Privacy and User Experience in 21st Century Library Discovery
Over the last decade, libraries have taken advantage of emerging technologies to provide new discovery tools to help users find information and resources more efficiently. In the wake of this technological shift in discovery, privacy has become an increasingly prominent and complex issue for libraries. The nature of the web, over which users interact with discovery tools, has substantially diminished the library’s ability to control patron privacy. The emergence of a data economy has led to a new wave of online tracking and surveillance, in which multiple third parties collect and share user data during the discovery process, making it much more difficult, if not impossible, for libraries to protect patron privacy. In addition, users are increasingly starting their searches with web search engines, diminishing the library’s control over privacy even further.
While libraries have a legal and ethical responsibility to protect patron privacy, they are simultaneously challenged to meet evolving user needs for discovery. In a world where “search” is synonymous with Google, users increasingly expect their library discovery experience to mimic their experience using web search engines. However, web search engines rely on a drastically different set of privacy standards, as they strive to create tailored, personalized search results based on user data. Libraries are seemingly forced to make a choice between delivering the discovery experience users expect and protecting user privacy. This paper explores the competing interests of privacy and user experience, and proposes possible strategies to address them in the future design of library discovery tools.