What a librarian can teach you about privacy

Over On Computer World Mark Hall Writes: Let's face it: When it comes to keeping data secure, there's plenty that IT can learn from librarians. Just as ALA members ensure that their patrons' reading habits remain strictly private by establishing privacy audits, so, too, can CIOs audit their systems to ensure that customer and employee data is protected, says Caldwell-Stone. Privacy audits keep customer and employee content under wraps and can protect companies from embarrassing revelations. Librarians have been trained to consider privacy ramifications surrounding access to content. They guard those rights vigorously and are a great example for CIOs designing secure systems. Just ask them. Quietly, of course.


It's probably nitpicking, but in a an article that mentions technical aspects of privacy it should probably be clarified. I'd argue that security with regards to IT usually has a more narrow meaning. What the article is talking about is measures taken to protect and respect people's privacy in regards to legal techniques and social interactions. Things like don't sell your patron information, try to make sure it's clear if someone tries to force you to disclose information, being willing to go to jail if necessary, etc. This is different from the act of securing privacy in an IT sense. Here we're talking about encrypted systems, authentication and authorization, access procedures.

For a really bad analogy it's the difference between suing someone who broke into your house and taking steps to actively secure the house by putting in alarm systems or heavy doors and locks. From what I've seen librarians have been quite incredible at the former, but typically are behind the curve in the latter.

I agree with Jon Gorman. What is being compared is apples and oranges. I'm not so sure I agree with the articles that librarians can teach IT (in general) a lot "about keeping data secure." I can tell you that I am quite confident that the campus IT department at the last two places I worked are very good at this and could teach librarians (including myself) a lot about data security methods.

Keeping data private is a possibility where librarians might have a leg up - but then again I'm not so sure that this is universally true. Not that most librarians don't care and work to protect patron's privacy. I just think that the author of this article is selling a lot of IT folks short. Many IT departments have the same privacy concerns and ethics as librarians.

Actually, librarians do have a great deal to teach IT people about the technical aspects of privacy and security. The Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC) is where military reports go, and their security has been studied by many computer people since they must have a secure site to host classified, as well as unclassified, reports. See their site at: http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/index.html

R. Lee Hadden (These are my own opinions!)

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