Earlier this month I was honored to present at the LIANZA conference (national library conference of New Zealand). I was asked to talk about library ethics in the 21st century as the opening keynote. There were amazing presenters from around New Zealand and the world and I am so happy to have been a small part of this excellent conference. I’ve been asked to share my slides, so…here they are!
Have you heard of the Library Digital Privacy Pledge? I’ve signed on as the Director of the San Rafael Public Library and I hope you will too.
Why am I even talking about digital privacy? Because it’s part of what librarians sign on to do when we become librarians. From the American Library Association Code of Ethics:
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.
Most of us take the Code of Ethics, much like the ALA Library Bill of Rights, very seriously. And if, like me, you do believe in these core tenets of our professional obligations and duties than I hope you will consider making this pledge part of your digital services planning for the next few months.
This is the first in a series of pledges to get libraries, vendors, and membership organizations to pay attention to libraries’ commitments to protect patrons’ privacy, particularly in the digital realm. There are different pledges for different types of agencies, and the pledge for libraries reads as follows:
1. We will make every effort to ensure that web services and information resources under direct control of our library will use HTTPS within six months.
2. Starting in 2016, our library will assure that any new or renewed contracts for web services or information resources will require support for HTTPS by the end of 2016.
Nothing too controversial in there, right? HTTPS is accessible and standard (or should be), and is essential at working toward that first step at building a foundation for digital privacy.
To read more about the project check out the Pledge FAQ which addresses many of the “why” and technical questions you might have about taking this pledge for your library.
Go forth and protect.
May is Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Awareness Month.
The Cliffs Notes version is that Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome is a connective tissue disorder. My body makes bad collagen–super stretchy, slow to bounce back, slow to heal. And collagen is all over your body–skin, internal organs, tendons, ligaments.
I was diagnosed in my late twenties. Diagnosis can take many forms–ultimately I had genetic testing. But the first tier of diagnosis is the Beighton Test. If you score 4-10, it’s likely that you have EDS. I scored a 9.
What is it like to live with EDS? It rather sucks most days, and on a really good day I forget about the pain and limitations. That’s my ultimate goal with EDS–to forget for an hour or two. Every day I am in pain. Every joint hurts–every one. I get dislocations regularly–mostly ribs, shoulders, knees, fingers, and wrists. What causes the dislocations? Moving…like getting out of a chair. I even dislocate joints in my sleep. Other symptoms include easy bruising, difficulty getting numb or knocked out with anesthesia, adrenaline spikes leading to difficulty sleeping, allergies to tons of stuff, slow healing from cuts and bruises, and really messed up digestion all the time. It’s all encompassing and very tiring.
There is no cure for EDS. The first center for Ehlers-Danlos research has opened at Towson Hospital’s Genetics Program in Baltimore. Stem cell research holds the most promise for treating the disorder at the DNA level, though today I read an article about spider venom being used for chronic pain treatment. Since chronic pain is a big part of EDS this is definitely of interest to me, but dang yo…spiders. *shudder*
I currently do not take any pain medication at all (beyond the occasional ibuprofen). In the past I have taken pretty much any opiate painkiller that exists…they all have horrendous side effects including making you incredibly stupid and unfocused (at least they did for me). As such, I’ve sworn off those things for good.
If you’ve been following me for a while, this is not the first time you’re hearing about EDS. If you’re annoyed, you can stop reading now 🙂 But seriously…I do this every year to raise awareness, as trite as that might sound. The more people who know the symptoms to look out for (look below), the more EDS-sufferers who can get a timely diagnosis and treatment. It took me years of ER visits, specialist appointments, and genetic testing before all was finally revealed about what was wrong with my body. I don’t want that scenario to happen to anyone else.
I finally finished reading Useful, Usable, Desirable: Applying User Experience Design to Your Library, written by Aaron Schmidt and Amanda Etches. This is a killer manual for any library staff member to have at your desk, no matter what your job is. Disclaimer: I do know both Aaron and Amanda personally, but a disclaimer to that disclaimer…this book is fucking awesome regardless of who wrote it.
