(Failing to) Protect Patron Privacy

Twitter_Overdrive_Adobe

On October 6, Nate Hoffelder wrote a post on The Digital Reader: “Adobe is Spying on Users, Collecting Data on Their eBook Libraries.” (He has updated the post over the past couple days.) Why is this privacy-violating spying story any more deserving of attention than the multitude of others? For librarians and library users, it’s important because Adobe Digital Editions is the software that readers who borrow e-books from the library through Overdrive (as well as other platforms) are using. This software “authenticates” users, and this is necessary because the publishers require DRM (Digital Rights Management) to ensure that the one copy/one user model is in effect. (Essentially, DRM allows publishers to mimic the physical restrictions of print books – i.e. one person can read a book at a time – on e-books, which could technically be read simultaneously by any number of people. To learn more about DRM and e-books, see Cory Doctorow’s article “A Whip to Beat Us With” in Publishers Weekly; though now more than two years old, it is still accurate and relevant.)

So how did authentication become spying? Well, it turns out Adobe was collecting more information than was strictly necessary, and was sending this information back to its servers in clear text – that is, unencrypted. Sean Gallagher has been following this issue and documenting it in Ars Technica (“Adobe’s e-book reader sends your reading logs back to Adobe – in plain text“). According to that piece, the information Adobe says it collects includes the following: user ID, device ID, certified app ID, device IP address, duration for which the book was read, and percentage of the book that was read. Even if this is all they collect, it’s still plenty of information, and transmitted in plain text, it’s vulnerable to any other spying group that might be interested.

The plain text is really just the icing on this horrible, horrible cake. The core issue goes back much further and much deeper: as Andromeda Yelton wrote in an eloquent post on the matter, “about how we default to choosing access over privacy.” She points out that the ALA Code of Ethics states, “We protect each library user’s right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted,” and yet we have compromised this principle so that we are no longer technically able to uphold it.

Jason Griffey responded to Yelton’s piece, and part of his response is worth quoting in full:

“We need to decide whether we are angry at Adobe for failing technically (for not encrypting the information or otherwise anonymizing the data) or for failing ethically (for the collection of data about what someone is reading)….

…We need to insist that the providers of our digital information act in a way that upholds the ethical beliefs of our profession. It is possible, technically, to provide these services (digital downloads to multiple devices with reading position syncing) without sacrificing the privacy of the reader.”

Griffey linked to Galen Charlton’s post (“Verifying our tools; a role for ALA?“), which suggested several steps to take to tackle these issues in the short term and the long term. “We need to stop blindly trusting our tools,” he wrote, and start testing them. “Librarians…have a professional responsibility to protect our user’s reading history,” and the American Library Association could take the lead by testing library software, and providing institutional and legal support to others who do so.

Charlton, too, pointed back to DRM as the root of these troubles, and highlighted the tension between access and privacy that Yelton mentioned. “Accepting DRM has been a terrible dilemma for libraries – enabling and supporting, no matter how passively, tools for limiting access to information flies against our professional values.  On the other hand, without some degree of acquiescence to it, libraries would be even more limited in their ability to offer current books to their patrons.”

It’s a lousy situation. We shouldn’t have to trade privacy for access; people do too much of that already, giving personal information to private companies (remember, “if you’re not paying for a product, you are the product“), which in turn give or sell it to other companies, or turn it over to the government (or the government just scoops it up). In libraries, we still believe in privacy, and we should, as Griffey put it, “insist that the providers of our digital information act in a way that upholds the ethical beliefs of our profession.” It is possible.

10/12/14: The Swiss Army Librarian linked to another piece on this topic from Agnostic, Maybe, which is worth a read: “Say Yes No Maybe So to Privacy.”

10/14/14: The Waltham Public Library (MA) posted an excellent, clear Q&A about the implications for patrons, “Privacy Concerns About E-book Borrowing.” The Librarian in Black (a.k.a. Sarah Houghton, Director of the San Rafael Public Library in California), also wrote a piece: “Adobe Spies on eBook Readers, including Library Users.” The ALA response (and Adobe’s response to the ALA) can be found here: “Adobe Responds to ALA on egregious data breach,” and that links to LITA’s post “ADE in the Library Ebook Data Lifecycle.”

10/16/14: “Adobe Responds to ALA Concerns Over E-Book Privacy” in Publishers Weekly; Overdrive’s statement about adobe Digital Editions privacy concerns. On a semi-related note, Glenn Greenwald’s TED talk, “Why Privacy Matters,” is worth 20 minutes of your time.

 

 

“New Adult” Revisited, Or, Where are all the books about college?

