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Inside Annoyed Librarian

No One Chooses Privacy

Here we are in the middle of Choose Privacy Week, and I hadn’t even noticed. The ever busy and vigilant ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom is also concerned about our privacy. According to the press release: "The campaign gives libraries the tools they need to educate and engage users, and gives citizens the resources to think critically and make more informed choices about their privacy."

Supposedly, "Privacy has long been the cornerstone of library services in America, a freedom that librarians defend every day." However, those librarians have been concerned with the privacy of patron records and stuff like that, not their patrons’ privacy in other areas. The OIF might be sticking its nose into areas that people would prefer to remain private. I know I don’t want some librarian sniffing around in my private areas.

Like many areas, this also seems to be one that librarians are much more concerned about than the general public. And some librarians aren’t even that concerned. Just think about all the ones who don’t like it that my identity is private. They’re probably going gaga over privacy week in their confused and hypocritical way.

The public doesn’t really care, though. Oh sure, they don’t want their social security or bank account numbers stolen, but only because bad people can do bad things to them. Otherwise, fewer people than ever really choose privacy. We live in a culture where privacy–along with shame and accountability–is dying a slow death.

We can find some very good examples of this in a couple of popular tools that many librarians love: Facebook and Twitter.

Facebook (and its less popular brethren out there) pretty much proves that most people don’t care about their privacy. People love to expose themselves to the world. The reasons why are less clear. Some losers just think they’re awesome and want everyone to know about it. Some people are just so desperate for any even semi-human connection in this world they’ll accept this poor, pale substitute for friendship.

And think of all the things people do on Facebook, all those stupid games and quizzes and gifts and pokes and fan pages. Your likes and dislikes and interests and favorite everything. And people love it. Some people want to share their entire lives with the whole world, and others–the ones worried about their privacy–are only willing to share it with huge numbers of people they barely know of and have never met.

There are of course people who use Facebook to keep up with real friends and family far away, but there are a lot more who just use it to expose themselves and their insufferably boring lives. Until Twitter came along, Facebook status updates were the best way to figure out just how pathetic and sad some people’s lives really were. How boring and desperate for attention must one be to think the world cares about what you’re eating, or whether you’re folding your laundry, or what TV show you’re watching.

On the other hand, it has at least made it possible for intelligent and successful people to see what losers their high school bullies have become.

And then we have Twitter, the absolutely best medium for people who have nothing to say but want the world to pay attention to them. While there’s no doubt great stuff being shared on Twitter, such as links to the latest AL post, 90% of it could be automatically generated with a program that just Tweeted "Look at me! LOOK AT ME!" every five minutes. If only it could jump up and down while shouting, lots of Twits would be in paradise.

That used to be what people with nothing to say used blogs for. Out in the world there are millions of abandoned Blogger and Livejournal pages with the barely coherent ramblings of desperate, lonely people who wanted to share their insipid mumblings with the world. Now those same people can do it more quickly and easily without even having to go to a computer.

Not only do people not care about privacy, a lot of librarians don’t really care about it either. The same ones who don’t respect my privacy think the entire job of librarians is to help people be less private. "Librarians need to show people how to use blogs and Twitter and Facebook andMySpace and Youtube and Flikr and every other tool designed to eliminate privacy!" Most of us ignore these librarians because they spout nonsense, but plenty believe them.

They’re also the least private among librarians, always "sharing" with us and shamelessly promoting themselves. Those librarians certainly don’t value privacy.

My advice to the Office of Intellectual Freedom, which I’m sure they’ll take very seriously, is to focus on intellectual freedom and leave people’s lack of privacy alone. If they wanted to be private, they’d be private. What they really want is to be very unprivate, but with no bad consequences. Short of identity theft, they don’t seem to care about any consequences. They just want some sort of recognition that the world never gives them.

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Comments

  1. will manley says:

    The real AL is back, finally! Great post.

  2. doug says:

    New technology shun privacy. With cloud computing and apps for smart phones people don’t own anyhting and there for have given up any claim of privacy.

  3. commented: says:

    Damn.

    I miss the old days when only the spinster librarians knew my business and spread the gossip around about what I was reading.