With a background in web design and a dabbling in user experience, I often take for granted the importance of thinking consciously about your user’s perspective, about the ease of use of every aspect of your services, and about re-evaluating user experiences on a regular basis. But I seem to be less talented at trying to explain these concepts to the staff who work for our library.
And that’s where this book will come in handy. I recently had staff do a Signage Secret Shopper exercise eat the end of our staff meeting. They would pick a common task our users need to complete when they come to the library, enter from both of our separate entrances, and note any wayfinding problems or distractions on either path. Sadly (but not surprisingly) staff found A LOT of problems. But…now what to do? Reading through this book’s section on signage and wayfinding, I now have key principles to hand to our soon-to-be-created signage taskforce. Better yet, these are principles that experts in user experience came up with, not me. Because we all know a message means more when it comes from someone outside your own workplace.
The book will continue to be useful to me as it offers a veritable checklist to follow as you inventory your own library’s wins and losses in the user experience arena. They even provide an actual scorecard to score your library overall. I’m tempted to have staff score us, and then take a field trip to score a nearby library who I know does better.javplatform
This book covers the gamut of library user experiences: your physical space, service points, policies and customer services, signage and wayfinding, online presence, and using the library. I could probably work for the next year on bringing our library into alignment with the principles outlined in this book, and I can honestly say it would be a year well-spent.
For some achievable ideas for how to make your community’s experience in your library better, try this book out. An investment that will keep paying you back every time you make an improvement.
A story broke yesterday involving eBooks, libraries, and the privacy of user data. Reporter Nate Hoffelder exposed some serious privacy violations on the part of Adobe, specifically within their Digital Editions 4 product.
Adobe Digital Editions, which most eBook platforms in libraries use (including OverDrive, 3M Cloud Library, Axis 360, and Enki), has been secretly spying on users. No one hacked anything–this is the company itself collecting this data on the sly. Adobe is gathering data on the eBooks that have been opened, which pages were read, and in what order–including consumer-subscription eBooks and eBooks borrowed through a library. Equally disturbing, Adobe is also tracking user activity outside of Digital Editions—gathering metadata from non-Adobe eBooks on the user’s hard disk. All of this data is being kept and transmitted in clear text (plain text that is easily intercepted and duplicated by intermediaries, such as library eBook vendors).
The collection of such data is quite possibly a violation of the California Reader Privacy Act as well as the California Student Online Personal Information Protection Act. Working in California as a Library Director means I have to address this with my community.
As a library customer, I have contacted our eBook vendors and asked for information or comment. So far, nothing.
While not surprised that a big company that can make money off of user data is collecting that user data, I am outraged on behalf of my library users–whose data we strive to keep secure and safe. By offering eBooks platforms with Adobe Digital Rights Management software, we have been unknowingly violating our very own privacy policies.
I am hopeful that the American Library Association, state libraries, and other organizations will publicly decry this gross violation of user privacy.
Trigger Warning: This post includes discussions and descriptions of sexual harassment and assault, as well as descriptions of the mental state of someone suffering abuse.
On Halloween day of 2011, I wrote a blog post detailing the years of harassment I had experienced at the hands of fellow librarians. I did not include every incident. I did not talk about harassment that happened to me outside of the library world. And I did not name names. This post gained a lot of traction and I was pleased that it helped contribute in some small way to the conversations that ultimately resulted in the Statement of Appropriate Conduct at ALA Conferences.
In my 2011 post, I talked in vague terms about the emotional toll that such behavior has had on me. Re-reading that post nearly three years later I am struck by my fighter attitude. I hear a tone of “I can power through this bullshit idiotic behavior and all you harassers, you aren’t going to win.” The anger covers up the deeper emotions of fear, depression, self-doubt, and anxiety.
Team Harpy and the continuing aftermath
Some months ago, the story of Team Harpy began (#teamharpy). You can read more on the Team Harpy website, videochat18but the brief version is that after two librarians called out (online) the negative behavior of another librarian at conferences, he decided to sue them for $1.25 million in a defamation lawsuit. I agreed to run their legal defense fund, the astounding response to which has humbled me, helped them, and restored in me a bit of faith in humanity.
