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Privacy and Cloud Computing in Public Libraries

Public libraries are increasingly turning to cloud computing solutions to satisfy their technological needs in order to best serve patrons, while simultaneously taking advantage of new opportunities for cost savings, flexibility, and enhanced data management. These cloud services are typically provided by third parties who have built robust solutions to help libraries deliver resources, services, and expertise efficiently, and encourage patrons to socialize and leverage the power of the community of users. Examples of cloud computing platforms for libraries include OCLC WorldShare, Ex Libris Alma, and BiblioCommons.

The use of cloud computing in libraries, however, has the potential to disrupt longstanding ethical norms within librarianship dedicated to protecting patron privacy. While librarians have historically engaged in professional practices that limit retention of patron data and protected confidentiality, cloud computing platforms are largely based on the tracking, collection, and aggregation of user data.

Starting in 2015, CIPR is engaging in a pilot research study to help us understand how libraries are implementing third-party cloud computing services, how these implementations might impact patron privacy, and how libraries are responding to these concerns. The results of the research will include a summary report of findings, and the development of a set of best practices to guide future implementations of cloud computing in public library settings, with the goal of finding a suitable balance between the need to provide cost-effective technology-based services while also protecting patron privacy.

Click here to find answers to Frequently Asked Questions about the project

Dr. Michael Zimmer has posted some personal reflections on the project at his website.