From The Wall Street Journal:
The ever-changing digital landscape poses a challenge for libraries: How do they enter this new world—while staying true to their public mission and preserving the privacy of patrons online?
It’s a question Tony Ageh, chief digital officer at the New York Public Library, has spent a lot of time thinking about. Mr. Ageh has supported a number of digital initiatives, including an expansion of digital lending. The library, which currently gets 300,000 visits to its website each week, now offers borrowers 1.7 million e-books.
At the same time, Mr. Ageh says, it’s crucial to maintain the trust that the public has in public libraries. For instance, unlike many other sites and search engines, the New York Public Library’s online system doesn’t store personal data about users.
“People expect us to be kind of the same level of security as a bank,” he says.
And Mr. Ageh stresses the library’s role as a home for authentic scholarship at a time when counterfeit books have become a rising challenge for Amazon, publishers and writers.
. . . .
WSJ: What role does the library play in maintaining readers’ trust and setting standards around that as you expand online and digitize more books?
MR. AGEH: I think the most trustworthy and reliable organization when it comes to this sort of thing is the library. If [a hard copy of a book has got] a library stamp on it, we will guarantee that book is the real book. You can tell if anybody had doctored it, because if a page is missing, the numbering would be missing. That is an authentic copy of that book.
There is no way that any organization at all could make that claim for a digital copy of the same book. Kindle renumbers the pages, you wouldn’t know if somebody had taken a word out, you wouldn’t know if they changed the order, so the ability to verify the authenticity of a fundamental work can only be done, hand on heart, by a librarian. Even if we digitize the books ourselves and publish them, we would still need to think very seriously about how we are certain that, when it’s out in the web, that nothing changes it.
WSJ: Do you think people overlook the trust that libraries offer?
MR. AGEH: If I told you to close your eyes and think about a library, and I asked you what you could see in your mind’s eye, you’d say, “I can see books,” probably. But there are two things you can see, and the other one is so big you can’t see it. It’s the building the books are in. Once you’re inside the walls of a library, you are safe.
It’s a sanctuary of sorts. The thing that makes you safe in the library is that you know that nothing is trying to exploit you, that everything in there is reliable, every person in there is on your side, that we’re not going to ask anything back apart from, maybe, “Would you mind bringing the book back, and be respectful of other people.”
WSJ: How are you bringing that same feeling of security online?
MR. AGEH: I won’t lie, it’s a challenge. If I asked librarians, ”What do you want the technology to do?” None of them would say, “I want the technology to secure the position of the library in the hearts and minds of the public.” But it’s a matter of the library understanding the thing they need most, and the thing they need most is an environment where you could trust what’s going on.
WSJ: How do you make the New York library a digital sanctuary as much as a physical sanctuary?
MR. AGEH: Physical libraries are one of the last noncommercial public spaces, accessible to all and free of distractions. We hope to replicate this in our digital spaces. This manifests primarily in what we choose not to do—we don’t incorporate digital advertising, we don’t try to force user actions like checking out one book or another. So much digital technology—social media, e-commerce, mobile gaming—is trying to manipulate the user. We hope to build trust and create that sense of sanctuary by not engaging in such practices and letting people accomplish what they want to accomplish.
Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)