Week 5: Argue A Point!

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      Nicole Steer
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      Argue a point
      Public libraries should exploit patrons’ data to provide them with customised reading recommendation newsletters like those provided by Amazon and GoodReads.”

      The first thing about this point that… bothers me, I suppose, is the word “exploit”. I’m not a fan of it! You never win anyone to your side by saying you’ll “exploit” their data, even if the service you’re offering is a good one. It just has way too many negative connotations attached. The “should” worries me, too – it implies a moral imperative to do it. Okay, I’m getting a bit stuck on the semantics here, but if I know one thing from debating, from creating surveys to gather statistical data, or just plain creative writing, it’s that the way you phrase something can dramatically change people’s opinions on it.

      I would tentatively agree that a user’s library experience could be improved by the usage of customised reading recommendations derived from their borrowing history. I would very much argue against it being something that<i>should </i>happen. Like many people in this unit, I have subscriptions to a number of places that recommend books, ebooks, and other information based on my reading history and browsing history. I’m okay with this, because I have consciously opted-in. I have ticked a box given and permission for my half-a-dozen personal library apps, book store apps, etc to give me recommendations. I’m fine with it even though I’ve got a few embarrassing entries in there. At the same time, if, say, Woolworths sent me an email one day that said they’ve been tracking my purchases through my EFTPOS card (purely hypothetical… I hope) and here’s a list of quality items they recommend I pick up this week, I would feel invaded and more than a bit ready to sue – because I didn’t give them permission to do this. The actual contents of my shopping trolley are probably less an invasion into my privacy than what books I borrow or buy, but the factor that changes everything is consent.

      If done with the user’s consent, I can see this as being a similar extent of what many good librarians will do with their clients, helping build a recommended reading list based on their history. At a public library I work at during the holidays, this is something we have started offering to users after a number of users personally requested it and reported that they found it very useful for them. The first user was a woman who goes through a fantastic number of novels each week, and prefers regency romance novels and historical fiction. Every couple of weeks we go through the stock we’ve just rotated in and set aside the ones we think she’d like that she hasn’t read yet, and order a couple that look promising in from the libraries outside our circle. She comes in once a week and takes the ones she likes while giving feedback on which ones she did or didn’t like (or doesn’t like the look of in the ones we chose), which we note down to help refine or broaden what we’ll get for her next time. We’ve used a few online tools to help us recommend reading material to her as well.

      As far as I can tell, so long as the information isn’t sold on to third parties and it is all done with the user’s express permission, this could be something that could benefit both libraries and the users. (Side note: this may also mean age-restricting this service, as we get into the legally sketchy area of “Can an eight-year-old <i>really</i> give consent for their information to be used in any way?” that is the reason behind every “You have to be 13+ to complete this survey/enter this competition/etc”.)

      • This topic was modified 5 years, 1 month ago by Nicole Steer.
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