Several days ago I started drafting a post talking more directly about my own experiences with harassment, to refute the claims of a few loud voices who are claiming that women complaining about harassment in the library world are just making things up to hurt the men in question, but also to address the many fence-sitters who may be swayed by these loud yet ill-informed voices.
But writing this post was really hard. My stomach hurt, my heart hurt…it was extremely difficult to do.
Much of the conversation about #teamharpy has disturbed me, particularly the people questioning people who speak up, or don’t speak up, about sexual harassment. The conversation on Twitter has stayed reasonably civil but the conversations went south quickly on reddit and the ALA Think Tank (which I have now joined and left twice because of cruel, uncivil conversations like this–and I am not rejoining). I then read Amanda Goodman’s post Wednesday morning about her own case of harassment at library conferences, and why she chose not to name names. She inspired me to try my best to write this post once more.
Laundry and Skeletons
This is about my laundry and my skeletons, neither dirty nor closeted.
When I was 14 years old I was sexually assaulted by a fellow student. I did manage to hurt him back, but not enough. Nothing would have been enough. I returned to my parents’ home, took the longest and hottest shower of my life, and did my best to pretend that everything was normal. What I remember is feeling numb–inexplicably numb–for weeks. I did not report the incident to the police, nor did I even tell my parents until I was in my 30s. I felt (probably wrongly) that my parents would blame me, that I should have known better than to be alone with this boy in his family’s home. I felt that the police would say it was not a crime and I would be putting myself through a lot of trauma with no positive end result. Even at 14 I knew the paltry success rates of assault and rape cases. Like many victims, I wanted to forget it ever happened, not that I ever could. Specifics from that assault still trigger severe reactions in me to this day.
When I was 16 years old I was repeatedly sexually harassed, including inappropriate touching, by the owner of the car dealership where I worked. I did not report the many incidents to the police or my parents because I did not want to lose my job, which I needed to pay for college. And who could I have reported it to at work? The general manager (his son) or the office manager (his daughter)?
When I was 17 years old I was sexually harassed by the senior class photographer, including inappropriate touching and solicitation. I reported the incident to the manager of the photo studio, and she and I together attempted to report the incident to the police–where the police officer refused to take our report (“It’s just your two ladies’ word against his.”). I told my parents. We contacted corporate headquarters and were bought off with a fancy photo package.
When I was in college and graduate school I experienced a number of physically inappropriate men at parties, bars, etc. I would not say any of it rose to the level of assault but a few times it was close. Harassment in college and graduate school seems to be par for the course, unfortunately.
The first time I was harassed as a librarian, at the age of 25, it was by another woman, my supervisor, over a series of months, with comments about my body, inappropriate touching, suggestions for how I could dress sexier, etc. I reported her to the Library Director and asked for help. I was transferred to another supervisor and my harasser stayed in her position for years until she retired.
A couple of years later, I was out at a fundraising event for the library presenting to a group of privileged wealthy males. I was with two colleagues, including a supervisor (not mine) and the Library Director. A man who I later learned was the husband of one of our Library Commissioners made numerous loud comments to his buddies about my body and what he wanted to do to it sexually as I was reaching up to set up the projection screen. I felt physically ill, but turned around and glared at them anyway, at which point they all laughed at me. I walked out of the room and immediately sought the assistance of the supervisor on site, and together we went to the Library Director for help. I said I was uncomfortable and wanted to leave. I was told I had to stay and finish the presentation. The next day the Library Director apologized that she’d handled it poorly and then she actually did the right thing and directly called this guy out on his behavior. He tried to send me flowers, which I told him to shove up his ass.
It was about this point in my career that I started to be a public figure of sorts, at least within the small ecosystem that is the library world. And then all of the incidents I listed in the 2011 blog post occurred, from 2004 through 2011. Men harassed me at conferences, at home, and at work. I fell into a protective, reactive stance and was always on alert. I started to not want to speak publicly. I started to avoid social events at conferences. I was withdrawing to protect myself. I reported the worst offenders to conference organizers, supervisors, event liaisons, and law enforcement…whoever seemed appropriate given the situation. I only know of a couple of cases where what I would consider to be adequate consequences were meted out. Most of the time no action was taken.
