20 minutes of fame!


I was invited to participate in a podcast by Dustin of the Evil Librarians in Utah. I was fairly apprehensive about it as I was worried I might sound unintelligent but decided that it was a good development opportunity. We talked about my journey to librarianship, what it’s like working in a school library in England and the state of public libraries.

Crikey I was nervous! Although I had written down some ideas about what we might want to talk about, I was very self-conscious about saying the wrong thing, umming and ahhing a lot and making an idiot of myself. I learnt that having notes of what you want to say is a good idea and we had an interesting conversation about privacy and ethics.

I heard on a different podcast that in the US they’re so strict about personal data that they delete borrowing records after a fortnight. They don’t let anyone pick up some one else’s books without written permission.

I said that in branch libraries my colleagues used to preemptively order for older customers and to help choose books and give them to a neighbour or friend to take to certain people. This sometimes involved checking our catalogue to see if they’d had the book before. Whilst there was probably an “understanding” about a neighbour/family members’ help it wasn’t written consent.

So what?

This conversation made me wonder about the ethics of this. Were we outside of data protection/not adhering to the CILIP values?

My instinct is that if we do it with some commonsense eg if someone is getting a book on divorce/abortion/a disease we wouldn’t offer it to their “friend”. As a result of the conversation I’ve checked the Cilip code of professional practice.

It says that we must
Strive to achieve an appropriate balance within the law between demands from information users, the need to respect confidentiality, the terms of their employment, the public good and the responsibilities outlined in this Code.”

This led me to question whether we were achieving an appropriate balance between the demands of the customer and the need to respect confidentiality.

Upon chatting to my hubby (very sensible man), he likened it to Amazon suggesting books for customers. Actually, some LMS will now do this. There’s the argument that we’re using the customer’s data for their benefit. I suppose it’s also rather like friends recommending books.

Our mobile library services used a numbering system in the back of the books, so staff could easily see if customers had already had the books. They’ve agreed to this at least in an “opt out” manner as otherwise the service wouldn’t have existed.

Dustin said to me that they’re so strict about privacy in the US because of the NSA and their monitoring of electronic information (we said hi in case they were listening). It’s also related to freedom of speech and being non censoring.

It brings up some interesting points in school as we use library helpers to issue and return books but they do have access to pupils’ borrower records. We always explain that it is the helpers’ duty to treat this information as confidential. Is that enough?

I also chatted to Dustin about selecting books and how I’d like our school libraries to be based a lot more on pupils’ selections. He suggested that it is easy to be paternalistic in relation to book selection and I agree. In the US, he mentioned that there has historically been direction in libraries towards classics and in school libraries selection decisions are made that could be seen as censorship based on religious, gender, sexuality or politics.
What next?

I’ve already had a conversation about my manager regarding on improving the percentage of books requested by pupils versus those chosen by us over the next few months using good old fashioned index cards for requests. Our planned change of LMS will make it easier to make and process requests (spring 2016). We do take requests now but I’m personally aware that we’re making purchasing decisions which are partial guesses in an unintended paternalistic manner.

Later I thought about this some more. I’m unconvinced that you can ever totally remove bias in book selection. Purchasing decisions are inevitably influenced by the decision makers’ unconscious prejudices and background and school/curriculum expectations. Reflecting may reveal what your biases are so you can fill in any obvious stock gaps.

Participating in the podcast was a helpful way of comparing notes with a librarian outside my locale about the ethics surrounding privacy and stock selection. As a result of this discussion I have improved my knowledge of stock selection. This awareness will be essential to me as a practitioner because I now participate in stock buys and share responsibility for selection.

As a next step, I am going to read some articles about stock selection and bias.

The podcast discussion also made me realise that I would like to learn more about the ethics surrounding data in the library. I am going to contact the Cilip ethics committee and ask if they can refer me to any articles/books about this.


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Filed under Chartership, CILIP, Copyright, CPD, Ethics of librarianship, My job, Podcasts, Reflecting for chartership

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