For the past 6 months, I participated as a cohort for Library Freedom Project’s Library Freedom Institute, an IMLS grant-funded curriculum that trains librarians on privacy issues. Alison Macrina, who I first heard speak at a LACUNY Institute years ago, heads the project. Participating in LFI has been one of the most rewarding professional experiences I’ve had as a librarian. It is bittersweet, as I looked forward to our weekly lectures on privacy issues, but at the same time, it was quite a bit of work (that produced amazing projects).
Cohorts were divided up into various groups, where we produced a variety of content that can be shared among other librarians. The group that I was a part of consisted of academic librarians across the country, including former adjunct librarian at City Tech Michele Nitto. I really enjoyed working with my fellow academic librarians, as we created privacy classes geared for students and faculty, a library vendor rubric that graded their privacy policies, a zine/guidebook on dealing with online harassment, and a book display highlighting resources on learning more about privacy, and that was just our group. The other librarians who participated in LFI created other projects such as developing privacy guidelines for your library, community tool kits on privacy, privacy concerns involving FOSTA-SESTA, and much more. I feel a great sense of pride thinking and talking about these projects as they are real, useful, and intended to be shared with the library community at large.
Over the course of the curriculum, we virtually attended weekly lectures with an amazing cadre of privacy professionals. This included other librarians, lawyers, privacy experts and activists, journalists, artists, and authors. It was a well-rounded selection of guest speakers that made me really made me think of the bigger implications of losing our privacy and the importance of teaching patrons on how to better safeguard ourselves.
I am really concerned about the implications of artificial intelligence(AI) intersecting with publicly available data sets. Apps and social media has allowed private data and metadata to be monetized and used for potentially nefarious purposes. As education and library budgets are being slashed, I can easily see a university or county government to use AI out of austerity. I read this morning that Virginia Commonwealth University is piloting a system that tracks students attendance based on their WiFi connection. CUNY is already using a predictive analytics system that monitors a student that can make decisions if they are at risk based on a classroom metrics. What is done with that data? Surely, it is being monetized, much like how user information from search engines, library databases, and social media platforms are.
I feel like there is a future where AI and facial recognition will be used to “evaluate” undocumented immigrants like some dystopian Philip K. Dick novel. This is a real fear. The AI is learning from freely available data sets like Facebook, Google, and YouTube, and passively listening to you through your phone. This information we are freely giving up and it can be used against us. There’s the potential for this type of data to reinforce biases and stereotypes, to uncover immigration status, and even create this chilling effect of not being able to read or write what you want. This data has already been used to dictate the last US Presidential election to disastrous effect.
My wish is to educate everyone about the dangers of voluntarily and involuntarily giving up your data so they can take control of it. My experience with LFI has really made me think of how to better educate others about privacy issues. On a professional level, I’m trying to do this by jump starting the LACUNY Privacy Roundtable and conducting more privacy workshops in the library. I also feel that as a cohort, I have learned to conduct these workshops in a compassionate and mindful way. That is, trying to identify stressors and anxieties of participants and at the same time, facilitating inclusion and participation. This is especially important for librarians like myself who do not typically teach on a consistent basis. On a personal level, I find myself having conversations about privacy with my friends and family. I’ve even gone that step beyond and installed a network level Pi-Hole to block web tracking and advertisements.
I feel as our society is becoming more dependent on technology (do you feel naked without your phone or panic when you can’t find it?). It is getting more important to talk about privacy implications and the trade-off of convenience.
LFI was a wonderful experience and I think Alison is doing a real service to the library community by helping us empower our communities, so we can talk about these trade-offs. If you are interested in privacy issues, I highly recommend applying to be a LFI cohort!