Librarians are Up in Arms Over Amazon

I saw the following video last week and I've been thinking about it for a while.

The video is a rant by Sarah Houghton of the Librarian in Black blog. She's pissed over the manner in which Amazon and OverDrive set up the Kindle library ebooks. FYI: If you check out an ebook on your Kindle (device or app) Amazon will send you a couple reminder emails around the time that the loan expires. A lot of librarians are upset because they see that as a privacy issue, a violation of their library's privacy policy, and a co-opting of the library's relationship with the patron.

While I cannot see it from the librarian's viewpoint, I can understand how she feels about being in the beggar/orphan position. That's an unfortunate aspect of having just the one library vendor in this niche. The 3M Cloud Library cannot come soon enough.

7 thoughts on “Librarians are Up in Arms Over Amazon

  1. Nate, I’m surprised you don’t understand the librarian’s perspective. I find it very easy to understand. Amazon and Overdrive are the Facebooks of electronic books — if there is a way to violate a customer’s privacy, they will find it. Amazon started with its Silk browser and now moves down the road to libraries. Perhaps the two biggest failings are that the librarians weren’t told before signing up and that customers can’t wipe the information.

    I am aware that younger generations (that is, younger than my generation) have a more fluid and less worried view of privacy — but that is because they have yet to be bitten in the butt. My generation still remembers how the FBI and the Defense Department tried to gather private data on us to prosecute us during the Vietnam War days. Corporations and government are not by nature your friend. They can be taught to be a friend, but by nature they are not. I applaud Sarah Houghton’s efforts to educate librarians to the risks they are exposing their patrons to by providing Kindle library lending.

    1. Well, I don’t understand the privacy complaint becuase that was something the library patrons had already given up when they created an account at Amazon.

      And I disagree with the “anti-user” complaint; most people like getting those reminder emails (including me). I didn’t even know that there was a sales pitch in there until I heard the complaints (the pictures don’t make it past gMail), but I’m not surprised becuase I would have expected Amazon to take the opportunity to pitch.

      I also don’t understand the complaints about Silk; Opera has been doing the exact same thing for years now. Google, too, for that matter.

      It’s not that I don’t value my privacy, Rich, it’s that I know I don’t have any privacy online and I also know cannot do anything about it. I’m not getting upset over something I cannot change.

  2. It’s always been my understanding that the government has long had a list of library books is keeps a watch on. Although I’m pretty sure Sue Grafton and the Chicken Soup books are not on it; the kind of titles that make up the majority of MY local library’s online offerings. Ooo, the gov’ment is watching me consume popular fiction. Chilling.

    On the other hand, the advertisements are bit annoying but Kindle owners should be very used to that.

    1. Nook Touch owners especially. The Home page has the bottom half filled with books you might like. That’s on the home page. No lower-cost model you opt for — just the main model.

      I think it’s a matter of whether we expect non-profit agencies handling these things we want for nothing.

  3. How is it a privacy issue when the book is actually checked out from and delivered from Amazon?

    I worked in libraries for years and I know that some librarians think that libraries are a living, breathing entity that people have a relationship with, but really, libraries are just another source of information, just like the Internet. My librarian when I was a kid was important to me, I even volunteered for her as an older child and later worked with her as an adult. But the world is different now and technology changes things. It’s progress.

    Just like the Internet, a lot of librarians are afraid of what the ebook revolution means to them and their jobs. An understandable concern, but if they would think about what’s best for patrons, they would see that Amazon’s library service for the Kindle is a huge step up from the Overdrive/Adobe Digital/ePub version. No installed software, no USB sync, you just get your books the same way you get any book from Amazon. It’s fabulous!

  4. I think the main concern that librarians have about the Amazon arrangement is that it violates their privacy policies, and that librarians had no warning that Kindle books would be treated differently than books for other devices.

    Though Overdrive does verify that a person downloading has a valid library card, this can be done by giving Overdrive access to a list of valid library card numbers with absolutely no identifying information. Thus, users of other devices do not have to worry that B&N or Kobo will find out that they are cheating on them with those free loans from the library! Yes, you can enjoy that bodice-ripper without any sleazy romance ads cropping up in your inbox!

    Or find out what that krazy Karl Marx was all about without being pegged as a terrorist.

    Because, see, that is the reason libraries care about the privacy of your records. They really are into the whole “marketplace of ideas” thing and realize that freedom of speech includes access to that speech. Will people avoid reading certain books because they’re embarrassed? Possibly. But will people avoid learning about currently unpopular ideas if it might bring them to the attention of the FBI? A bit more likely.

    There’s a term for the phenomenon: chilling effect.

    The post 9/11 era has seen cases in which reading records were requested from libraries. (Search Doe v. Gonzales for details on one of these.) Likewise, during the McCarthy Era, thousands of titles were yanked from the shelves of public libraries for being “un-American” — imagine what Senator McCarthy could have done in a world of electronic records.

    As someone who reads a wide variety of materials, I am reassured that my local librarian cares about my ability to read whatever I want without any consequence. Well worth the whopping 2 seconds I spend transferring an ebook from Adobe Digital Editions to my handheld. Especially when I’m not sure that Amazon can give me that same assurance.

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