Seventy-five years after the American Libraries Association pledged to protect patron privacy, the Data Privacy Project helps libraries better prepare individuals and communities for the challenges of always-on, digitally networked, and easily surveilled lifestyles.
Inspiration for the project began in 2012. Research done in part with collaboration from Brooklyn Public Library found that frontline library staff required training and ongoing support to better respond to patron needs regarding digital privacy or data profiling issues.1 The Data Privacy Project aimed to meet that need. With additional training and easy step- by-step resource guides and straightforward training materials, we believe that libraries will be more likely to live up to their professional commitment to protecting patron privacy.
As the Internet and its usage continue to influence and shape our lives, the issues of digital privacy and data profiling are central to policymaking and public debate. The extent of government surveillance programs, differential treatment of online consumers, and the need for protection of sensitive personal data have increased the urgency of addressing these matters.
Before 2015, it was rare to hear about professional development opportunities for library professionals in the area of digital privacy and data literacy. Today, there is much more awareness in the library world about privacy and surveillance concerns and how they affect communities of library users. However, digital privacy still does not feature prominently in the discussion, planning, and programming related to activities serving to bridge the ongoing digital divide, including at public libraries, which play a critical role in providing public access to the Internet. It is becoming more and more evident that libraries cannot afford to overlook digital privacy or data profiling when promoting digital inclusion.
The Data Privacy Project taught NYC library staff in 2015-16 how information travels and is shared online, what risks users commonly encounter online, and how libraries can better protect patron privacy. Its trainings help support libraries’ increasing role in empowering their communities in a digital world. Funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the project was led by a team of library professionals, researchers, tech experts, and community activists interested in the impact of technological advances on everyone, especially the most vulnerable populations in the U.S.
Learning modules from our two workshops, conducted in New York City in 2015-16, are available online. The first module, Historical Overview, canvasses library-relevant laws, policies, and technology developments, including an interactive timeline; reviews privacy challenges faced by libraries; and details key factors that influence patron data flows to and through libraries. The interactive timeline featured here drew inspiration from many sources, including this Library Technology Timeline. The full references are housed on a publicly accessible Zotero.
The second module, Mapping Data Flows, helps explain how your information moves around the internet when sending email or web browsing and highlights potential vulnerabilities within the library.
The third Risk Assessment module provides guidance for understanding specific risks that different patrons face and what to do about it.
To help people test their privacy knowledge, we have also developed a short Quiz.
Want to conduct a digital privacy training program for staff at your own library? Download slides, handouts, and facilitator’s guides for the two workshops we developed, “Fundamental Concepts for Libraries” and “Hands-On Tactics and Tools for Libraries,” at our Curriculum page.
This project is funded by the Institute of Museum & Library Services grant #RE-06-15-0500-15. The views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed on this website do not necessarily represent those of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
1. See Gangadharan, S.P. (2016). The downside of digital inclusion. New Media & Society. Available at: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/64156/1/Downside_digital_inclusion.pdf/