There have been some rather heated and opinionated discussions going on Web4Lib and Dig_Ref about Gmail (Google’s new e-mail service, for those of you who have been living in a ditch for the last week). There were so many good concerns raised in these discussions, that I wanted to sum up the important issues (as I see them) so far. For an introductory summary of the controversy surrounding Gmail, go here.

1) If you’re replying to an e-mail reference question by a patron with a Gmail account, are you violating your privacy policy (or your state’s privacy policy), by knowingly sending a message to a service that will scan and retain the information in that message?
2) Since the targeted advertising is based on both incoming and outgoing messages, will all the SPAM people receive be taken into consideration for their advertising? If so, many of us are going to be getting a lot of porn site, mortgage broker, and online university ads.
3) In its privacy policy, GMail is upfront about the information it collects. Users (in general, and come on, yes, we do know it’s true) do not read privacy policies, so will be unaware of what they are signing up for.
4) Users trust Google as a search engine, and in large part, have been led to do so by librarians and educators. This trust will likely automatically transfer to Google’s Gmail.
5) All e-mail should be considered to be “not secure.” Patrons, in general, do not know this.
6) Are the servers that Google will use to store Gmail located in the United States? If so, does the Patriot Act apply to the e-mails stored on these servers?

My feeling, as I expressed in my own message to Web4Lib is this: Google is setting a dangerous (& frankly, unexpected) precedent by dangling the carrot of ample storage space in front of users, in return for completely abandoning any privacy they might have with a more privacy-oriented service. I echo Karen Schneider’s desire for other companies to come forth with super-private e-mail systems in response to the outcry against Google’s hard-core data mining. Simply put, my privacy is worth more than a gig.

I think this controversy (as it is being more widely reported now in popular media) provides those of us who work with the public with a good opportunity to do some user education about online privacy concerns. As has been said again and again throughout discussions on this issue, this is a teachable moment if ever there was one.

LISNews is assembling the first annual LISNews Top Web Sites For Librarians, and they need your help. Their goal is to find the best, most useful, most helpful, funniest, and most interesting sites that can be used by librarians as we do our jobs each and every day. What are your favorite sites and why? What are the sites you can’t live without? What are the sites you use at the desk every day? What sites keep you informed? Where do you go for a laugh? Your favorite vendors? E-mail them at topsites04@lisnews.com with your favorite sites and why you like them.

Librarian Gear

April 8, 2004 | Comments (0)

They’re baaaaack! Remember those “Librarians Do It Quietly” and “Rowdy Librarian” tees that a Canadian Library School produced? Well, Librarian Gear took those clever images and has their own store now—with tees, mousepads, and intimate apparel. I see myself spending some cash at this site…

28 different privacy & civil liberty organizations have asked Google to suspend Gmail until privacy concerns are addressed. One key issue that they address is data retention schedules, something I hadn’t thought of yet…not to mention the scanning of your e-mail for keywords, through which users would get targeted advertising.

link via ResourceShelf

A Bush photomosaic of the faces of the fallen in Iraq.

The Academy of Art College in San Francisco just expelled a student for writing a “violent” short story for class, and then fired his instructor for teaching a story by David Foster Wallace that the administration did not approve of. Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket fame) wrote to Neil Gaiman, among others, who posted the story to his personal blog. Interesting that an art school (typically thought of as rather liberal) in San Francisco (typically thought of as very liberal) would be the perpetrators of such a sad example of censorship. Throw your hat in the ring with mine and please write to the university.

“Inside the Searcher’s Mind” takes a look at the behavior of searchers. What I like most about this article is that the author acknowledges that there is no such thing as the “average searcher.” I see that phrase (or at least the idea of the phrase) bandied about far too often. There are so many things that affect how someone searches–what (s)he is searching for, how experienced (s)he is, what tools (s)he is using, connection speed…. These are things that any database or website designer need to consider, and address. Thanks to the author for not “average-izing” the complicated behavior of searchers.

link via Phil Bradley

Too much fun…

April 6, 2004 | Comments (2)
SarahSouthPark.jpg Can’t restrain myself from posting this. What would you look like as a South Park character?

BlogWithoutALibrary.net has a nice list of libraries using blogs. And, even better, each list has an RSS feed.

Myst IV, here I come. Myst III: Exile was quite challenging, so I’m looking forward to the new installment for hours of gaming goodness.