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Patron Privacy

January 2, 2012

“Patron privacy” has long been an important tenet of library service, and nowadays, libraries seem to be much more concerned about it than library patrons.

People regularly give away all kinds of personal information via the Internet and tacitly agree to let corporate owners of Internet services do an awfully lot with that information (Think: Gmail).
I used to think there was a big and important difference between the need for privacy from the government, with which you engage necessarily, and the need for privacy from businesses with which you choose to do business.

The first is still important, but the second has become important, too, even as we let them into our living rooms just for knocking at the door.

The library commitment to privacy is exemplified in the practice of not remembering what you’ve checked out in the past. Once you’ve returned items (and paid any fines that might have accrued), we have no record that you’ve read that book or watched that film.

Not everyone has appreciated this. Many wish we had a record of what they read. These days, we are used to “services” from automated online systems that increasingly presume to tell us what we like.

It’s much more possible with the Internet than, say, a newspaper to see only what you want to see. You can have exactly the kind of fare you want funneled into your networked device without ever encountering a divergent thought.

But that’s another topic. In terms of customer service, and customized service, libraries have given up a lot of information that could be used to refine our service to patrons. If only we’d saved the last decade of user histories, what we might have funneled your way!

Or not. I think it’s good that libraries continue this commitment to forgetfulness. However, a reading history is a nice thing to have.

And so now you can choose. The automated system used by the Marmot library network, which we have joined, allows you the option of saving your reading history. It’s a choice in your online account beside the links to checked-out items, holds, saved searches, and even “suggestions.”

To have the system make reading suggestions for you, you must participate in rating the books you read, which is easily done in the catalog with the star system provided. You can also “tag” things—a kind of user-designated subject heading—and create lists for others to use.

Previously, if you wanted email notices of overdues or holds, we encouraged you to use a service called Library Elf, which checks your account regularly and summarizes in an email what you have out, what you’ve requested, what’s coming due, etc.

It’s a nicely done service, and fortunately it still works well with the Marmot library system. So you can continue that, if you like.

But we’re also adding email addresses to our patron accounts because the Marmot system will send email notifications of overdues, holds, etc., including the courtesy notice three days before an item’s due date.

Since our membership in Marmot allows you to get items more quickly from other libraries, our hold shelves are overflowing already, and business will only get brisker. This makes for a lot of phone calls.

So we encourage you to add an email address to your account so these notices can be sent automatically.

It’s particularly fun if you have Gmail. Check out the ads Google sends you as it struggles to understand the book titles in your notices.

Happy New Year!


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