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Wednesday, July 13 • 10:46 - 12:15
Commercial Social Media and the Academic Library: A Critical Examination of the Impact on Patron Privacy

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Location: PSH (Professor Stuart Hall Building) - LG02, 
Goldsmiths, University of London, Building 2
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Contributor: Jeff Lilburn, Mount Allison University, Canada


Recent scholarship in Library and Information Studies (LIS) reveals that commercial social media services such as Facebook and Twitter are used by a vast majority of university libraries in the United States, Canada and elsewhere (for example, Boateng and Liu 2014).  To date, few studies have considered critically the implications of widespread library adoption of social media tools and services.  In particular, the impact that social media use by libraries may have on patron privacy remains underexplored.  Michael Zimmer (2013), for example, has shown that only a small minority of articles on social media and libraries address privacy in a meaningful way.  Zimmer also identifies what he describes as a “policy vacuum” on matters relating to patron privacy and library use of social media tools.  More recently, Sarah Shik Lamdan (2015) has argued that librarians should play a lead role in advocating for social media terms of service that value users’ privacy rights.


This paper critically examines privacy implications of commercial social media from the perspective of the academic library.  Libraries have a long tradition of protecting patron privacy.  Privacy is a core library value that informs and underpins much of the work of librarians, including the protection and promotion of intellectual freedom.  The paper investigates whether library adoption of commercial social media signals acceptance of the idea that erosion of patron privacy is a reasonable and unavoidable tradeoff for the benefits of social media.  It also considers how library use of alternatives to commercial social media platforms may better enable libraries to maintain their role as defenders of patron privacy.  


Building on Christian Fuchs’ analysis of the political economy of social media and his idea of privacy as a “collective right of dominated and exploited groups that need to be protected from corporate domination” (2014), this paper situates library practices surrounding social media within contemporary sociopolitical contexts and power relations.  It also considers scholarly work on privacy and surveillance from related disciplines, including work examining the corporate control of privacy and the role of surveillance as technology of governance. 


Revelations about expansive government agency surveillance and corporate complicity in this surveillance point to a continuing need for the library’s role as defender of patron privacy.  Similarly, as sites of teaching and learning, libraries can help foster understanding of the relationship between privacy and autonomy and of the important role these play in democratic citizenship.  This paper concludes that library use of commercial social media, in the absence of well-developed policy and terms of service that respect user privacy, can conflict with and undermine library and librarian efforts to contest threats to privacy both within and outside the library.

Future Work:

Further research is needed to assess critically the impact that social media may have on the longstanding role of libraries as defenders of patron privacy.  In particular, additional research is needed to examine library use and promotion of alternatives to commercial social media platforms.

References Cited in the Abstract:

Boateng, F., & Liu, Y. Q. (2014).  Web 2.0 applications' usage and trends in top US academic libraries.  Library Hi Tech, 32(1), 120-138.  

Fuchs, C. (2014).  Social Media: A Critical Introduction.  Los Angeles, Sage. 

Lamdan, S. S. (2015).  Social Media Privacy: A Rallying Cry to Librarians.  Library Quarterly, 85(3), 261-277.

Zimmer, M. (2013).  Assessing the Treatment of Patron Privacy in Library 2.0 Literature.  Information Technology & Libraries, 32(2), 29-41.

Wednesday July 13, 2016 10:46 - 12:15 UTC
PSH (Professor Stuart Hall Building) - LG02 Goldsmiths University, Building 2