OCLC Report - Front CoverI recently received a copy of the OCLC report on “Sharing, Privacy and Trust In Our Networked World“. This is a report which I would recommend to everyone with an interest in the Web 2.0 world, in particular those who welcome evidence of the views of users of social networking services and discussions of the implications of such views.

The report is available on the OCLC Web site (in PDF format). I should point out that the report is very large (about 250 pages, I think) with many colour graphics. I should also add that I received a hard copy of the report as I contributed to the report, being one of only two UK contributors (the other being Andy Powell from the Eduserv Foundation) who gave their views on issues related to sharing, privacy and trust.

The report is based on a survey of 6,545 participants carried out between 7th December 2006 and 7th February 2007. The participants were from the US (a total of 1,801), Canada (921), UK (970), France (821), Germany (846) and Japan (804). An additional survey of 4,000 US library directors was also carried out, with 382 replies from library directors from academic, public, community college, school and special libraries being received. Interviews with selected information professionals (including myself and Andy) were also carried out. All in all, an impressive survey which helped to shape a fascinating report.

I will not attempt to repeat all of the issues raised in the report, you’ll be pleased to hear. Some particular issues of note are worth commenting upon, however. There seems to be a discrepancy between the views of library directors concerning privacy issues and the general user community: librarians have real concerns about privacy, and are less likely to make use of social networks for relationship buildings and for fun. Ironically general users “do not rate most library services as very private” even though “the majority do not read library privacy policies.” Most users do, however, “feel commercial sites keep their personal information secure” but only “about half think library Web sites keep their personal information secure“. The nature of trust of commercial social network services is also increasing with use.

These findings do surprise me. I had expected libraries to be the trusted organisations, with users having concerns regarding potential misuse of data held by commercial services. It seems that my views may perhaps reflect my personal prejudices, and that, as someone who is an information professional and who has spent his working life in the public sector, my views do not reflect those of the general public. Are public libraries (especially in the US) regarded as being too closely aligned with the government, with concerns over government snooping reflecting on the attitudes users have to making their personal data available in a library context? And do the reservations over use of personal data by academic libraries reflect concerns by staff and students over the relationships between the organisation and the individual?

Such issues informed the conclusions of the report. The section on “Open The Doors” felt that “the library brand must go from institutional to personal“. The authors felt that the views they held a few years ago, which “conceived a social library as a library of traditional services enhanced by a set of social tools – wikis, blogs, mashups, and podcasts” were mistaken, and their views “after living with the data, struggling with the findings, listening to the experts .. is [now] quite different“.
It would be a mistake, the report concludes, “to create a checklist of social tools for librarians to learn or to generate a ‘top ten’ list of services to implement on the current library Web site“. They argued that “The social Web is not being build by augmenting traditional Web sites with new tools.

They now feel that institutions should “Open the library doors, invite mass participation and relax the rules“. The dangers were acknowledged (“It will be messy“) but the rewards where felt to be worth it: “mass participation and a little chaos often create exciting venues for collaboration, creativity, community building and transformation“.

The authors of the report invite feedback on the OCLC Web site. I too would welcome comments. In particular, how relevant is this vision within a UK context? And what are the implications for current plans for library development activities?