Happy belated Spring Equinox to our fellow Northern Hemisphere dwellers! It doesn’t exactly feel like spring for many folks, but soon enough, there will be leaves on the trees, flowers in the gardens, and pollen in the air. So, so much pollen. Pollen that makes you sneeze even if you haven’t ventured outside in days and have all the windows and doors closed. Pollen that coats your car to the point where you can’t see out of the windshield. Pollen clouds. Pollen is everywhere. It’s like nature’s version of glitter.
The analogy of pollen-as-glitter doesn’t quite match up one-to-one. For example, limiting the amount of glitter we come into contact with is easier than limiting the amount of pollen unless you take drastic measures (like moving to another part of the world to avoid certain types of pollen). However, we have a more accurate analogy to form – data as glitter. Here are some ways data is like glitter from our tweet in 2020:
Hot take – Data is not the new oil. Data is the new glitter:
– Lures humans in with its shininess
– Very easy to accumulate
– Found in places you least likely expect to find it
– Almost impossible to get rid of
– Everyone insists on using it w/o thinking through the consequences
We all had a glitter phase – all glitter, all the time. For some of us, though, we are the ones who are left cleaning up after someone somewhere in the building used any glitter. The nature of glitter – the attractiveness of the shininess, the ease of getting a hold of glitter, the lightweight and aerodynamic nature of individual glitter specks – is sure to be a recipe of disaster if there are no guidelines in place in using it. Parents and educators might already know a few of these guidelines: laying down plastic or paper over the workspace for easy cleanup, not leaving glitter containers open when not in use, and washing hands when finished working with glitter. For such tiny specks of plastic, it takes a lot of effort to ensure that the glitter doesn’t get everywhere and on everyone.
Data is like glitter. If there are no guidelines or measures to control the use and flow of data, you will have multiple versions of the same data set in various places. In previous #DataSpringCleaning posts, we talk about electronic and physical data retention and deletion, but that only addresses some of the privacy risks we face when working with data. For those unfortunate enough to have to clean up after a glitter explosion, it’s nearly impossible to get all the glitter if control measures were not put in place. The same is true with data – left unrestricted, data will get everywhere, making it almost impossible to delete. It also makes it practically impossible to control who has access, what is shared, and even when it’s appropriate to work with patron data.
For this year’s #DataSpringCleaning, we’re taking a proactive approach to avoid cleaning up explosion after explosion of glitter-like data. What are some ways you can limit the spread of patron data in your library or organization? The data lifecycle is a great place to start:
- What data do you absolutely need to collect to do what you need to do?
- Where should you keep the data?
- Who should have access to the data?
- How should the data be shared, if at all?
- How do you clean up after the data is no longer used or needed?
Another place to start is to get into the habit of asking if you truly need to use patron data in the first place. Some of the worst glitter cleanups come from times when glitter use was absolutely unnecessary – for example before you use that glitter bath bomb, do you really need to have glitter all over yourself and your bathtub and your bathroom and your pets who enter the bathroom and your carpet and your furniture and your clothes and everyone who comes into contact with you or the other glittered surfaces? The answer is almost always “no.”
Stopping to ask yourself if patron data is needed in the first place to do the thing that you need to do is one of the best ways to avoid putting patron privacy at risk at your library. Thinking about data in terms of glitter can help you get into the habit of being more judicious about when to use patron data and how it should be used to limit unmitigated messes that will take considerable amounts of time to clean up. Data is glitter – plan accordingly!