Since then I’ve experienced far less harassment at library conferences, perhaps because I spoke up. I’d like to think so. But the harassment has not stopped completely.
More incidents have happened connected to my day job as a Library Director lately. Being featured in the local paper a few times and being visible at public meetings paints a much bigger target on me. I’ve experienced a few incidents of inappropriate touching, harassment, and assault–none of which were at work (but all of which were related to work). The most upsetting incident was an assault. A couple of years ago a young man followed me out of our branch library while I was taking a walk on my break, and in an isolated area tried to physically force himself on me repeatedly, placing his hands on me and kissing me, as he claimed we were meant for each other and proposed to me. Thankfully I fought hard, pinning his groin under my stiletto heel and managing to make him give me his ID so I could get his name and address and pursue protective measures.
The change in my personal response to harassment over the last twenty years is remarkable to me, a confidence and intolerance gained through age and, unfortunately, experience.
Assault and Harassment are Real
Sexual assault and harassment happen. You would be delusional to think it doesn’t, or that all of these people in all of these places are making up stories just for kicks about ill-advised and illegal behavior. 1 out of 6 American women has been the victim of attempted or completed rape in her lifetime (source: RAINN). 60% of assaults are not reported to the police and 97% of rapists never spend a day in jail (source: RAINN). Numerous surveys show that approximately 1 out of 4 women have been sexually harassed in the workplace along with 1 out of 10 men, and the majority of them never report it (source: ABC News/Washington Post).
If you haven’t experienced assault or harassment, or have not seen it happen to someone you love, you have zero idea of the long-term impact these events have. So please, for the love of all things good, stop talking out of your ass about your ill-informed opinions on how victims should respond and how following proper channels will always result in a just outcome.
I am still not naming names, as you’ve likely noticed. You have every right to ask why. I am choosing to not name names for two reasons. First, in the cases where I reported the behavior, I consider my due diligence done even if I did not get the outcome I wanted. Second, naming names in a forum like this can cause legal problems for myself (as evidenced by the Team Harpy case and countless cases before that one), and problems for those I name, even those who were just witnesses and the institutions where these incidents took place. I wish that wasn’t the case and I look forward to a day when victims aren’t afraid of the unfair consequences of speaking truth.
What I’ve Learned
When I think back to being a new librarian I was easily swayed by the librarians I perceived to be famous. Men and women who got to speak at conferences were, to me, gods and goddesses. I was scared to approach them until I did one day and found out that we’re all just people–you can have a conversation with a librarian about library stuff and be pretty much guaranteed they will be friendly, open, and generous most of the time. It’s who we are.
My recommendations to new librarians entering the field is to not let fame sway you (which really, let’s be honest, is more like “micro-fame” within our tiny sphere of the world). Just because someone speaks at a conference does not mean they have immunity regarding their behavior. Just because someone has a blog or a well-read Twitter account does not mean they are any smarter than you are, any better than you are, or any more protected than you are. If you are approached inappropriately by someone who you perceive to be in a position of power, fight back verbally, and physically if you absolutely must. Ask for help from those around you. Get witnesses. And tell someone. Above all, please tell someone.
The Lasting Impact of Assault and Harassment
I do not look smart and strong in the incidents I write about here. I look vulnerable, naive, and perhaps even a little stupid. I don’t particularly like exposing that side of myself to the greater world, but if it serves the purpose of raising awareness and sensitivity then I’m willing to do it. I can look back and think about how young I was, and that I did the best I could under the circumstances–but a big part of me thinks I should have done more each and every time.
These incidents of sexual harassment and assault happened to me. They are my laundry and my skeletons. I own them and they own me. But they are not me, are not who I am. Like each individual, I am a complex creation of heredity and experience. No one thing led me to where I am today. But I never forget about these incidents. Decades later, the memory of feeling helpless, not in control of my own space and body, makes me want to fight like hell whenever I can to prevent this from happening to others.
Assault and harassment change you for life. We’ve had enough lives changed in this way. It’s time for it to stop, and it’s time for us to support those who do speak up – in whatever form they chose to speak up.
