Library Freedom Institute Kicks Off Train-the-Trainers Privacy Course

Last week, the Library Freedom Institute launched a program designed to help librarians become advocates for online privacy, created by the Library Freedom Project in partnership with New York University.

Library Freedom Institute logoLast week, the Library Freedom Institute (LFI) launched a program designed to help librarians become advocates for online privacy. Created by the Library Freedom Project (LFP) in partnership with New York University (NYU), the six-month train-the-trainers course will teach a cohort of 14 librarians “how to lead privacy-focused computer classes at several levels: how to install and use privacy software; how to teach their own train-the-trainer workshops to other librarians in their regions; how to approach members of their community about privacy concerns; and how to use their new roles as Privacy Advocates to influence policy and infrastructure,” according to an LFI announcement.

A $249,504 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) financed the development of the course and provides full funding for all 14 participants—including travel costs for a two-day, in-person meeting at NYU scheduled for August.

“Six months is a lot of time, but it’s such a big field,” LFP founder and director Alison Macrina told LJ. “We’re going to cover a lot of ground.”

Macrina has been giving presentations on privacy-related topics for librarians and others through LFP since 2014. But where those one-day or half-day workshops offered a broad overview of concerns—highlighting best practices and directing attendees to additional resources—this 26-week course will offer these librarians a much deeper dive into the subject, ultimately preparing them to lead workshops of their own.

Last October, NYU’s LFI lead Howard Besser, associate director of NYU’s Moving Image Archiving and Preservation master’s degree program and professor of Cinema Studies, explained how NYU was working with Macrina to structure the curriculum and design coursework.

“There’s a lot of differences between doing workshops, and doing longer-term courses. How do you divide up the curriculum? How do you give people assignments” that are balanced and can be completed within an allotted time frame? Besser said.

Through the beginning of December, the group will meet online once per week, working through a comprehensive selection of classes on topics including threat modeling, CCTV and surveillance tech in libraries, third party analytics and tracking, artificial intelligence and ethics, surveillance by ICE and DHS, vendor agreements, and much more. Each week features at least one guest speaker, including lawyers, computer programmers, journalists, and representatives from organizations such as the Electronic Freedom Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Mozilla.

Macrina noted that there will be a degree of flexibility in the curriculum, determined by the cohort’s interest in specific topics, or by breaking news that focuses the public’s attention on a topic such as data breaches or government surveillance.

“Libraries should have this content highlighted—the same way that libraries provide information about anything else,” said LFI participant Lucia Cedeira Serantes, assistant professor at the Graduate School of Library and Information Studies, Queens College, City University of New York. Aside from being prepared to answer questions and offer assistance to patrons who express concern about online privacy, Serantes noted that privacy issues are already present when librarians give patrons even basic assistance with computers or consumer electronics. For example, if a librarian helps someone create a free email account or set up a new ereader, there are generally privacy policies and licensing agreements that the patron will need to digitally sign, and surveillance practices that they may want to consider.

Serantes already incorporates privacy-related topics into the graduate-level courses she teaches at Queens College. Part of her goal with LFI is to find ways to adopt some of the exercises that the cohort will do into MLIS coursework, and act as a local resource for other professors and adjuncts who are interested in doing the same. It would be ideal, she said, for libraries to have a go-to privacy expert on staff, much the same way that libraries have experts on collection management, for example.

“Public libraries are uniquely situated to help people who may not be getting this information from anywhere else,” said LFI participant Ally Mellon, information services director for the Mississippi Library Commission (MLC). “A lot of patrons, especially in Mississippi, who frequent the library are interested in learning, and are lifelong learners…but things like digital security get left behind other day-to-day life concerns. But libraries see these people every day, and they build relationships with them.”

Mellon recently hosted a well-received webinar for Mississippi librarians on what she described as “basic, bare bones” online privacy. LFI’s training will enable her to offer the state’s librarians more targeted and in-depth courses, beginning with workshops already planned for early 2019, she said. Describing the curriculum and LFI’s roster of speakers, Mellon said that Macrina “has a lot of connections that we wouldn’t have access to otherwise.”

This first cohort of 14 librarians was selected from a field of 70 applicants, Macrina said. The selections were merit based, and LFI also made an effort to choose participants from geographically dispersed urban and non-urban libraries, factoring in each local community’s current needs, as well as ethnic diversity within the cohort.

“I feel like we really succeeded in getting a great group of people,” Macrina said. “And the next round [in 2019] is going to be for 30.”

In addition to Serantes and Mellon, LFI’s first cohort includes Sara Brown, librarian for Baltimore County Public Library, MD; Hoan-Vu Do, web librarian for the San Diego Public Library, CA; Rebekah Eppley, librarian for Oakland Public Library, CA; K’Lani Green, branch manager for Charleston County Public Library, SC; Bryan Neil Jones, librarian for Nashville Public Library, TN; Megan Kinney, public and academic librarian based in Richmond, CA; Claire Lobdell, distance education librarian for Greenfield Community College, MA; Kelly McElroy, student engagement and community outreach librarian for Oregon State University; Yvonne Stephenson, library instructor at Amarillo College, TX; Joshua Stone, director of digital services for the Southeast Florida Library Information Network; Sarah White, librarian for the Eugene Public Library, OR; and Tess Wilson, librarian for the Job and Career Education Center at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

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