Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Being Necessary

George may be the last person to hear about tags. I may be the third last. I know what they are, read about them, but haven't test driven them...I approve in principal. Not good enough. I need to use them so I understand what it means when someone on the LITA-L mailing list says they are trying out such tags added to the OPAC. I have a sense this is terrific.

But that's not what I want to comment on.

I hear the same concerns about patron confidentiality that George remarks on in his post. I hear you, I am one with you, I have a library degree too. BUT, I wonder who appointed us spokespeople for the masses? I am not aware that any library has some kind of check box on a library card application that says: "would you be willing to give up some amount of personal data so that we may send you personalized information about our collection?"

We're collectively all fired up about protecting patron confidentiality but my guess is we've not asked patrons about their wishes. Let's not design services for mythical people. Let's ask real people. It may turn out that Community A prefers that no personal information inform an OPAC search. It's all asked your community. But perhaps Community B is comfortable providing a little more information in order to get personalized recommendations. Or perhaps it depends on the individual and you can't make a blanket policy that fits everyone in your community. But let's be very clear who informs our policies. It would be good if it wasn't a bunch of belly button lint collecting professionals.


George said...

Actually, our friends at the Westerville Public Library offer their customers an opportunity to use their data in untraditional ways. There's a button on their "My Account" page that says,

"'Reading History' is a My Account feature that lets you save a list of your previously checked out items. Opt In for this new service today by logging into your account and choosing My Reading History and then clicking" an icon.

You can also rate books and pay off your fines with Visa or Mastercard from this page!

Anonymous said...

"I wonder who appointed us spokespeople for the masses?"

Hear Hear!

Personally I am fed up with everytime I turn around, one of my colleagues says "you can't do that! Patron information is confidential." Yes it is, for people outside of the library, but it seems absolutely insane not to use the information we have or can collect regarding our patrons' usage and wishes to guide our services. Compared to the for-profit world, most libraries are in the stone age with regards to their ability to divine the wants of their "customers."

What do we have? Data on how patrons use our "current" collection, anecdotal wants and desires as reported by line staff and the once in a blue moon survey. We're too often like the blind men trying to identify the elephant. We just don't see the big picture.

With a change of attitude and no small amount of effort, we could know our patrons as well as any business, and cater to their needs at a much higher level. If we don't as profession, the woes of Salinas and now Beford will visit upon many more libraries across the country.

The public library is not dead yet. But if we don't get our act together, it will be checking into the hosptial within a decade given the rapid pace of change, and on life support within a generation.