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Tip of the Hat

22 November 2019

Leaving Platforms and Patrons Behind

Welcome to this week’s Tip of the Hat!

Remember when the online library catalog was just a telnet client? For some of you, you might even remember the process of moving from the card catalog to an online catalog. The library catalog has seen many different forms in recent decades.

The most recent wave of transitions is the migration from an old web catalog – in most cases an OPAC that came standard with an ILS – to a newer discovery layer. This discovery layer is typically hosted by the vendor and offers the ability to search for a wider array of collections and materials. Another main draw of the discovery layers in the market is the enhanced user experience. Many discovery layers allow users to add content to the site, including ratings, comments, and sharing their reading lists to others on the site.

While being able to provide newer services to patrons is important, this also brings up a dilemma for libraries. Many discovery layers are hosted by vendors, and many have separate Terms of Service and Privacy Policies attached to their products outside of the library’s policies. The majority of library catalogs that the discovery layers are meant to replace are locally hosted by the library, and fall under the library’s privacy policies. Libraries who made the transition to the discovery layer more often than not left their older catalog up and running, marketed as the “classic” catalog. However, the work necessary to keep up two catalogs can be substantial, and some libraries have retired their classic catalogs, leaving only the discovery layer for patrons to use.

The dilemma – How will the library provide a core library service to patrons objecting to the vendor's TOS or privacy policy when the library only offers one way to access that core service?

We can use the Library Bill of Rights [LBR] interpretations from ALA to help guide us through this dilemma. The digital access interpretations of the LBR provides some guidance:

Users have the right to be free of unreasonable limitations or conditions set by libraries, librarians, system administrators, vendors, network service providers, or others. Contracts, agreements, and licenses entered into by libraries on behalf of their users should not violate this right… As libraries increasingly provide access to digital resources through third-party vendors, libraries have a responsibility to hold vendors accountable for protecting patrons’ privacy. [Access to Digital Resources and Services: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights]

Moving core services to third-party vendors can create a barrier between patrons and the library, particularly when that barrier is the vendor’s TOS or privacy policy. The library then needs to decide what next steps to take. One step is to negotiate with the vendor regarding changes to the TOS and privacy policy-based to address patron concerns. Another step is a step that several libraries have opted for – keeping the classic catalog available to patrons alongside the discovery layer. Each step has its advantages and disadvantages in terms of resources and cost.

The classic catalog/discovery layer dilemma is a good example of how offering newer third-party platforms to provide core library services can create privacy dilemmas for your patrons and potentially lock them out from using core services. If your library finds itself making such a transition – be it the library catalog or another core service platform - the ALA Privacy Checklists and the interpretations of the LBR can help guide libraries through the planning process. Regardless of the actions taken by the library, ensuring that all patrons have access to core library services should be a priority, and that includes taking privacy concerns to account when replacing core service platforms.
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