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Tip of the Hat

21 November 2019

CRMS 101

Welcome to this week’s Tip of the Hat! Today we have a brief overview of an acronym that is becoming a popular tool in libraries – the customer relationship management system [CRMS] – and how this new player in the library field affects patron privacy. While some folks know about CRMS, there might be others that are not exactly sure what they are, and what they have to do with libraries. Below is a "101"- type guide to help folks get up to speed on the ongoing conversation.

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What is a CRMS?

A customer relationship management system [CRMS] manages an organization’s interactions with customers with the goal to grow and maintain customer relationships with the organization. CRMS products have been used in other fields outside of librarianship for decades, mostly in commercial businesses, but the increased importance in data analysis and improving customer experiences has led for wider adoption of CRMS products in other fields, including libraries.

What is a CRMS used for?

Many organizations use CRMS products to track various communications with customers (email, social media, phone, etc.) as well as data about a customer’s interests, demographics, and other data that can be used for data analysis. This analysis is then used to improve and customize the user experience (targeted marketing, personal recommendations, and invitations, etc.) as well as making business decisions surrounding products, services, and organization-customer relations. This analysis can also be used to create user profiles or for market segmentation research.

What are some examples of CRMS?

There are many proprietary and open source options, though Salesforce is one of the most recognized CRM companies in the overall field. In the library world, several library vendors sell standalone CRMS products, such as OrangeBoy's Savannah. Other library vendors have started offering products that integrate the CRMS into the Integrated Library System [ILS]. OCLC's WISE is one such example of this integration, while other library vendors plan to release their versions in the near future.

What data is collected in a CRMS?

A CRMS is capable of collecting a large quantity of very detailed data about a customer. Types of patron data that can be collected with a library CRMS includes (but not limited to):
  • Demographic information
  • Circulation information like total checkouts, types of materials checked out, and physical location of checkouts
  • Public computer reservation information
  • Electronic resource usage
  • Program attendance
In addition to library supplied data, other data sets from external sources can be imported into the CRMS ranging from US Census data to open data sets from cities and other organizations that could include other demographic information by geographical area (such as zip code) or by other indicators.

How is patron privacy impacted by CRMS?

The amount of information that can be collected by a CRMS is akin to the type of information collected by commercial companies who sell services and products. By creating a user profile, the company can use that information to personalize that customer’s experience and interactions with the company, with the ultimate goal of creating and maintaining return customers. Traditionally libraries do collect and store some of the same information that CRMS products collect; however, it is usually not stored in one central database. Creating a profile of a patron’s use of the library leaves both the library and the patron at high risk for harm on both a personal and organizational level. This user profile is subject to unauthorized access by library staff, data breaches and leaks, or intentional misuse by staff or by the vendor that is hosting the system. This user profile can also be subject to a judicial subpoena, which puts patrons who are part of vulnerable populations at higher risk for personal harm if the information is collected and stored in the CRMS.

Further reading on the conflict between the CRMS, data collection, and library privacy:

What can we do to mitigate privacy risks if we use a CRMS?

If your library chooses to use a CRMS:
  • Limit the type and amount of patron data collected by the system. For data that is collected and stored in the CRMS, consider de-identification methods, such as aggregation, obfuscation, and truncation
  • Perform risk assessments to gauge the level of potential harm connected by collecting and storing certain types of patron information as well as matching up patron information with imported data sets from external sources
  • Negotiate at the contract signing or renewal stage with the vendor regarding privacy and security policies and standards around the collection, storage, access, and deletion/retention of patron data, as well as who is responsible for what in case there is a data breach
  • Perform regular privacy and security audits for both the library and the vendor
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We hope that you find this guide useful! Please feel free to forward or pass along the guide in your organizations if you are having conversations about CRMS adoption or implementation. LDH can also help you through the decision, negotiation, or implementation processes - contact us to learn more!

Have a question or topic that you want us to write about? Email us at newsletter@ldhconsultingservices.com!