The Quandry of E-book Lending


From the Pew Internet and American Life Project, “What Should I Read Next?”:

“But the crux of the e-book quandary is that the search takes place in the patron’s home, far away from the reference desk. Instead, many people (including both e-book and print borrowers) told us that they would like their library account to offer personalized recommendations based on their previous borrowing history. When asked, 64% of Americans say they would be interested in personalized online accounts that provide customized recommendations for books and services based on their past library activity, similar to the recommendations offered by commercial sites like Amazon.”

As an avid e-book reader, I can totally sympathize with wanting my library interfaces to act more like Amazon. However, as a librarian, this brings one of our core tenants into conflict with what our patrons are requesting. The third bullet in the ALA Code of Ethics states,

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.

As such, we go to great lengths to make sure that patron records are not stored for long (preferably not stored at all). So how do we protect our patrons’ intellectual freedom while still meeting their perceived needs? Is this an opportunity to work with someone like Amazon? I wonder if Jeff Bazos would even be interested in such an alliance. Or maybe it would be a chance to utilize the services offered by Goodreads or LibraryThing. As a library user, I also use Goodreads to track my reading and I use my Kindle to also track my library e-lending. I don’t know that all patrons would be interested in utilizing those outside resources without some kind of integration with the library.

At any rate, what other options might we have as librarians to mitigate these conflicting ideas? A librarian in the Pew study suggested some combination of opt-in advisory service, online advisory forum, while retaining the in-person advisory interview. I can’t imagine being able to handle those in a way that serves all interests. Any other ideas out there?

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