Privacy Part 2 – what’s the problem again?

My post titled Anonymity, libraries and websites received quite a variety of comments – thanks for that! The comments cover the whole nine yards – everything from “well, of course David – yay for transparency” to “no, we’d never do that, and don’t ask us to” – quite a range there!

The main issue seems to be two things:

  1. sharing your last name online.
  2. the possibility of being stalked if you DO share your last name online.

I’m going to deal with those issues, in separate posts. Last names first!

So – some of you aren’t comfortable with sharing your last names or your photos online for work-related stuff, and said so in the comments of the Anonymity post. I was able to group the objections into three loose categories. Let’s take a peek at each of them:

Loose issue #1: Is your last name private info?

Quite a few commenters think that sharing your last name in public – while at work – is somehow an invasion of privacy. Not sure I can agree with that, and here’s why:

  • Most of you are government employees under some form of sunshine law. Your last name (as in, a list of people who work at the library) is public record.
  • Most of your last names are part of other publicly available government records, like DMV records, birth records, and voting records – all publicly available government info that can easily be obtained.
  • Most of you are also in the phone book.

But more to the point for work-related stuff. At my library anyway, we regularly send our staff out into the community, to do things like presentations, storytimes at schools, meetings, committee and community group work, etc. We expect those staff to provide their names, their business cards, their email address, etc. It’s simply part of the job.

So is it any different when doing actual library-related work on the library’s website? Given what my library does … nope [edit – well, we’re mainly sharing first names and pics at the moment].

Loose issue #2: Is sharing your last name for work-related things a choice?

A couple of commenters said this:

  • cybermac33 – “I do agree that you have a valid point about transparency however I think it should be a personal choice as whether or not you want your image on the website. We all have a right to privacy.”
  • Deborah – “My own inclination is that it’s great to set a default in favour of transparency, but it’s also vital to make it clear to staff that they can opt out if necessary”

OK – I’ll state up-front that if anyone’s life or well-being is in actual danger, of course there should be an opt-out for those very rare situations.

Otherwise, a library should set their expectations, then follow them. Period. Here’s what Stephen Lusk, our HR manager, said when I asked him about the whole choice thing. He said “sure, they have a choice. They don’t have to work here.” Then he and Gina (our library director) went on to talk about how good managers and good libraries set expectations on work-related activities, then follow those up with annual reviews, etc.

Which brings me to Andy’s comment: “In my system, we are county employees and we wear county employee ID badges. It has our full name on them. Some have taken to making a tag to go over this so that it just shows the first name; others have opted to wear it with just the back showing (hiding their name).”

Silly though it might seem, that’s a pretty petty performance issue that should be dealt with up-front. If your library requires staff to wear name badges with both names, then it’s simply a requirement of the job. Just like the dress code policy (if your library has one).

Loose issue #3 – poor leadership

And Andy’s comment really blends into this last loose issue – that of bad leadership. Here’s a comment from threegoodrats – “At my first job out of library school, we wore name tags with our first and last names. When I started getting obscene phone calls from a patron, we got new name tags with just first names.”

A few other commenters said similar things – there was a policy or a guideline in place, one problem cropped up, and the library … changed the policy or guideline to deal with that single issue, rather deal with the exception that happened (i.e., stalkers). One library moved staff around to different branches rather than dealing with a patron problem.

That’s bad leadership. Deal with the real issues, guys. Yes – sometimes the work is harder, or it might take longer. But in the end, it’s usually the best thing to do.

Next post – let’s deal head-on with those pesky stalkers!

pic by Marcus Vegas

anonymity, libraries, and websites

Yesterday, I had an interesting conversation about privacy that stemmed from part 1 of the ALA Techsource webinar Robin Hastings and I lead on social media (part 2 is on Dec 8!). Someone asked about posting staff names on their library website, so I shared what we do in Topeka – whenever someone posts to the site, their full first name and a headshot is included in the post.

Then a few participants responded that they use only first names, would never include a photo, privacy issues were mentioned, stalkers were mentioned, etc.

Certainly some of those issues are serious (especially the stalker stuff – yikes!). So I decided to hash through my answer with Gina Millsap, our executive director at the library.

Here’s what came out of that discussion: libraries can’t really base policy decisions or day-to-day practice decisions on one-time events or on worse case scenarios. We have to base those policies on a library’s strategic plans and on current best practices in order to best serve our communities. And then deal with the exceptions and single instances as they crop up.

A big goal at my library is to be very transparent with our community. For us, that means using first and last sharing our names and photos – on our name badges, at the desk, on the phone, and on our website. None of our staff can be anonymous when they represent the library.

And here’s something else Gina said that made a lot of sense to me – if we choose to hide behind anonymity, use only our first names, or use pseudonyms while representing the library (and yes, I have seen all of these used in libraries, even on nametags) … that sends the wrong message to our community. When we do that, the library is basically communicating a message back to the community. What is that message?

“We don’t trust you” or perhaps “we think you’re weird.” Or something similar.

Is that the message we want to send to our community? I don’t think so.

Thoughts?

image by alancleaver_2000