New Horizons, Mobile Environments, & Fountain Pens: An Essay

Warning:

Source: Deviant Art. Title: State of Dreaming by DreamingCarol

** I am going to attempt a free-flowing post this week. It is intended to be a stream of conscious writing that allows me to express a heartfelt response to the last 3 weeks’ readings, rather than a formulated and over-considered response. In this post, I hope to allow myself a space of questioning and feeling, rather than answering and stating and asserting. **

A few years ago, I was working the information desk of a public library when a gentleman approached to ask what he had borrowed at a prior date. Our Integrated Library System (ILS) was set to eradicate borrowing histories the moment an item is checked back in to the system. “We care about your privacy,” I explained, but the gentleman was furious.

He responded, “I don’t give a god-damn about my privacy. I care what I read last week!” A few months later, because of a change in software, I could offer my customer an option to track and retain his borrowing history directly inside our online catalog.

Trump signs executive order. Source: Foxnews.com

This week in history, Internet privacy is in the news. In the words of Dave Lee, a North America technology reporter for the BBC, “On Tuesday the House of Representatives voted to repeal an Obama-era law that demanded ISPs have permission to share personal information – including location data.” The protection layer that is being repealed “would have forced ISPs to get clear permission from users to share personal data such as ‘precise geo-location, financial information, health information, children’s information, social security numbers, web browsing history, app usage history, and the content of communications’.” By Thursday, Microsoft Outlook notified me of its updated policies regarding privacy. It essentially said I should expect none because it tracks and exploits every bit of data possible. We know it does this to make money. Greed, I believe, is the word we are circling.

I cannot remember my parents being particularly involved in politics. We were not attuned to the many debates and signatures that impacted our daily lives. As an adult in library school, the conversation about privacy and intellectual freedom has mostly been something that I parrot because I am expected to embrace these professional ethics. Yet, with more layers of my right to privacy challenged, I find myself drawn in on a personal level. The conversation can no longer be avoided; everybody is talking about it—or at least SHOULD be talking about it.

This blog post is intended to be a discussion about the new horizons available to libraries, and how mobile information environments are changing the services we can and will offer. I think we cannot begin to talk about mobile circ, app development, augmented realities, or QR code engagement until we acknowledge the privacy issues that accompany all the emergent technologies available for exploitation.

As a final brief nod in this direction, I call attention to the American Library Association’s Privacy Toolkit, and in particular the Emerging Technologies with Privacy Concerns section, which identifies common technologies (e.g.: apps, smartphones, social media) and the concerns to be considered (stores or collects search histories or personal data, etc.).

The first portion of my post today is really all to say: let us proceed with exuberance, but in an informed capacity. Let us stay aware of the whole picture. Let us tread carefully.

Now, onto mobile environments…

***

Source: Mont Blanc. Name: Montblanc Meisterstück 149 Piston Fountain Pen, Black.

Dear Luddites,

I love you. If you want to, tentatively, explore your smartphone (and even if you don’t but are going to do it anyway), I will be there to support you. Tell me what you wish to accomplish and we will discover the ways you can use technology to achieve your goals. Screw the rest!

Love,

Your librarian.

***

I’ll admit it: I drag my feet about adopting emergent technologies, even though I’m not willing to be the last one out of the gate. My parents were opposites. My mama would like it very much to have maintained a family farm and enjoyed a husband who could fix any broken thing by hand. This family would eat every big meal together and talk about their day—sans music, movies, phones and other distractions. Old school, hometown, rural America: my mom. What did she get? DAD!!!: a techno-enthusiast who was eager to invest in the newest music formats, computers, and video recorders. My dad was so exhilarated by the fact his VCR could record television programs that he developed an entire library of films—just because he could. The cases were fire engine red or electric blue and they lined the walls of our basement like 3-D tile.

This sample of three people–an early adopter, late majority, and laggard– are all present in the community my public library serves. How do I serve them all? I think Jan Holmquist makes a fair argument when he encourages information professionals to explore and be aware of what is happening in our world in order to be informed consumers. He says:

Image: Jan Holmquist, Library Journal “Mover & Shaker”. Source: Library Journal

“So when do we know when it’s a meaningful way to use technology; when do we know when technology can add something to service when we already offer or when we can make a new service that makes meaning to public and the community…in which our libraries are situated? First of all, we must know how to use technology. And, if we don’t know what a QR Code is, we’re not able to determine if it’s good or bad….”

 

I think we need to listen to our patrons. What are they asking, really, when they say: “why won’t my email work in the library?” What is motivating a patron, reluctant to adopt technology, to try this new, frightening thing even though it is painful and frustrating and not intuitive at all? … even though its corporate use, in their minds and mine, is the equivalent of strip-mining human beings?

If we probe their question, we might begin to understand that the patron wants to submit a poem for publication. In this example, the patron has a manuscript of poetry—handwritten!!—and no email address, and has not a clue how to bridge the gap between his world and the world of publication. This is where we can consider how emergent technologies might assist our patrons best, and where we clarify whether the introduction of a new technology will be successful and helpful to our local community, or not. As a public librarian, I do not serve the cutting edge; I serve the community.

In order to develop new mobile information environments for our patrons, we must climb inside their heads and understand what is motivating them to explore, what excites them about the process, and how we can facilitate a smoother journey from an information inquiry to the point of accessing the answers they hope to find. For someone still using a fountain pen to communicate, privacy is still important—as it should be for all of us.

References:

American Library Association. Privacy toolkit. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/advocacy/privacyconfidentiality/toolkitsprivacy/Developing-or-Revising-a-Library-Privacy-Policy#emergingtechnologies

Lee, D. (2017, March 29). Anger as US internet privacy law scrapped. BBC News. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-39427026

3 thoughts on “New Horizons, Mobile Environments, & Fountain Pens: An Essay

  1. @astjohn So much to think about here and you express it well. I like the stream of consciousness approach. I think all of my comments this week will be through the lens of the staggeringly beautiful and sad “S-Town” that I have binged on twice since break because there is just so much there. I am fascinated by the Reddit groups and other places that the story is being continued. The digital trails we leave can be mysterious in some ways or have no meaning without the context (a post, an image, etc) but the important thing is helping folks understand what it means to share and visible.

  2. @astjohn My privacy concerns have gone from worried to screaming crazy this week. I don’t understand why people don’t seem to care about their every thought being tracked, but it’s hard to get people to pay attention as their privacy gets sold away to the highest bidder. This was a great rant. Lots of good observations!

    • Thank you, Lori. I would like to believe this is an issue for digital natives, but in the example I shared above, the person in question was probably in his mid-40s. This surprises me; I naively believed that everyone who remembered the world before the age of the Internet would also value privacy over convenience. It goes to show that we cannot stereotype who we serve and what they need from their library–I have to remember this.

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