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ResourcesHuman Research EthicsPrivacy in User Research: Can You? – Scholarly Kitchen (Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe | September 2018)

Australasian Human Research Ethics Consultancy Services Pty Ltd (AHRECS)

Privacy in User Research: Can You? – Scholarly Kitchen (Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe | September 2018)

 


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We may live in the age of privacy nihilism but recognizing one’s reality does not have to mean agreeing to do your own work by its terms. This post is for those publishers, academic and research librarians, and others who conduct research on user behavior in library information systems, who — whether for personal and/or professional ethical reasons or policies — want to do so in ways that prioritize privacy.

Situating Myself and Academic Librarianship

This paper will most obviously be of interest to librarien researchers who are reflecting on the ethics of the use of user data. But its discussion will be of interest to anyone interested in research ethics in quality assurance and service delivery where user data is collected. The piece’s discussion about the important differences between privacy, confidentiality and anonymity are likely to be helpful to anyone thinking about the ethical design, conduct and the reporting of human research.

A bit of my own background is probably useful to contextualize this discussion. My own attention to this topic of privacy and user data came into focus when I led the launch of the Value of Academic Libraries Initiative as President of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) in 2010-2011. Grounded in The Value of Academic Libraries: A Comprehensive Research Review and Report, my work that year and since then has been heavily focused on advocating for the profession to move to evidence-based claims for library value and for the collection and analysis of individual user data in order to do so. This work has been heavily criticized for its focus on collecting user data and, at times, for facilitating the neoliberal transformation of higher education.
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Given that, I have also had to confront hard questions about how gathering and analyzing user data aligns with the values of my profession. Specifically, the value of privacy as expressed in the ALA Code of Ethics statement that: “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.” These questions have not had easy or straightforward answers, particularly as the value of privacy can be in tension with another principle in the ALA Code of Ethics: “We provide the highest level of service to all library users.” I’m grateful to Andrew Asher who joined me in a series of public presentations exploring these issues (e.g., CNI Fall 2014).
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