why they collect it, and how much control users have over the amount and type of data collected. It’s ok to ask vendors to explain their data collection – the answers can be enlightening. 

The easiest way to track this kind of information is in a spreadsheet. It will get complex very quickly, so be prepared to fiddle with it before getting it perfect. 

Next month, I’ll share more information about what is in my spreadsheet.

  • How can users protect their privacy as they use each resource?

Once you know the what and why, the next thing to know is how to adjust settings. This kind of setting manipulation can be buried deep in a platform, so it might take some testing before you truly understand how to opt-out of collection, turn off newsletters, etc. You can’t teach other people unless you understand the concepts yourself, so this kind of exploration is vital. 

  • What are the most important resources to start with?

The thought of creating tutorials for 100 or more resources can be very daunting, but I don’t think that it’s necessary (or productive) to start at A and work down to Z. Instead, I’ve noted the resources I feel are most important to present first. These fall into two categories: those that are very popular and therefore relevant to the most users, and those with complicated settings or more problematic privacy issues. Getting these out of the way first will ultimately be more useful for users.

What’s Next?

Once you finish the research, the next step is to start building tutorials. This can be done in a lot of different ways, depending on how your library presents training and what kind of platforms are available. It can be as simple as a word document with screenshots and steps. I use an eLearning authoring software called Articulate 360 to build all of my tutorials for eResources. It’s easy to use, modular, and easy to present to users. Most importantly, it’s effortless to update quickly. Whatever dissemination method you use, make sure that you can update it without friction. Online platforms change frequently, and you’ll need to keep on top of those changes in your tutorials.

In the next blog

In the next blog, I’ll share more information about my audit spreadsheet, how I create training, and how I put it together and present it. I hope you’ll join me then! 

AuthorStacy Tomaszewski

Stacy Tomaszewski is the Electronic Resources Librarian at The Alameda County Library (CA).