Privacy is an inherently complex and challenging topic to get a handle on made even more complicated by the almost daily changes in technology, legislation, and government activity that surround the issue. (It was recently revealed that the government is now opening private mail.) Adding to the confusion is trying to understand the extent to which people actually value their privacy. Although librarians have in general been steadfast in their support of user privacy as a core principle, personal blogs and complacency in the face of corporate use of personal information has led some to declare the the concern for privacy is dead or in at least in a coma. Recently, however, there have been some signs that the patient is waking up.
A 2005 study by Steven Johns and Karen Lawson provides some hard numbers to gauge student attitudes about privacy and the library. In the debate between personalization and privacy only 23% of students at Iowa State University felt that “developing student profiles for the purpose of enhancing the Library’s collection and services constituted justifiable use.” So before you go bibliomining your circ database or developing a user community around archived email reference questions, you may want to check out “University undergraduate students and library-related privacy issues” in Library & Information Science Research, 27 (Sept 2005) 485-495.