Very interesting little read.
Back in 1995, printing company Quad/Graphics didn't let its employees in Saratoga, New York, access the internet. But that didn't stop the workers from figuring out a way to get online during business hours.
The employees dialed long distance -- that was a thing back then -- to a free dial-up internet service called Libraries Without Walls that was offered through the Southern Adirondack Library System and used their library cards to log on. Over a span of 18 months, they surfed a total of 1,770 hours and racked up $23,000 in phone bills.
Unsurprisingly, Quad/Graphics wasn't happy. So the company asked the library system to give it the names of the employees who used the service. The library refused and when taken to court, a judge backed it up.
The Next Chapter is a multipart series that examines the changing role of libraries in a connected world.James Martin/CNET
The incident underscores the lengths to which librarians go to protect patron privacy. But the world has gotten more complicated since the days of dial-up. As National Library Week kicks off, librarians face tough questions on how to balance the benefits of electronic resources with the library's commitment to privacy.
"Privacy ensures that there's no chilling effect," said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, deputy director of the Office of Intellectual Freedom at the American Library Association, "so you don't avoid a topic because you fear the judgment of neighbors or your government."
The new technology environment is at odds with the traditional role libraries have played as champions of privacy. Librarians stood up to the US government over requirements in the 2001 USA Patriot Act to share records with law enforcement. They designed policies that require that records of the books you've checked out are deleted as soon as you return them. And they've pushed every US state to adopt protections for patron records.
E-books and audiobooks, now standard at libraries, make protecting privacy harder. Titles are usually provided through private companies, which can access your data. And today's software can create more comprehensive records about you than a simple list of the books you checked out.