It’s easy to find books about characters in high school. And it’s easy to find books about adult characters anywhere, doing anything. But there is a sparsely populated area between these two: books about characters who are transitioning from childhood/teenagerhood to adulthood. A few years ago, in response to a post on the Young Adult Review Network (YARN), I struggled to come up with a handful of titles that fit this category. YARN responded with additional titles (November 2011), but I don’t think anyone was satisfied that there were enough “new adult” books at the time.

fangirlinfinitemomentofusThe topic came up again at ALA 2013. I didn’t attend in person, but followed the coverage on blogs and Twitter; Hannah Gomez’s piece for YALSA’s The Hub provides a great recap, as well as a link to a resource list, which has been updated – a pleasant surprise! - since the conference. (There’s another good piece on The Hub about adult books with teen appeal, from August 2012. I’d add Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt to this list, and I’m not alone – it’s a 2013 Alex Award winner.) I was glad to see that a few of my recent favorites that fit snugly into the “new adult” category are on the reader’s advisory resource list, including Bunheads by Sophie Flack, The Infinite Moment of Us by Lauren Myracle, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando, and Just One Day and Just One Year by Gayle Forman; I’d also add How to Love by Katie Cotugno.

howtolovejustoneyearThe years after high school, whether they include college or not, and the first few years in the working world are a transitional time of great change and (hopefully) growth. It is strange that authors haven’t mined this emotion-rich area more. Perhaps these books fell into that gray area that is neither YA nor adult, and publishers weren’t sure how to market them, but if that’s the case, it’s a weak one: so many adults are openly reading YA lit now that these”crossover” books should appeal to both audiences, rather than being lost between them.

roomiesbunheads

Lourdes at YARN made an important point about some of the books I suggested back in 2011: that they contained an element of nostalgia, and were told from an adult point of view in a present that looked back on the past, as opposed to being told from the point of view of a young adult in the present. The books I mentioned above fit this criteria much better, and I hope to discover and read more of these (suggestions are welcome in the comments).

However, as a reader, I like the adult-looking-back perspective; one example I can think of is Joshua Henkin’s Matrimony, which starts when its three main characters are in college. Maggie Shipstead’s forthcoming Astonish Me (April 2014) also begins when its main character is a young adult, and it follows her until her own son is a teenager. (I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who liked Bunheads.) Much of the action in Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves takes place when the narrator is in college, though in the present she is middle-aged. Eleanor Brown’s The Weird Sisters also deals with three young women who have been out in the world for a few years, but who don’t yet feel like (or, sometimes, act like) adults. All the Light There Was by Nancy Kricorian is also adult fiction, but its main character, Maral, grows from fourteen to twenty during WWII in Paris – perfect for “new adults” who like historical fiction, as Maral makes several difficult and important choices as she comes of age.

The titles in the paragraph above were gleaned from my own reading over the past several months, so clearly “new adults” exist in literature – they can just be hard to find. I’d love to see more books like Fangirl and Roomies, though. Again, if you have suggestions, let me know in the comments!

Note: There are many definitions of the “new adult” category (and many disagreements about whether it’s a genre or a marketing ploy, exciting or a hassle), but no consensus. Therefore, I’m using my preferred definition of “new adult”: books about characters who are in the 18-25-year-old range, told from their perspective (not necessarily first person, present tense, but not from an adult perspective looking back). 

Censorship and Invisibility

Barbara Jones, the president of the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF), has written an excellent piece over at the Huffington Post. Here’s a short excerpt, but I encourage you to read the whole article:

“I am deeply concerned about the current deluge of removals of classic books from the American literary canon. I thought that, as a society, we had reached a consensus that the literary canon should represent diverse segments of U.S. society. Multicultural literary works are not being included because of some need for “political correctness.” They are included because they are excellent and have been acknowledged as such by countless awards for literary merit. Though books that deal with controversial topics may make some readers uncomfortable, such literature offers a vehicle for true learning and understanding.”

(Emphasis added.)

readbannedbooks2013As Rebecca points out in another great article on the Robbins Library blog (“Freedom to Choose”), “There’s great value in discussion, and books are, by far, the safest route into many of these discussions.” With a few exceptions, the books that get people up in arms are novels, not nonfiction. This only proves that fiction is powerful; that it engages readers’ imagination and empathy, allowing them to experience a time, place, culture, or situation that they might not otherwise be exposed to – or, if they are exposed to it, they may be unprepared.

