Tattling Library Elf

Mary Minow's LibraryLaw Blog reports that people using Library Elf to track their checkouts and overdues may have their records exposed like these 228 Bloglines users.

My impression is that this that circulation records wouldn't show if people used a pc-based newsreader instead of a public web-based one like Bloglines.

It's also important to let any outraged people know that this isn't the fault of the libraries because it is the patrons who sign up for Library Elf accounts.


I was afraid that there would be a library card number, or other crucial info attached to the feeds, but thankfully, didn't see any. Just depends on how much you want folks to know about your reading habits. I randomly chose one of the feeds and emailed the person, to see if he knew that their feed was public. I noticed at least one LIS community person on the list--maybe she's following this and can chime in.

I've never read LibraryLaw before, and after reading that post, I certainly won't now; the author is crying murder while exhibiting no technical understanding whatsoever of the situation. She makes wild allegations about a flaw in the RSS format which simply aren't true, while completely missing the quite simple cause of the behavior she witnessed: those users posted their "private" RSS feeds from ELF to a public aggregator (giving the aggregator their ELF RSS authentication information in the process), and either 1) they never set a "private" flag for the feed at the aggregator, or 2) the public aggregator isn't honoring users' privacy preferences (or offering such preferences in the first place). It has nothing to do with ELF (which requires a password to access the feed) or RSS; the fault lies with either the users or the aggregator.

I heard back from the Elf user I wrote to, and he didn't know that his feed was available for all to see. He said he changed his account to not notify him via RSS and that he felt "a little silly." Maybe Library Elf could add this as a helpful hint in their FAQ.

I'd like to think that the libraries that offer it would have a good handle on how Elf works with RSS, with email, etc, and take some responsibility for education patrons who choose to use it.

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