It’s a common thing these days to hear about data breaches or to get a letter in the mail from your credit card company, your healthcare provide, or a retail store where you recently shopped informing you that your information may have gotten into the wrong hands. For the most part, this is a technical problem though it could just as well be a problem of a lack of strong internal policies and procedures by those who hold our valuable private information.

Within the library community, we’ve seen the technical side of this problem most clearly during the Adobe Digital Editions concern that happened last October. The reaction from the library community was pretty clear – as a profession we care about patron privacy so we much hold ourselves and our vendors accountable to take care of this information.

I agree with this statement and the technical component seems fairly easy in the grand scheme of things. What I believe to be a trickier conversation to have amongst librarians, publishers, and systems providers is about what our policies are around patron privacy. When there’s so much to gain from translating raw patron data into meaningful and useful information to learn about our communities or improve services and products, how do know where to draw the line on use or non-use of our patron’s information?

We, as information professionals providing resources, services, and materials to the general public (whether we do this by working in a library, or as a publisher or by building tools library patrons will use), must come up with a set of principles. I am especially impressed with the recently-released Student Data Principles which already has over 30 organizations signed on, including AASL.  I recently interviewed the folks behind these principles at COSN and the Data Quality Campaign.

If we can work towards general principles like this, we can create a foundation where all interested stakeholders agree. At that point we can move forward on the substantial work of fixing policies, procedures and technical infrastructure, and the fun work of sharing unique ways libraries, publishers and systems providers have creatively used data to learn about their users and enhance services to them.

This is why I am so excited to be part of the Mellon-funded NISO-supported initiative Consensus Framework to Support Patron Privacy in Digital Library and Information Systems with Todd Carpenter, Nettie Lagace, Lisa Hinchcliffe, Michael Zimmer, Peter Brantley, Eric Helman, and Daniel Ayala. Look for more form us between now and ALA Annual. After all feedback we receive via webcasts and an in-person intensive set of activities after ALA, we’ll hopefully have some of that foundation built.