A little over a year ago, I wrote about the power and importance of fiction (“The Gleam in the Dark”), citing “Your Brain on Fiction” by Annie Murphy Paul from The New York Times and “Why Fiction is Good for You” by Jonathan Gottschall from the Boston Globe. Those pieces are worth a re-read now, during Banned Books Week, to remind us all about the value of stepping into someone else’s shoes, and the magical power fiction has to let us do that.

booksthisishowtheywork

 

“Everyone has a different idea of what constitutes ‘appropriate content’”

There is lots of great Banned Books Week-related stuff on Twitter this week (#BannedBooksWeek), and today’s Library Link of the Day was an NPR segment from Tell Me More called “Could banning books actually encourage more readers?” (Answer: we hope so!) My favorite find via Twitter (so far, at least) is this post from Shoshana at the Brookline Booksmith. It was a good reminder that librarians aren’t the only ones fighting for intellectual freedom and defending everyone’s right to read; publishers and booksellers are in it with us. 

Shoshana wrote, “Everyone has a different idea of what constitutes ‘appropriate content.’ I’ve talked with a lot of parents about what’s right and what’s not right for their kids to read. Some parents want to avoid anything “scary.” Others ask about the The Hunger Games and relax as soon as they learn that although it’s about teenagers being forced to fight to the death, it doesn’t have any sexual content….What I love about the customers in our kids’ section, though, is that the question is pretty much always what’s appropriate for the particular kid in question, not what should be published or be on our shelves….People around here seem to get that what’s all wrong for one reader might be just right for another; even siblings have different levels of scariness tolerance or ability to understand difficult topics.”

She makes a great point: what is “appropriate” for one reader may not be appropriate for another (this is one of the reasons that putting ratings on books is a terrible idea). This is part of readers’ advisory, and it’s a great skill – as a bookseller or a librarian – to be able to talk with parents about what their kids are ready to read (or to talk directly with kids; I know an eight-year-old who didn’t feel ready to read Harry Potter when he was seven, but feels like he might be ready now).

Remember: Every reader his/her book, and every book its reader.

 

Banned Books Week 2013

bannedbooksweek2013banner

Banned Books Week is probably my favorite event on the calendar of library and literary events. It is a celebration of the freedom to read whatever you want, the freedom from censorship. It also provides encouragement to those who are still fighting for the right to read – those whose state Board of Education presidents want Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye out of the classroom, those who miss out on hearing Rainbow Rowell – author of the excellent Eleanor & Park – speak at their school or public library because a few parents in the community object to the swear words in the book. (Those are just two recent examples; read more about them in my Banned Books Week post on the Robbins Library blog.)

Last year for Banned Books Week, I wrote about which books were most commonly banned or challenged, and who did the challenging; I also shared a few of my favorite “better book titles for banned books.” Two years ago, less punctually, I shared a quote from Jenny Lawson, author of Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir (which I am certain has been challenged many times since its publication). Also in 2011, I wrote about attending the panel “Whose Common Sense?” at the ALA Annual Conference, where the four panelists (including David Levithan!) discussed why books for teens should not be labeled or censored.

Even if you don’t pick up a book this week, take a moment to appreciate the fact that you could, if you wanted, and that no one would try to control your reading choices, or keep something out of reach because they thought it was inappropriate. We should all get to make our own reading choices.

To close, I’ll quote my co-worker Rebecca, who authored a column for the local paper about Banned Books Week. She wrote, “There’s great value in discussion, and books are, by far, the safest route into many of these discussions (i.e., reading and talking about that book the deals with teen pregnancy is preferable to your teen talking to you about what it’s like to be pregnant).  Books are safe spaces to experience new things.  New thoughts.  New ideas.  Different points of view.  They are a way to journey back in time and careen far into the future.  Books teach us how to empathize with each other, how to stand up for the little guy, and how to recognize the bad guys in our lives….We experience strong emotion alongside our favorite characters – joy, catharsis, loss, excitement.  Books are a safe way to learn about life, without all the painful bumps and bruises.”

When the opportunity arises, stand up for your own right to read, and help defend others’ right to read as well. Books change lives – almost always for the good. What’s one book you read that changed your life? A book you’re glad you didn’t miss out on? A book you’d recommend to others? Here are a few banned/challenged books that I wholeheartedly love and recommend:

lookingforalaskaEleanorPark_cover2-300x450kiterunner

handmaidstale

 

Open Letter: Authors for Library E-Books

Naturally the subject of e-books in libraries arose during the week at NELLS. For those who are unfamiliar with the issue, Maureen Sullivan’s open letter to publishers (9/28/2012) is a good place to begin. In it, she explains how libraries support publishers by improving literacy, instilling a lifelong love of reading, and aiding discovery of new authors and genres. E-books in libraries will no more cannibalize e-book sales to consumers than print books in libraries have (i.e., they won’t; research shows that most people who borrow from the library also buy books).