UPDATE 3/27/15: I have chosen to close comments on this post due to repeated hateful comments that violate the commenting rules for my website.
Many people have had questions about the lawsuit filed by Joseph Murphy against nina de jesus and Lisa Rabey, and about #teamharpy. Here is an attempt to answer the most common questions so that we can all start from an informed position.
What is Team Harpy all about?
Joseph Murphy (aka Joe Murphy) has begun legal proceedings naming nina de jesus and Lisa Rabey as defendants in a defamation lawsuit in the Canadian courts, asking for a total of $1.25 million in damages. All three are librarians. Mr. Murphy claims that nina and Lisa:
“have injured his personal and professional reputation, and have lowered him in the estimation of right-thinking members of society, generally, and, in particular, have caused him to be regarded with feelings of hatred, contempt, ridicule, fear, dislike, approbrium or disesteem. The defendants’ statements are clearly defamatory and impossible to justify.”
nina and Lisa stand by the fairness and truthfulness of their comments. More about the lawsuit can be found at http://teamharpy.wordpress.com
Who is Team Harpy?
Team Harpy supports the rights of nina and Lisa to speak about the behavior of Mr. Murphy.
Why are they called Team Harpy?
In the early days of this story, they were called harpies by some opinionated individuals.
Why don’t nina and Lisa share any proof they have that the statements they made about Mr. Murphy are true?
Because of the pending lawsuit filed by Mr. Murphy against nina and Lisa, all parties involved with the lawsuit must be cautious about what information is shared publicly, when, and how. As a pending legal issue, all matters of speech are necessarily complicated. At this time, all information supporting the defense of the defendants (nina and Lisa) is not being made public for various reasons that cannot be discussed publicly at this time.
Why didn’t any direct victims of Mr. Murphy report his behavior to conference organizers, their supervisors, or his supervisors?
No one purports to know how many people had negative experiences of a sexual advances, touching, or harassment from Mr. Murphy. One or more people known to the defendants (nina and Lisa) did report Mr. Murphy’s behavior to conference organizers, their supervisors, and/or his supervisors. Furthermore, the American Library Association had not adopted a Code of Conduct until recently, well after the bulk of the behavior addressed in nina’s and Lisa’s statements. It should be noted that other well-regarded and well-attended library and librarian conferences still do not have a Code of Conduct and in many cases there is still no policy, reporting structure, or procedures in place.
Why aren’t the victims coming forward publicly now on social media to say “I was a victim” and explain what happened?
Again, no one knows how many people may fall into this category. Victims do not owe it to anyone to come forward. Victims have their own set of circumstances, their own set of values, and their own set of challenges. Victims who have chosen to make themselves known to the defendants (nina and Lisa) will have their identities protected until the lawsuit requires people to publicly come forward.
What happens next with the lawsuit?
One of two things will happen—the lawsuit will be dropped by Mr. Murphy or the lawsuit will proceed and the Canadian justice system will determine the timing of a trial.
How much has been raised for the Team Harpy Legal Defense Fund and what is the status of the balance?
To date (Wednesday, October 1, 2014 – 9:00pm), after PayPal fees $13,498.89 has been raised. $400.57 has been disbursed to Lisa and $900.56 has been disbursed to nina for legal expenses already incurred, leaving $12,197.76. Sarah Houghton is running the legal defense fund for the sake of transparency and openness.
What can I do to lend my support?
Donate to the Team Harpy legal defense fund.
What can I do if I myself have experienced or witnessed Murphy’s inappropriate behavior?
Sign up as a witness if you have you directly experienced Mr. Murphy acting inappropriately—unwelcome sexual advances, unwelcome sexual touching, unwelcome sexual comments, etc., have seen it happen to someone else, or have been made aware of Mr. Murphy’s behavior from someone other than nina or Lisa.
Where did the $1.25 million lawsuit figure come from?
There is no public information about how the damages were calculated. You would have to ask Mr. Murphy.
Why are nina and Lisa being sued together in one case?
Again, you would have to ask Mr. Murphy.
Why is this case being tried in Canada?