  4. Mr. Kat says:

    We were never given the right to be freely invisible.

  5. In The Stacks says:

    Apart from the basic functional uses of Facebook, Twitter et al, such as promoting upcoming events, and which might be better effected through other means, I have yet to hear one of these wide-eyed librarians offer a convincing case for WHY libraries should be using or promoting these technologies…so many of them read like those abandoned blogs of which you speak… Keep up the great post: your voice helps balance out the largely-unquestioned “status quo.”

  6. ElderLibrarian says:

    So true, Mr. Kat. This is something that the would-be bomber of Times Square did not realize. It didn’t take very long for law enforcement to find him.

  7. Yar says:

    Sad thing is that many of the twopointohians have conned and bullied their way to positions of leadership – and they have little but contempt for conventional library services to regular citizens and particularly for non techie citizens over 40.

    For those libraries – the waste of time and effort continues. I blame the ALA, Library Journal, the stupid movers and shakers lists, the library schools and the whole overhyped grasping for straws approach to the issues of the day. If you had a reference question to get answered or a book to find – would you go to a mover and shaker who outreached, marketed, created a program – or someone who was on desk alot?

  8. soren faust says:

    “…with the barely coherent ramblings of desperate, lonely people who wanted to share their insipid mumblings with the world.”

    There is definitely elitism in this statement as well as in the sentiment of the entire post. I, myself, have elitist tendencies, until, of course, I realize that I’m probably one of “them” and not elite.

    By this, I mean, I’m just one of many with a relatively small voice existing in a democracy that encourages everyone to speak out and have an opinion on just about everything no matter how banal or misinformed that opinion may be.

    Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. knew this, and being the good liberal he was, supported public mechanisms against the tendencies toward ignorance so typical of the public. These mechanisms have largely failed because people tend to forget that many choose to be ignorant even when offered the opportunity not to be ignorant.

    So I will say this: aren’t we all (though, not necessarily willfully ignorant) i.e., those who comment on this blog, one of “them,” a small voice in a vast public?

    Small voices, typically frustrated, and definitely powerless to change anything substantially in the field known as librarianship: so we comment on the AL blog as a sort of pressure value function to alleviate the tension caused by our relative lack of power, and perhaps to assuage the painful fact that we know our level of incompetence all-too-well?

    Over.

  9. Ray says:

    Amen Yar.

    Fortunately in my community, we have librarians who have shunned the whole technological bent the library world seems on chasing.

    It is refreshing to go into a library where there are not hoards of kids playing video games, books arranged like a Borders, and librarians looking like they just came from the Borg collective with all kinds of devices and wires hanging off them.

    Of course, it takes them some good quality time to write out and interfile the index cards on new books that are being placed into the system, reference questions have to be of the highest quality to meet the standards of the print indexes that have to be consulted, and I patrons have to get used to the library being open 9 to 2:30 Monday through Friday.

    Libraries should NEVER have to bend their standards to the user, ever. Eventually, this will weed out all of the Johnny-Come-Lately librarians and users and libraries will be the solid white ivory towers that they should be.

    God Bless You All!

  10. Disappointed says:

    Privacy DOES matter to people. Take a look at epic.org, eff.org, ftc.gov/privacy, etc. People share things, but that doesn’t mean that they intend to give up control of their information. Connection also matters to people, and I think this is a positive, human quality. The issue is finding a way to balance between the personal and the shared. This is such an interesting and timely topic. I wish your post had been more thoughtful and less hateful.

  11. Spekkio says:

    I have to strongly disagree with the AL on this. First, while I tend to be very skeptical of the ALA’s purpose and activities, this “Choose Privacy” week could not have come at a better time, given the newest battle over privacy controls on Facebook. (I would provide a URL with information for those who aren’t familiar with the topic, but for some reason, this system won’t allow it.)

    Second, Facebook can be a very useful tool. Not only does it help friends communicate, it facilitates new friendships, new gatherings, and communications between people who share interests or values. It has also proven to be useful for political and social organizing and activities.

