Web 2.0… Web 2.0… Web 2.0… This seems to be the battle cry for libraries in recent years. The view being that, in order for libraries to compete in our ever more wired up world, they have to provide services in a similar manner to Amazon, Google, and the like. To be honest, they me be right on this. The problem is that the internet is a very public and open domain. Any information that goes out over the lines through ISPs becomes, by default, outside the control of library.
This is not really a problem if patrons are using library computers to use social networking sites, like Facebook. Patrons sharing info is the name of the game. However, reference librarians searching for information for a patron that involves sensitive information are also recorded by ISPs and many corporate web servers. Companies can, and many times do, sell and/or trade information collected electronically about users/customers. Even if they don’t, there is still a record of the transaction, often in several places, out there.
However, there appears to be no government policies in place that would, at least in any meaningful way, protect library users, let alone internet users in general. The advancement of the internet, and its accompanying technologies, has vastly outpaced the capacities of any governing body to develop effective policies. To make matters worse, if the PATRIOT Act is anything to go by, the Federal Government does not seem particularly worried about privacy. Also consider that the government has implemented, or is looking to implement, electronic surveillance. So, as it stands currently, library users will continue to be caught between the interests of money and national security.
It is in this privacy hostile environment that public libraries are increasingly beholden to. In the past, due to the local and physical nature of library material, privacy was a laudable goal that was much easier to attain. In this day and age, however, without some sort of effective policies in place, privacy may prove to be a moot point soon. Is the web a good new home for libraries?
(This is the introduction to a small series on library and government internet policy, or the lack there of.)