Librarian Confession: Library Users Improve My Personal Privacy Habits

General Interest, Privacy

By: John Mack Freeman

My name is Mack, and I have a librarian confession: I’m not great at online privacy.

Online PrivacyI know all the rules, and I can teach them to library users (probably in my sleep). The importance of strong passwords that are changed regularly. The importance of not keeping large numbers of tracking files stored on the computer. The importance of not staying logged into accounts so that they can track a user’s movement around the internet. The importance of not trading away my privacy for a little bit of convenience through single-service sign-ups through Google or Facebook.

And I want to be the person that practices what they preach in the library. Many librarians spend a good amount of the day helping library users stay safer in an online environment through direct instruction, classes and helpful guidance. But when it comes to my personal practices, sometimes I leave things to be desired. I’ll forget a password and change it to an old favorite or just be feeling tired and lazy and sign in to something using Facebook. And I can’t count the times I’ve caught myself not having logged out of Google.

But that doesn’t mean that just because perfection is never reached that all good habits should be abandoned. The next time I recommend to a user that they shouldn’t use the same password for every service, I should sit down and change more of my passwords. When preparing a class about online security, that should trigger a thought to remember to more cautious about storing my financial information online. When a library reviews its vendor contracts to make sure that user confidentiality has been taken into consideration, that should cue a thought to more carefully review the terms and conditions that each person agrees to with every new software purchase.

One of the wonderful things about librarians is that they are driven to improve their communities. And one of the wonderful side effects of that is it also ends up improving the librarians as individuals and professionals as we adopt more and more of the principles, good habits and thought processes that get encouraged to the library’s users.

Even in 2017, libraries across this country employ individuals with a wide range of technical skills and abilities. But as libraries we seek to promote individual privacy and the rights of each person to control his or her own data. No matter where each library staff member is starting from, the ideals of the library world provide the focus and aim. After all, teaching something is the best way to learn, so hopefully, we will become the best teachers and modelers of this behavior over time.


mackJohn “Mack” Freeman is the marketing and programming coordinator for the West Georgia Regional Library. He is a past recipient of the Freedom to Read Foundation’s Conable Scholarship, and he was a 2015 ALA Emerging Leader. He currently co-chairs the GLBTRT’s Stonewall Book Award Committee and is the second vice president/membership chair of the Georgia Library Association. He is interested in privacy, self-censorship, new frontiers of IF, and services to under-served communities. You can find out more about him at When not in library world, he enjoys walking Micah, the laziest blueheeler in the world, going on adventures with his husband Dale, and cooking Italian food from unintentionally snobby mid-century cookbooks. Find him on Twitter @johnmackfreeman.

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