Tag Archives: Public Libraries

Privacy in a Public Library

Public libraries for a long time have been associated with freedom and privacy. I understand this and have seen the debate over both topics. This short blog post is to share some of my experience involving privacy (without sharing too much).

As a public librarian I have come across quite a few people who take privacy seriously, but also use the public library to send private information. Usually in the form of legal documents. People don’t seem to know how much privacy is not guaranteed. We have policy for internet use that clearly states that this is an open internet portal and any information sent/received is not secure. Though no one seems to care.

In my year and a half at this location, I have never once been asked/seen anybody reach for the policy. This seems to be the norm for everyone in the library and outside, myself included at one time. It seems to most people privacy is expected and assumed; What most these people don’t realize is that it is not. Yahoo recently was hacked for a tonne of information on e-mail accounts, a few years ago the student loan information of 1000’s of Ontario students was misplaced on a thumb drive, and still people believe their information is safe.

As a public Librarian I logout/clear my computers regularly and do my best to protect patrons information, but these people and most of society seems to take it for granted. I have begun posting more information for patrons in my library and encourage others to do the same, people are blind and don’t realize what they are agreeing to/allowing others to steal, view, and use.

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The Future of Reference Material in Public Libraries

In recent weeks I have heard rumblings on various boards about the Reference sections. Reference material in many area’s of the world are becoming extinct. It would seem that though the book has survived the E-book and Audio book trends, Reference material may not, particularly in the public library setting.

Many libraries are culling their reference section and turning to digital offerings from vendors such as Ebsco, Webster, and Encyclopedia Britannica. With Reference being what it is can it survive in the same way the book has survived?

I do not believe so. I think that reference being general knowledge, most of this is available online. When someone has a question about a generic topic the first resource they seek are not the library, but the internet. Online, general knowledge is freely available from one of the many search engines (Google, Yahoo, etc.) or from Wikipedia. Why would anyone go to a library to pick up a huge tome to look up general information? When was the last time you looked up something in a dictionary instead of googling it/checking Dictionary.com?

People may argue, what about specialize generalist information, like Medical dictionary or special interest books suc as the encyclopedia of Middle Earth, Bird Watchers encyclopedia or the Guide to Neo-Paganism.? Well these may be still sought out as special interest sources, but in a public library? Let us look at the Medical Dictionary.

With the medical dictionary we may consider that a great tool and guide to have. This may be true for some, but with the cost of updating medical information every 3-5 years it can get costly. The budgets of public libraries are not keeping up with the cost of reference material. Also that information is generally available online through Pubmed or Webmd, one would need to be purchased digitally, but is updated without much effort from the library, while the other is freely available online.

So now what about the special interests such as Encyclopedia of Middle – Earth or Guide to Neo-Paganism. Both these types of special interest books are not going to change much in 5,10, or 15 years, so they may be able to stay on the shelf a bit longer, without them being replaced. The problem is that spending money in a public library on stuff that is readily available through a simple google search just might not pass mustard with your library board.

At my library I am struggling with that question of keeping it, updating it or tossing it. Some people may think this is a no brainer, but in a small library do I keep the encyclopedia on Canada from 1989 or the Wordsworth dictionary? Do I ditch the books on general history that have not gone out in 15 years or do I minimize the collection to special interest/specific generalities like the Encyclopedia of Home Remedies. Whats a budget strapped public librarian to do?