New “Technologies of Surveillance” Group

Yasmeen ShorishShea SwaugerThis post comes to us from new group facilitators Yasmeen Shorish and Shea Swauger. Yasmeen Shorish is an Associate Professor and the Data Services Coordinator at James Madison University. Her research focuses on changes in scholarly communication, data information literacy, and issues related to representation and social justice in librarianship. Shea Swauger is the Head of Researcher Support Service at the Auraria Library in Denver, Colorado. He is passionate about the intersection of technology, data, and ethics and their impact how people interact with information and with each other. His research areas are in critical data studies, Open Data, and civic engagement. 

There is a perennial conversation in libraries about demonstrating value, sometimes formulated as showing our relevance or effectiveness to our stakeholders, that circulates in most library administration meetings and disciplinary publications. Often the technique employed to justify a library’s value or effectiveness is through the collection and analysis of some kind of data: use of our collections or technology, building access, instruction assessment, website visits, etc. In addition to this conversation, the drive for utilizing learning analytics in higher education systems has increased the impetus of data collection and analysis. Given these factors, libraries and higher education institutions are increasingly investing in products and systems that can track and correlate user behavior via data and technology.

A library’s adoption and participation in these systems is not without ethical concerns, and there could be consequences in terms of patron privacy that directly contradict some of the tenets laid out in our Professional Code of Ethics, such as the right to confidentiality and the prioritization of patrons, colleagues, and institutions over private interests. The Technologies of Surveillance Interest Group will interrogate the methods and ethical implications of some of these technologies and seeks to establish guidelines for how to operationalize that interrogation, whether in systems that we create or purchase, or ones that our larger institutions do.

Below are some of the questions we will be starting out with:

  • How can we protect patron privacy using our current and future technology?
  • What is the difference between assessment and surveillance?
  • How do we identify bias built into library data collection and analysis?
  • What is our intellectual and ethical stake in the things we spend money on?
  • How do we work with people who make the tools we use to protect privacy?
  • How do we communicate with our patrons and administrators about privacy?
  • How are we incorporating this information into our instruction and outreach efforts?
  • How can we advocate for patron privacy when we are considering purchasing or building new technologies?

The Technologies of Surveillance Group came out of the Surveyance or Surveillance? Working Lunch at the 2017 DLF Forum. We are the inaugural conveners of this group and we hope to develop a vibrant and engaged community. As this topic is so broad, with so many potential avenues of investigation, we propose creating three sub-groups to start:

  • A group to investigate library-built systems:
    • What are we building and how are we managing data collection in our systems?
    • What guiding principles should library-grown systems adopt?
  • A group to investigate vendor supplied systems:
    • How do we ensure transparency with respect to system data collection?
    • Are there minimal requirements that we should be requiring of vendors, with respect to data collection and privacy, in order to align with our professional values?
  • A group to investigate instruction and outreach strategies for our communities on topics related to data collection and privacy:
    • How can basic online awareness factor into information literacy instruction, in areas such as online tracking and user behavior analytics?
    • How best to discuss biases in databases and search engines?

We have begun to populate the DLF Wiki with this information, but we are glad to modify these groups or start different ones based on the input of the community.

In terms of communication, we have a DLF Listserv that anyone can join ( and on Twitter we are gathering stories related to technologies of surveillance, using the hashtag #panoptitech. Our very first virtual meeting will occur on January 31, 2018 at 11am PST/12pm MST/1pm CST/2pm EST. Connection details will be sent out via the listserv, so sign up today! (You do not need to be a DLF member to participate.)

We look forward to building this community with you!

Yasmeen & Shea

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