Friday, January 25, 2008

Impress Your Professor: Reviewing Reference

So many students and other researchers are now looking for their information online. It's an obvious fact but one that cannot be stated enough. While their are upsided to this migration to the digital reference, the downsides are what drives librarians nuts. In the December/January 2008 ASIS&T Bulletin, Jeffrey Pomerantz discusses the need to evaluate online reference services.

The article is a straightforward breakdown of how a library may go about evaluating their services. Instead of recapping the entire article, I'd like to discuss an important issue that Pomerantz mentions

Pomerantz discusses evaluation from the position of the library. While the transition to digital services has caused problems, when it comes to evaluation, the librarian's job is half done. Online references have statistics making capabilities built into them already: there are timestamps and trackers, server logs and hit counters. A librarian merely needs to click on a file to know who, what, where, and when. Automatic logs of e-mails and instant messages can allow for a more in-depth analysis of reference interactions.

It is here that Pomerantz broaches the subject of privacy. These logs may be handy, but what do they mean for our patrons privacy and confidentiality? Libraries have tended to have a firm stance of privacy; they do not release patron records. In fact, it was a group of librarians in Connecticut who took a stand against privacy issues in the USA Patriot Act.

Patron borrowing records are one thing, but logged conversations are the start of a paper trail that could prove detrimental to our patrons' peace of mind. Person to person conversations all but disappear when they're done. Logged conversations last as long as the file is readable.

In keeping these records, are we librarians opening ourselves up to another level of privacy issues?

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