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Privacy of Users and Co-reader Analyses@ M S Sridhar*

Libraries generate mines of data regarding use of and user-interactions with libraries. But under the general understanding of upholding customer privacy, such data is not subjected to complete processing and analysis. Protecting customers personal information is not just a courtesy, but a legal obligation too. The law is stringent in the West and more so in Europe and now the same is enacted in India also.. In order to provide personalized services, libraries and publishers do need personal information of customers. A clear privacy policy spelling out what information is collected, how it is used, how user can change it, with whom it is shared and how customers can opt out of it are necessary. Due to anonymity of transactions, many interesting social relations networks arising out of such data are not identified and results extracted. These social networks have rich potential for value added services in libraries. It is high time libraries reconsider continuing protection of customer privacy relating to their transactions like what they search, suggest/ indent, borrow/ read, reserve, copy/ download, etc. Anonymity and privacy are almost lost on internet due to crawlers, history stealing web sites and mushrooming of like buttons. Interestingly, if people know that they are being watched, their search habits are likely to change. Keeping the debate on need for anonymity and privacy issues aside, there are many positive benefits to users of libraries from the processing and analysis of transactions with libraries together with information about users.

In this context, it is worth sharing the experience of a tiny experiment conducted way back in 1980s in a special library in non-automated environment. It was quite natural, at that time, as part of a larger user study to speculate that the attitude of the users about a book and their book reservation behavior are influenced by the disclosure of background information like who suggested/ indented the book for the library and who are the other peers (in the organization) who are also interested in the book. A semicontrolled experiment was carried out during October 1985 to see how far the decision of a user to reserve and use a book is influenced by the interest of other colleagues in it. A carefully selected 30 new books were added to the new arrivals display of the library as usual but with a tag on 16 of them with the names (and their Sections/ Divisions/ Projects) of the persons who originally indented/suggested them. The same information about indenters of these books were also provided in the weekly list of additions, copies of which were distributed to all sections, divisions and projects just before the display started. The remaining 14 books fairly matching in subject scope and nature with the 16 books in the experimental group did not carry any such information about indenters either in the weekly list or on the display. After a week's display, it was found that the average number of reservations per book in the experimental group (where interest of other users/colleagues were publicized) was 1.56 as against 1.00 for books in the controlled group. Thus, 56% extra reservations on new books were received when users knew that other users/colleagues are interested in them.

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One universal finding of pre-digital era, confirmed and stood valid even in digital era, is that a typical user continues to rely on his colleagues much more than any other source for selection and use of books and other documents. Choice of books and references is strongly influenced by the recommendations of peers. Yet, huge and rich library circulation data accumulated in automated circulation modules of library management softwares are much less explored. There could have been extensive co-reader/ borrower analysis in libraries. Like co-occurrence of words (and unlike co-citation and co-authorship), the direction or sequence of occurrence of readers/borrowers is important and hence the analysis may not lead to generation of what are called equivalence classes of readers/ borrowers. A longitudinal study of use of books collecting data on who, in the organization, borrowed/ read the book prior to the present borrower/ reader is quite curious to grasp the direction of co-borrowers in the social network of the domain of users in a given institution. This aspect of influence of one reader on other potential readers to read a book is commercially well exploited in open archives and social networks. It is not only easy in online systems but also quite interesting to know that interest of peers in a book greatly influences users to consider reading that book and obviously Amazon and other commercial services have banked upon such data. They have even further extended such data to say that those who bought/ read this book have also bought/ read the following books and attract more customers. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- ------------------@

(Guest Editorial). SRELS Journal of Information Management, October 2011, v. 48 (5). 469-470.

Former Head, Library and Documentation, ISRO Satellite Centre, Bangalore 560017.

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