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Jul 03 2019 - 01:53pm
Vendor Platforms and Patron Privacy

Recently New York City's public libraries including Queens Public Library, Brooklyn Public Library, and New York Public Library announced their plans to suspend contracts with video-streaming vendor Kanopy citing unsustainable pricing models as the main motivator in ending their agreements. In circumstances I am most familiar with, library patrons were allotted a maximum of 6 films per month, and libraries were charged $2 per view. Views, of course, are not defined by finishing a film. Once the film is started, it subtracts from the patron's allotted monthly films and the library is charged. Despite the fact that only 1% of library card holders used the service, the total annual subscription cost for Queens Public Library totaled around $125,000 per year.

In response to the cancellation, Kanopy issued an email to those patrons who had used the service and provided their email address as a requirement of the account creation process. The email notified patrons of the libraries' plan to suspend service, highlighted popular films available via their streaming platform, and heralded the importance of film as a public cultural resource. Many viewed this as an attempt by Kanopy to pull at the heart strings of patrons to garner public support for their platform by subtly encouraging patrons to contact their libraries (or rage tweet) in an effort to circumvent library professionals and directly pander to their library provided and reliant user-base. It should be noted that Kanopy is not the only way patrons have access to film: a fun librarian search of "f:v" (format: DVD) in the NYPL Encore catalog reveals 50,542 circulating DVDs.

While creating accounts in vendor platforms has become the norm, I had never witnessed a vendor contact patrons directly as a result of a suspended license agreement. To me and many other librarians, the suspension of the service came as no surprise due to the unsustainable pricing model among other complaints. Additionally, it seemed to nearly violate the policies protecting the use of patron information and exposed a disregard for library information professionals who understand how to best manage their budget based on evidence-based acquisitions practices and user trends. Brooklyn Public Library specifically stated that they would be using these funds for ebook acquisitions as they have data supporting that ebook use is more popular with patrons than streaming video use.

Library research concerning patron privacy has been conducted since (and arguably before) the ALA developed its Code of Ethics in 1939. The research I've encountered in preliminary searches investigates the collection and sale of patron data but research is less readily available when pertaining to the use of patron-provided data via vendor created platforms specifically used for a call to action to maintain a subscription agreement. Many vendors include user features in their platforms as a way to organize materials, make recommendations, measure learning (however each platform defines learning), and market new products or features. It is the marketing component that most intrigues me, as libraries tend to market free products and services. Despite what it looks like on the user end, vendors do not provide free services.

The issues surrounding funding and subscriptions is not unique to public libraries and also extends to academic libraries. Our library purchases film subscriptions from Kanopy on a model different than that for public libraries, as well as from other streaming video platforms. In addition to streaming video, we hold agreements with a variety of publishers, providers, and vendors. For example, Proquest Ebook Central provides a bookshelf for ebooks and save/share features included with patron accounts. While this can be useful, it is important for librarians to understand these policies and communicate them effectively to patrons so that they are made aware of how their information is being collected, stored, and used. In a 2015 survey of over 42 electronic resource contracts, Alan Rubel and Mei Zhang noted that sharing this information with patrons can have a "chilling" affect in which patrons shy away from resources as a result of feeling uncomfortable with the way their data is collected, stored, and used. They point out that the ALA maintains that "'a true freedom of inquiry does not exist where users recognize or fear that their privacy or confidentiality is compromised".

This brings about huge questions for me: how can libraries effectively communicate the way that patron data is collected, stored, and used without scaring patrons from using the very resources we aim to provide? How can we effectively negotiate contracts with publishers that have adopted corporate platform strategies? In what ways will libraries have to adjust in order to meet the rising prices of available material? How can libraries get in front of vendor attempts to skew information in order to maintain relationships with libraries? How can libraries work with vendors to create sustainable pricing models?

I hope to continue researching in this area, and report out on what other libraries are doing to address some of these issues in the future!

Here is a list of resources related to these topics:

American Library Association. “Library Privacy Checklist for E-Book Lending and Digital Content Vendors.”

American Library Association. “Policy Concerning Confidentiality of Personally Identifiable Information about Library Users.”

American Library Association. “Privacy.”

American Library Association. “Professional Ethics.”

Ayre, Lori Bowen. “Protecting Patron Privacy.”

Briney, Kristen A. “Data Management Practices in Academic Library Learning Analytics.”

Cagle, Chris "Kanopy: Not Just Like Netflix, and Not For Free"

Drabinski, Emily and Eamon Tewell. "Critical Information Literacy" The International Encyclopedia of Media Literacy. Renee Hobbs and Paul Mihailidis, Ed.

Ostergaard and Rossmann, “There’s Work to Be Done: Exploring Library–Vendor Relations.”

Pekoll, Kristin. “Lynda’s Privacy Problem.”

Rubel, Alain and Mei Zhang. “Four Facets of Privacy and Intellectual Freedom in Licensing Contracts for Electronic Journals.”

Sprangler, Todd "New York City Public Libraries Drop Kanopy Free Movie-Streaming Service"

|By: Kalliopi Mathios|361 Reads