Open Agenda, Privacy, and Digital Identity Lead Top Tech Trends | ALA Midwinter 2019

Librarians discussed a wide range of emerging opportunities and challenges during the Library Information Technology Association’s Top Tech Trends panel at the American Library Association’s Midwinter conference.

Library Information Technology Association Top Tech Trends logoDuring the past five years, the library field has seen an explosion of interest and commitment to open resources including open access (OA) scholarship, open data, and open educational resources (OER), Joyce Valenza, assistant professor, Rutgers University School of Communication and Information, NJ, said during the Library Information Technology Association’s Top Tech Trends (TTT) panel at the American Library Association’s Midwinter conference in Seattle.

“We have recognized that there are issues with traditional publishing, distribution, and communication models,” she said. Traditional publishing models have fallen short “in meeting the needs of scholars and students, and democratizing access, supporting discovery, innovation, and reaching beyond analog expectations.”

In a discussion that ranged from virtual reality (a recurring topic on recent TTT panels, possibly indicative of the trend’s staying power) to new data privacy regulations, Valenza was joined by Cynthia Dudenhoffer, director of information resources and assessment, Central Methodist University, MO; James Neal, senior program officer, Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS); Suzanne Wulf, head of digital services, Niles-Maine District Library, IL; and Becky Yoose, recently library applications and systems manager, Seattle Public Library, and current library data privacy consultant at LDH Consulting Services. Kate Tkacik, director of network engagement for the Foundation Center, moderated the panel.

Valenza continued. “We’re also seeing that we’re not there yet” in terms of fulfilling this open agenda. “Are we moving beyond awareness and recognition, to next-generation practice as it relates to the open movement?”

In a concise, detailed presentation, Valenza discussed the current state of open resources in both K–12 and academic environments, highlighting the emergence of “fabulous portals” such as the Open Textbook Network’s Open Textbook Library, and the resources it has facilitated, such as the British Literature Anthology, as well as collaborative open source or OA projects such as the Fulcrum publishing platform and the Frankenbook “reading experiment.”

“Collection is not just what you buy; it’s what you point to, make available, and contextualize,” Valenza said. “It’s the story you tell about the resources you collect. It’s an instructional voice. It’s about engaging your community.... I’d like to make a case for the librarian as OER ‘point guard’” in educational environments.

DATA PRIVACY

New and upcoming regulations such as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) are designed make organizations more accountable for how they handle user data. Libraries and library vendors must be prepared to comply with new rules in a changing regulatory environment, noted Yoose, who recently launched LDH Consulting Services, a new consultancy focused on these issues. [During council meetings, ALA also revised the Library Bill of Rights for the first time in almost 40 years, adding a new article regarding the right to privacy and confidentiality.] 

GDPR “appeared on many libraries’ radars in 2018 when enforcement of the regulations began in earnest,” she said. “User rights are expanded in GDPR, including stronger user rights to access data being collected, [know] how that data is being processed, as well as further refining the right to be forgotten or have personal data erased from organizational systems. GDPR takes the ‘privacy by design’ approach, entering privacy controls and principles into projects and procedures instead of leaving privacy as an afterthought.”

While GDPR primarily impacts EU companies and libraries, “there are implications for many libraries in the U.S.,” Yoose said. Notably, “our library vendors [that serve EU customers] have to change systems and applications that we license and purchase.” And with CCPA on the horizon, “the U.S. regulation landscape is also starting to change rapidly and has the potential to greatly impact all of us.” Washington State, for example, recently introduced a privacy act modeled after GDPR, Yoose said. “Libraries and library vendors alike need to start talking, in earnest, about incorporating robust privacy and data user rights into their projects, applications, and services if they want to have a decent chance of being ready to comply” with future regulations.

ALL THE TRENDS

Rather than focus on a single trend, Neal cited a January blog post by Brad Smith, chief legal officer for Microsoft, regarding ten major technology trends to focus on in 2019. It is telling that almost all of these issues directly impact libraries or library patrons.

These included: privacy, including new and upcoming regulations such as GDPR and CCPA; disinformation and state-sponsored "fake news" campaigns on social media; protectionism in the Pacific and the potential impact of China’s momentum in artificial intelligence (AI) and other technologies; digital diplomacy and the impact of cyberattacks on organizations and consumers; ethics challenges for AI, including the civil liberties implications of technologies such as facial recognition services; AI and the economy, including the potential impact AI will have on jobs in the future; the people side of technology, including the need for diversity in technology companies; rural broadband, or the impact that lack of access to broadband Internet has on rural communities; sovereignty, human rights, and the cloud, or protecting people in a data-driven world; and the impact of the growth of technology companies on local communities.

Neal discussed IMLS initiatives involving OER, AI, and privacy, and later addressed IMLS’s current thought process regarding grants.

“IMLS is definitely going to be tending toward more conservative funding in the future. We’re living in volatile times,” he said. “We want to be sure we are managing our own risk and assessment carefully. So, we look at projects that are designed with a strong statement of need, but also, most importantly, a plan for dissemination—things other than going to a conference or hosting a webinar. How will you have broad and national impact on the field? And sustainability. How are you able to make sure that your project does not die on the vine? How will this project live beyond the life of the grant money? That’s the most important thing right now.”

GETTING PERSONAL

Dudenhoffer discussed ways in which our digital identities increasingly “affect everything about our lives.” Search and social media algorithms use our past habits to influence what we see online, creating conservative or liberal “bubbles” over time, she said. And social media has become intertwined with many people’s lives, making it difficult to disconnect from the virtual world.

“When most of us—probably everyone in this room—went to college, we were able to reinvent ourselves,” Dudenhoffer said. “We were able to disconnect…to choose who we stayed in contact with, and to really search out new interests and new avenues. Our students can’t do that anymore. They never can disconnect from the world that they’ve created—their digital identity.”

The issue is becoming entrenched, with children creating digital profiles at earlier ages. As an example, Dudenhoffer said that her own young child has become a high level player of the popular online game Fortnite “so he has learned a new language, new symbols, an entirely new interactive world that has crafted his digital identity…. That’s going to follow him.” Dudenhoffer suggested that information professionals at academic institutions could be better prepared to help students shape digital identities proactively.

VIRTUAL GROWTH

Virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR) have emerged as trends in public and academic libraries, as the cost of computers, headsets, and peripherals needed to create these immersive environments has fallen, and the potential for educational applications has become evident.

“What is the next phase of this?” Wulf asked, noting that the Niles-Maine District Library had recently acquired an HTC Vive VR setup and had been hosting regular demos. “It has been really amazing at my library to fund the headset and expose different people to a technology that they may have only heard about…. [But] I want to start taking that to the next level. We’re thinking, ‘how do we do programming with the Unreal Engine? How do we do development and content creation?’”

Wulf later suggested that librarians interested in creating a VR program of their own might consider starting small. A $15 Google Cardboard viewer, which works with many late-model smartphones, could help demonstrate an interest and a need within a community. Then a director might be more amenable to funding a $500 Vive, and a computer capable of powering it.

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Matt Enis

Matt Enis (menis@mediasourceinc.com, @MatthewEnis on Twitter, matthewenis.com) is Senior Editor, Technology for Library Journal.

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