Argue a Point of View – Recommendation Newsletters

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    • #1274
      Chris Sonneveld

      Statement: Public libraries should exploit patrons’ data to provide them with customised reading recommendation newsletters like those provided by Amazon and GoodReads.

      Public libraries should not exploit patrons’ data for customised reading recommendations because there are services that exist that can do a better job. Amazon and GoodReads are two websites that can provide you with recommendations which are based on previous books you have read. in the case of GoodReads, in 2013 they estimated that their membership was in excess of twenty-five million members which means their recommendations have the potential to be more accurate than those generated from data collected through smaller organisations.

      Due to the nature of the data lifecycle as highlighted by Allison (2015), entities that collect data need have a large number of important roles to ensure the security, accessibility and storage of large amounts of data. For libraries this would me a vast amounts of storage media that not only requires additional real estate on top of the limited spaced to accommodate a library’s physical media, they also need to be maintained, updated and its data securely stored. There is always the option to keep a patron’s data as anonymous but this would limit its use. If enough data points are collected then it is possible to identify an individual and it is impossible to predict whether public libraries will be open to litigation if personal data is made public if servers aren’t made secure or encrypted. It may be easier not to collect this data at all or leave the responsibility of storing data with a 3rd party.

      Some library patrons may see recommendations as another form of spam and wish to opt-out. To be able to effectively and accurately recommend content to someone you must have already collect a large amount of data. If a library didn’t allow users to opt-out of newsletters as a means of increasing the pool of data it may deter library patrons. If a library offered an opt-out features then this would reduce the quality of recommendations as the amount of data pooled from library patrons would be limited.

      Existing recommendation tools from large companies like Amazon usually integrate with their own products and services as part of a long term strategy to create a larger ecosystem. For example, Amazon’s Kindle apps, available on a range of mobile devices, can be used by most people with a mobile device and also used by people that could potentially never use public libraries, let alone recommendation services provided by them. Matsuoka-Motley (2011) suggests that public libraries could outsource recommendations services as larger companies have the resources and reach to provide a better service. This is the only way I can see a public library provide this type of service without wasting resources. At present public libraries usually have a shared catalogue search portal. If this could be combined with a recommendation services that could recommend content that is available through the existing library catalogue accessible by user without having to wait for their next newsletter then I think public libraries would have an effective tool for promoting the content that they have on offer. As highlighted by in the Economist (2014), problems may arise if user data is shared with a 3rd party which would reduce a public libraries control over a user’s data and may deter some library patrons.

      The arguments against a recommendation newsletter highlighted above suggest that it would be a waste of a libraries resources to try and compete with larger organisations providing a much more seamless and ever expanding service eg. Amazon and GoodReads. Public libraries should not waste valuable resources in implementing and maintaining a recommendation newsletter and instead should invest in areas that these larger companies do not provide and that it to give the public freely available physical and digital content that is regularly updated and accessible to a as many members of the public as possible.

      Update: Please find supporting references via the links above.

    • #1507
      Stacey Larner

      Hi Chris, interesting argument! It would be good if you provided hyperlinked references in the post as some of the things you said I wanted to see some back up evidence for. I didn’t think it would be that painful to store a lot of data, although your point about security is very valid and you are definitely right that some patrons would HATE recommendations (just as some really love Amazon’s recommendations). Do you think users who would be cranky about libraries storing their data would be more cranky about a 3rd party doing it though?

    • #1524
      Caitlin .

      Hi Chris,

      I agree with your point of view wholeheartedly although possibly for different reasons the storing and gathering of data by a public organisation would be a breach of trust and perhaps over reach their intended purpose. I am not so sure a 3rd party doing it would be well received either.

      If they wish to engage a readers information to offer targeted RA this must be in response to a direct request. Sites such as Amazon are commercial entities with very different intentions then a public library. Libraries can offer blog posts and tweets etc where patrons can subscribe if desired and can could also provide an avenue where readers can engage with the library and other readers offering suggestions and interacting over reading lists. Whole collection RA where readers can engage with a multimedia program related to a text or topic allow readers to interact with each other and the library on their own terms.Perhaps their suggestions and queries can guide the library as to user needs or users not partaking oin the libraries services.

      Collecting mass personal data to to market RA to individuals would be a costly excercise and open up issues of privacy and the potential for corporate interference.

      The collection of data such as website traffic, downloads of RA lists or in person visits can better assist a library to target services and determine relevance as can a well worded survey.Both without he need to collect personal information.

      I am surprised your post has not created more debate! It was much food for thought.


    • #2065
      Chris Sonneveld

      Thank you for your response Stacey. Even though I can see how services can be improved by the collection of data, I personally don’t like handing it over to businesses because I do not think businesses are taking enough precautions to look after it. One prime example being Target and the data breach that occurred back in 2013. I found the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner rather informative when trying to understand the ways businesses manage personal data. Unfortunately, in Australia it is only mandatory for businesses that handle Personally Controlled Electronic Health Records (PCEHR) to notify the public of data breaches.

      Your question regarding library patrons being cranky if their library was offering their data up to a 3rd party through the access to one of their services, I think that there will always be users who are cranky with 3rd party gaining access to their data. This is why a library would need to be transparent when offering a service that was linked with a 3rd party. I think users should always be given the option to opt-out of a service like this and that patrons should feel they have control over what a library does with the data they are collecting on them. I still think that patron would have a lot to gain from allowing a 3rd party to offer a recommendation service if they were to give up some data relating to their lending habits so they can help predict users needs and identify new business opportunities.



    • #2066
      Chris Sonneveld

      Thank you Caitlin for your response. I really enjoyed reading your observations regarding intentions of commercial entities. This is something I find fascinating as these companies rely heavily on personal information to target their products and services. Like I was saying to Stacey, I think users should always be given the option to opt-out of any service that gathers personal data even if it’s only data on their lending. It is also interesting to read how some users do not mind handing over personal data to business in exchange for an improved user experience with their service.

      Thank you for your insight into RA services that don’t necessary need to collect personal data and the different methods libraries can used to help patrons choose their next book. For smaller businesses there is no need to implement big data collection though some larger libraries or libraries that share a lot of resources may be able to benefit outside of RA. I really like your idea of creating a small connected community online through services like Twitter which is something that patrons who might not have easy access to their local library would really benefit from.

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