Again, you would have to ask Mr. Murphy. As nina is a citizen of Canada, this does allow for the case to proceed in that jurisdiction.
What will happen to the parties involved at the end of all of this?
nina and Lisa are the defendants in this case. There has been no legal proceeding, directly related to this case, against Mr. Murphy for his actions. At the end of all of this, whether the case is dropped or goes to trial, Mr. Murphy’s behavior will not be legally questioned nor will he be held legally accountable for any of his actions–in the scope of this case. Depending on the outcome of the trial, nina and Lisa will either be acquitted or held financially liable for defamation, up to the amount of the lawsuit: $1.25 million.
I support #teamharpy wholeheartedly.
Team Harpy is a rapidly growing group of people who support an individual’s rights to call out the harassing behavior of another individual. Namely, Team Harpy supports the rights of Lisa Rabey and nina de jesus to speak about the behavior of Joe Murphy, a fellow librarian. Why are they called Team Harpy? In the early days of this story, they were called harpies by some opinionated individuals.
This is the TL;DR version of the story to date.
1. Earlier this year in 2014, Lisa Tweeted and nina wrote a blog post about the prevailing issue of sexual harassment and other problematic behavior in library conferences and mentioned Joe Murphy as an example.
2. Joe sent a cease and desist letter to Lisa and nina telling them to remove not only their own posts, but to demand the removal of any re-Tweets, comments, links, etc. from anyone else who chimed in on the conversation. He also demanded a retraction and written apologies from both of them.
3. They refused to be silenced and said no.
Last Friday, August 22nd, the California State Senate voted unanimously to confirm Governor Brown’s nomination of Greg Lucas as California State Librarian.
When Lucas was nominated I had some things to say. I wrote letters to senators, reached out to CLA leadership, and talked extensively with other California librarians about the nomination.
Now that Lucas has been confirmed I have some more things to say.
I cannot overemphasize that I have no negative feelings toward Greg Lucas whatsoever. Although his lack of education and experience in libraries (or anything library-related, or large-organization-related) bothers me tremendously, ignorance is not a personal flaw. Libraries’ core mission is to help people learn more and combat ignorance. I have met Lucas twice and am convinced he is trying to learn.
That being said, as I pointed out in my original blog post, the California State Education Code clearly states:
19302. The division shall be in charge of a chief who shall be a technically trained librarian and shall be known as the “State Librarian.”
In his confirmation hearing with the Senate Rules Committee, Lucas stated that he had just begun, this month, taking a class (yes, that’s “a class” singular) from San Jose State University’s controversially newly renamed School of Information. A few weeks of one class does not a librarian make. Can you imagine a state attorney or physician being appointed with as little training? “Well, I’ve taken ‘Intro to Human Biology’ for a few weeks so I think I’m good to go leading up the State’s efforts on healthcare reform.” Never. That would never, ever happen.
Again, this isn’t Lucas’s fault–he’s trying. It’s the Governor’s and the Senate’s fault for not doing their job and appointing an actual librarian to be the State Librarian.
Let’s take a few facts from the hearings and look at what they tell us.
1) Senate President pro tem Darrell Steinberg said to Mr. Lucas, “We have all known you for a long time.”
Because knowing someone for a long time in your inner circles qualifies him for a trained, professional post. Oh no, that’s right–that’s cronyism.
2) Current President of the California Library Association, Deborah Doyle, said in the same breath that she’s impressed by Lucas’s performance and also that “It is a political appointment. He seems to have lots of connections that sometimes people who have been born and raised in the library system don’t normally have.” Following Doyle’s lead, CLA’s President-Elect, Robert Karatsu, said much the same thing.
Wow. So, yes, you’re right Ms. Doyle. It’s a political appointment. So why bother stand up for librarians’ professional values, your responsibility to communities across the state, and say what’s on the minds of the state’s librarians? Oh yeah, politics. Politics infiltrate the library world as much as anyplace else. That doesn’t mean that it’s moral or acceptable to not speak up and advocate for those you are tasked to represent.
3) Lobbyists from the California School Library Association, the California SEIU, and the California Student Aid Commission also testified in support of the nomination.