A4LE_badge2

The Authors for Library E-Books campaign (@Authors4LE on Twitter; #A4LE) is an effort to encourage authors to speak out on this issue. Libraries and authors are natural allies, and we all need to speak up to bring this change about. To this end, I contacted a few authors that I have met over the years – through publishing or through author events at bookstores and at the library. I’ve included a template of my letter here; if you know an author (or two, or five, or twelve) who supports libraries, feel free to tweak this and send it along. I personalized each one by mentioning a recent reading of theirs that I’d attended, a program they’d done at a library, or a new book of theirs coming out soon.

An Open Letter to Authors for Library E-Books

Dear [Author],

I hope you are having a good summer so far. I know you are a strong supporter of libraries, and I thought you might like to join ALA’s “Authors for Library E-Books” effort.

I’m sure you’re aware of the ongoing discourse between publishers and libraries on this topic. As it stands, each publisher has come up with a different solution: HarperCollins, for example, licenses e-books to libraries at a reasonable cost, but those licenses expire after 26 uses. Other publishers, such as Random House, charge libraries more than three times the consumer price for e-books and digital audiobooks.

Author and library advocate Cory Doctorow has made a short (four minutes) video about why he supports the Authors for Library E-Books campaign. He says, “Libraries have been so important to the careers of writers, and librarians are such fabulous advocates for authors….Libraries should be able to buy books and they should be able to buy them on fair terms.”

Join Cory Doctorow, Jodi Picoult, Ursula Le Guin, and many other authors who stand with libraries on this issue. You can sign onspeak out, and learn more at the A4LE site, or of course feel free to contact me with any questions or feedback.

Sincerely,
Jenny

ALA Chicago

I didn’t get to attend ALA’s Annual Conference in Chicago this year, but I followed along virtually on Twitter (#ala2013) and through others’ blog posts and articles.

alaRT

On June 27, Maureen Sullivan announced the launch of the “Authors for Library eBooks” initiative. A District Dispatch blog post, “Bestselling authors call for library ebook lending,” quotes Jodi Picoult: “Whether it’s a digital file or a paper copy, I want readers to find my books—and all books—in their libraries!” (As readers of this blog know, not all publishers make all their ebooks available for libraries to purchase.)

My friend Brita, who attended the conference through the Student-to-Staff program (the same way I did in 2011), wrote this great piece on Ann Patchett’s PLA President’s Program: “Ann Patchett, Readers’ Advisor Extraordinaire.” She also created a Bibliocommons list of Patchett’s top ten recommendations.

ALAbibliocommons

YA Authors Decode Dystopia“: I would have loved to have been in the audience for this author panel on dystopian fiction, featuring Lois Lowry, Cory Doctorow, Veronica Roth, and Patrick Ness. The authors identified “an important component of dystopian fiction that makes it so appealing: the ability to place oneself intimately in the action. The ‘what if’ factor draws readers into dystopian fiction, making them imagine how they would react if faced with calamity.”

I would have loved to sit in on PLA’s “Long e-Overdue” panel as well, which featured Jamie LaRue of the Douglas Country (CO) Libraries, Mary Minow of Library Law, and Michael Porter of Library Renewal. The idea of “library-managed e-content platforms”  as an alternative to middleman-style vendors such as OverDrive and 3M is a great goal to aim for.

I also followed along with the “New Adult: What Is It & Is It Really Happening?” panel on July 1 via Twitter (#ala13na). The panelists provided a huge list of “new adult” resources, including articles, blog posts, and booklists. Depending on who you listen to, “new adult” is either a “hot new category” in publishing, or a useless and annoying marketing ploy; it’s either fiction that features main characters in the 18-25 (ish) age range, bridging the gap between YA and adult, or it’s typical YA but with sex scenes. It’s definitely an emerging niche, though, and there’s lots to discuss.

Finally, from American Libraries Magazine, there’s a list of “10 Steps to a Better Library Interior.” The first step (“fresh perspective”) even includes one of my favorite cleaning/de-cluttering tips, which is to take everything out, then only put back the things you really want to keep. (Or at least imagine you’re doing so: obviously it’s impractical to move computers, furniture, and tens of thousands of books out of the library and into the parking lot.)

Conferences are both exhausting (travel, long days, rushing from one room to another, meeting lots of new people) and energizing (meeting new people, encountering new ideas, thinking about how you can bring those ideas back to your own library or workplace). I’m glad I was able to follow along virtually this year, thanks to those who wrote, tweeted, and linked.

Edited to add: My friend and fellow Student-to-Staffer (2011) wrote a great recap of all the programs, panels, and roundtables she attended at ALA 2013, including sessions on young adult literature, graphic novels, ARCs, and the New Adult panel. It’s worth a read, especially if you’re a YA librarian and/or a school librarian.