The American Library Association has always been a reasoned and reasonable voice for privacy in libraries and the wider community. I was interested to learn they are doing a panel tomorrow at their annual get-together in Anaheim, California entitled "Privacy: Is it time for a revolution":
Protecting reader privacy and confidentiality has long been an integral part of the mission of ALA and its members. Should it continue to be a priority? In an age when people increasingly use social networking to expose intimate life details, does privacy still matter to information seekers? Does anyone care if their library records and online searches are being tracked? If they don't, why should they? A panel of thought leaders from the information economy including author Cory Doctorow, Wired senior writer Dan Roth, and Privacy Rights Clearinghouse director Beth Givens will debate the importance of privacy and what's at stake if the persistent erosion of privacy continues unchecked. Join us for a provocative examination of a librarian's role in the future of privacy.
In looking into the session, I happened upon the following outrageous story out of Cleveland.
Lakewood library aggressive on checking computer users for porn- cleveland.comI think this is the first time I've ever heard such sentiments from a library professional, who usually advocate computers in libraries as often the sole source of internet access for those without the resources to purchase their own. Should only those who can afford privacy have access to it?
... Every 15 minutes, a staff member takes a stroll around the center to make sure library patrons are not looking at pornography, engaging in illegal gambling or visiting other questionable Web sites.
Now the library, which recently opened a new technology center, might expand its monitoring policy by using free software, called virtual network computing, that allows librarians to remotely monitor what a patron is viewing on a computer screen.
Warren has been an avid supporter of keeping an eye on the public access computers since the library first offered the Internet to patrons in 1995.
"If you need privacy, you should get your own computer," Warren said.
Warren's views on privacy for library computer users clash with those of the American Library Association, the oldest and largest library organization in the United States.
The association recommends that a library set a comprehensive, written Internet policy, distribute the policy widely and then respect the privacy of patrons.
Update: Notes from the session are up at: The Shifted Librarian » ALA2008 Privacy Revolution Panel and Loose Cannon Librarian » Privacy Panel ALA 2008.