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The Great Privacy Contradiction

Facebook (and other social sites) is pretty interesting and presents quite the conundrum for librarians. Here we have what is arguably the largest sharing site in the world (libraries, at their core, share resources and conversations) and yet some argue avoiding this ‘place’.

We are a social services profession and have to be public to do what we do and create and add value to the relationship of information to those who need information. On the other hand we greatly value confidentiality, privacy and openness of information access.

That’s just the first potential contradiction.

Some folk, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, are advising folks to get off Facebook NOW! Some are talking about how to remain and the benefits of Facebook. It’d be humourous if it wasn’t so sad in the extension of a problem into a B&W choice instead of a more nuanced solution.

Employers have a reasonable expectation that their information professionals should have a moderate to high level of knowledge about how to manage these social web tools and advise enterprises on their use in social institutions like libraries, schools, academia and public institutions. I expect most experts that I consult to have personal knowledge and experience of the domain in which they provide advice.

It seems to me that publicly advocating exiting Facebook and giving up on learning (and keeping up to date with) the ability to manage and control your settings is admitting publicly that your skills as an information professional are inadequate. Not participating in lobbying and monitoring social sites to influence their direction is a bad strategy. Choosing not to participate in the same social spaces as the majority of our users [in most situations] seems unwise, at best, and demonstrably detached at worst. How does one remain relevant if one isn’t where the users are? Face to face users are not always the same profile as virtual users.

I recall an era when I heard colleagues saying that they would never get a fax, never use voicemail, never get an e-mail account, (or worse they only checked their e-mail once a week!), etc. This was usually accompanied by an outward sense of self-satisfaction that communicated the opposite of what they intended to present to the world. They’d declare loudly that e-mail was too expensive proving their lack of knowledge of free e-mail services. I can name some ‘big’ library names who declared in writing that the web or blogging were short term fads and would have no relevanceto the future of librarianship. I doubt that they fully realized how that made them appear to others including potential employers who might be looking to fill positions or to current employers who might be looking for whom to cull. In hunting terms the deer were wearing flourescent jackets in the woods.

There are lots of sites, easily discoverable on the web, to address social site literacy but these postings and articles are a nice place to start.

Time to Audit Your Facebook Privacy Settings, Here’s How
by Gina Trapani at Fast Company

10 Reasons to NOT Quit Facebook
by David Lee King on May 4, 2010

My Facebook Privacy Settings
by David Lee King on May 4, 2010

Many of these newish social services are evolving (such as the recent introduction of GIS-oriented services like Foursquare and Gowalla, and Facebook). As information professionals we need to explore and play with these and if they don’t meet our needs in the context of our work then we can discard or replace them. Our professional opinions will be sought and it should be an informed opinion through experience and professional judgment. If you’re not impressed then you would at least have a good reason based in fact and experience, rather than speculation and imagination.

I suspect some folks will be annoyed by this post but I felt the need to say what most are too polite to tell people to their faces when they declare their lack of facility with the newer social and information tools.


Posted on: May 7, 2010, 4:02 pm Category: Uncategorized