Really? These groups, especially the California SEIU who represents degree-holding librarians across the state, did not have a problem with this? Or is it again, at the risk of being cliche, politics as usual?
I am convinced that the State Senate did not question Lucas’s qualifications because of two factors: 1) They assumed that librarians, quiet little meek mice that we are, would not raise objections about the technical lack of qualifications of the nominee; and 2) They were right, at least in regard to the organizations tasked with advocating for libraries in California.
I will echo what I said in my first post: I sincerely hope Greg Lucas turns out to be a truly kick-ass State Librarian.
And yet I am hugely disappointed by the actions of the California Library Association’s leadership, by the actions of people who supported these actions, actively or implicitly, and by those who stood silently by as this unfolded. Shame on all of you. You failed. You let a bad thing happen without fighting it.
I’m a librarian, I’m proud of being a librarian, and I’m not going to stand idly by while our profession and the services we provide to our communities get stomped into the ground and devalued by politicians in Sacramento.
These are the days of NSA spying headlines, complaints about companies using and misusing private data to conduct psychological experiments, sell us things, and change the way we engage with politics.
I received a tip from a whistle blower that Rosetta Stone’s Library Edition was setting ad tracking cookies (without disclosure or consent) on the personal computers of any library users who used the Library Edition that is offered through their libraries. This applied not only to the full product, but also to any library offering a temporary trial of the product.
The source stated that the tracking cookies are linked to Google’s DoubleClick advertising network, and were being used to display Rosetta Stone ads on any website within Google’s syndication network that the patron subsequently visits. The ads in question promoted the complete Rosetta Stone set (Levels 1-5). Why does that make sense? Because the Library Edition only contains Level 1 for any of the offered languages. And advertising additional levels = $$$ for Rosetta Stone.
I was at first skeptical, as I am of all claims about library companies doing nefarious things. I get more of these tips than you’d think, and most of them turn out to be bogus once I test them and talk with the company.
But, in this case, my corporate bullshit detector was already buzzing about Rosetta Stone after they all but gave the finger to libraries who had been licensing their language learning products. Only a few libraries remain Rosetta Stone customers, but those who are, take note of the following:
Your patrons were getting tagged through the product you offered to them and then spammed with ads to promote the complete Rosetta Stone set.
Are you okay with that? Does this violate your library’s privacy or confidentiality policy? Does it violate information you provide library users about what information is being kept about them when they use library services? My guess is yes.
“Now Sarah,” you might ask, “Why are you saying ‘were’?”
Because now that they got caught, Rosetta Stone says they’ve stopped. I think.
In response to my press inquiry, I received a perfectly pleasant email from Christophe Pralong, Rosetta Stone Director for Higher Education and Learning.
The TL;DR version of his response is “Well yes, now that you mention it, library users might have picked these wicked little marketing monsters up, but we’ve now removed them from all library-specific pages. So now it’s all cool, right bro?”
Below is a screenshot of the email response I received:
First, “re-marketing pixels” work the same as cookies, so as much as Rosetta Stone wants to sanitize the language describing what they do to users, they are marking people in a supposedly safe digital library environment. Not cool.
Second, did it not occur to anyone at Rosetta Stone that library users will be using sign-on pages, and as a result, those “re-marketing pixels” will be tagging them just as they tag all the other users? And that, as might be expected, librarians might be a tad bit pissed off about this?
Third, “all library-specific pages” only? Does that mean that a general log-in page still has the tracking “re-marketing pixels”?
My library does not subscribe to Rosetta Stone. We could not afford it, and frankly it’s a poor value for what you have to pay. I’m really rather glad, right now, that we are not customers.
If your library does subscribe, however, here’s my three-fold suggestion:
- Talk to whoever you have to in your organization to inform them that this problem occurred.
- Send a letter of concern/complaint from your organization to Rosetta Stone, stating your feelings about you library users being tagged and marketed to by the very company you’re already paying.
- Inform your patrons of what happened and apologize, because ultimately we as librarians are responsible for the actions, good and bad, of the companies whose products we thrust into our patrons’ hands.