    Third, when the AL talks about “desperate” people (paragraph six) I truly hope she didn’t mean to insult people who use Facebook as a means of connecting to people because they have difficulties (y’know, DISABILITIES) that prevent them from engaging in the “real” interactions that so many people take for granted. How many people with disabilities use Facebook and other social networking tools to make their lives better? I don’t know – I do know that a team at Carnegie Mellon University is studying it.

    Perhaps the AL just forgot about us – people with autism, Asperger’s syndrome, social anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, anthropophobia, etc – and didn’t mean to insult a sizeable minority. I hope that’s the case, anyway.

  12. Raynor says:

    Of course, it takes them some good quality time to write out and interfile the index cards on new books that are being placed into the system, reference questions have to be of the highest quality to meet the standards of the print indexes that have to be consulted, and I patrons have to get used to the library being open 9 to 2:30 Monday through Friday.

    Because we are obviously faced with a choice between using index cards or using every single technological innovation that exists. And god forbid someone actually determines whether something is useful before demanding that every single library in the country use it and condemning those who don’t as luddites.

    Privacy DOES matter to people. Take a look at epic.org, eff.org, ftc.gov/privacy, etc. People share things, but that doesn’t mean that they intend to give up control of their information.

    Three sites with Alexa rankings of 129,302; 17,888; and 6,786, respectively. Meanwhile, Facebook and Twitter are 2 and 12. A site that people gave their credit card numbers to, and which then proceeded to leak those credit card numbers, broke into the top 15,000.

  13. anonymous says:

    Facebook and other social networking sites would be of very little value if people didn’t share personal information. That doesn’t mean SSIDs or credit card numbers, of course, but if people don’t share primarily personal information, the sites will dry up. It’s why people join them and continue using them. So says Uses and Gratifications theory and any number of other theories from Soc/Psyc.

  14. Stinky Pete says:

    The basic reason that librarians, for the most part, hate Facebook, twitter, etc is the fact that you need friends to be really involved with those sites.

    Librarians are generally recluses who travel from work to their small shack, where they live alone, tend their 10 cats, and plant a sensible vegetable garden.

    Social life has past them by at the age of 17.

  15. Library Goddess says:

    Eat or be eaten. You too can be irrelevant. I say, if you wanna be private, ok. If you wanna hang all your wash out in public, go for it.

  16. Stinky Pete says:

    I have no friends.

    For real.

    This is not a troll post, just a statement of fact.

    And if you knew me, you would know that I am incapable of sustained human contact.

    It is why I became a librarian, I love books not people.

  17. Anonymous says:

    I love how you use your outstanding information-gathering skills to prove your point. Your research and writing skills are so amazing that it’s not tedious at all to read the data you collected–you seamlessly make it sound like a blog conversation written by an embittered crab. I’m sure those idiots at the NY Times, who published Tell All Generation Learns to Keep Things Offline, and Pew feel really dumb now.

  18. Fancy Nancy says:

    Yar – what you said hit the nail on the head: “If you had a reference question to get answered or a book to find – would you go to a mover and shaker who outreached, marketed, created a program – or someone who was on desk alot?”

    The people who use our library use our services at the reference desk all day long. And yet, the powers that be here – the program planners, mainly – are looking to do away with the reference desk. It’s so very very sad.

  19. Bill says:

    “Librarians need to show people how to use blogs and Twitter and Facebook andMySpace and Youtube and Flikr and every other tool designed to eliminate privacy!”

    This is the most alarmist and misleading way possible to phrase this sentiment. Sharing information is technically eliminating privacy, I suppose, but it’s not as though there’s some sort of Privacy Reservoir out there that’s being drained by every Twitter post. In other words, you can’t eliminate the privacy of anyone else by creating a Facebook profile – so phrasing it in the way you’ve chosen makes little sense. Banal people exist, and technology allows them to moo and baa in a sterile little pen online. Who is it harming? What are you fighting against?

    “They’re also the least private among librarians, always “sharing” with us and shamelessly promoting themselves. Those librarians certainly don’t value privacy.”

    If privacy represents a virtue to you, I’d say that’s fine but it’s basically arbitrary – there’s nothing inherently moral or whatever about keeping to yourself. But if you’re saying that shame should be a virtue – that people should sit down and be quiet or face shame – then I don’t know what to tell you. I don’t think that’s entirely healthy.