Study Shows Students Favor Privacy Over Enhancing Library Collection and Services

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.

Makeover For The Academic Library

An ACRLog post written back in November suggested that academic librarians might learn something about dealing with disruptive technologies from industries confronted with new competitors changing the nature of the service/business model. That post suggested examining how the newspaper industry was confronting the challenges of Internet competition. The January 9, 2006 issue of BusinessWeek offers a column (Jon Fine’s “The Daily Paper of Tomorrow” – no longer free online) that just happens to also use the newspaper an an example of a business that needs to be updated for competition in the 21st Century. Fine presents six suggestions for reimagining the local daily. Here I attempt to see if those suggestions might fit for a makeover of the academic library service model.

1. Steal From Google: Newspapers should identify local companies that advertise on Google – and then do whatever it takes to steal them away from Google. What do librarians need to steal away from Google – our user base. Sure, we know it’s good for our users to consult Google for certain kinds of information just like newspapers know some classifieds are better off at craigslist. But what can we makeover to bring back the users? The interfaces? Better integrating into where the students are? Most likely it’s a combination of strategies.

2. Bifurcate: Newspapers should offer a free mass market giveway paper aimed at the least committed readers and a higher priced premium edition for those wanting an elite daily paper. Libraries should explore the 20-20 strategy. Can we possibly identify the top 20% of our users and increase their use by 20% more by offering them premium services (maybe more customized research and analysis) while we offer minimal levels of service to the other 80%? Of course, we do have this ethic about equality in the delivery of services. But perhaps challenging times call for new and different measures.

3. Redeploy Mercilessly: Newspapers should explore whatever can be done for less dollars another way. Is a Saturday edition necessary? What columns won’t be missed? Is a Washington bureau needed? Does every library need to maintain a local catalog or can we redeploy this to a national provider of catalog information? Does every library need to bind copies of the same journal issues? What can we redeploy to save funds that could be spent in better ways?

4. Increase Local Coverage: Newspapers need to be the local expert because Internet competitors don’t know or report what’s important to the local community. Libraries are the local experts for their user communities. Don’t we know what many of the assignments are? Don’t we have access to the syllabi and the faculty who create the assignments? Shouldn’t we be able to leverage this knowledge to create resources customized to local needs.

5. Redesign Your Premium Product: Newspapers need to have better production values and to go for a classier look (less newspaperish). Libraries need to adopt better design values that pay attention to how resources (web site, handouts, resource guides, ) are presented to users. We’re not designers by training so we should seek out local assistance. Perhaps your institution has a design program that can lend help.

6. Use Your Readers: Newspapers need to take better advantage of user contributed content. They should identify talented content providers among users and invite them to contribute to the newspaper. Libraries should explore how students and faculty can participate at a higher level. Can we identify talented writers or researchers in our communities? Perhaps they could contribute stories about how they use library resources to write and research at higher quality levels. That content can provide the exact type of word-of-mouth promotion that will work to our strengths.

This has been a challenging exercise, and I suspect it holds up better in certain places than others. Clearly there are some ideas and practices that academic librarians should be comtemplating as we look at how different industries respond to a future where there are constant challenges from Internet competitors.

Creating Passionate 11th Graders

Here’s an article describing the information literacy efforts at St. Bernards School in Gladstone, NJ, based on the research of Carol Kuhlthau and put into practice by librarian Randi Schmidt. Can this transfer to higher ed? I’ve tried approaches like this in some of my classes, but I only see the students once or twice, not three times like Schmidt. And I don’t have time to do 5 hour one-on-one consultations or to read all the final products and give a library research grade. If we really want to see students put effort into their library work, wouldn’t they have to be graded on it? Is this kind of information literacy work by librarians really practical on a large scale?

Five hours of one-on-one tutoring and guidance from the library staff is common. If the librarians hadnt intervened, Puglisi says, I would never have been able to do this no way. They kind of remind me a lot of parents. They dont exactly tell me what I have to do. They kind of study me until I see what has to be done.

At the end, each student receives one grade, 50 percent from Schmidt and 50 percent from their science teacher. The teacher grades the content. Schmidt grades the quality of the research and the enthusiasm with which students tackle the information search process. I have to take two days off to read all the papers, she says.

Higher Ed BlogCon

From the Bibliocasting discussion list:

Thomson Peterson’s, PRNewswire, and CASE are pleased to present *HigherEdBlogCon – Transforming Academic Communities with New Tools of the Social Web. * This brand-new, all-online event aims to bring together in a single Web space many of the leading players who are transforming academe with their use of the new tools of the Social Web.

All presentations will be made available on the event Web site at no charge to participants (with the exception of the live, Web/audio CASE Online Speaker Series events).

*HigherEd BlogCon 2006* will focus on the use of blogs, wikis, RSS, podcasts, vblogs, and other digital tools in a range of areas in academe. We invite you to propose presentations for HigherEd BlogCon 2006.

See the full CFP at Information Wants to be Free.