One of the bits of work that we’re doing at the moment is to talk to students about their thoughts about personalised library services. The aim of the work is to help us to understand what students might want (or not want) and to then use that information to build some tools that we can test with them.  In part it is being driven by a realisation that library websites and systems are competing against expectations that are shaped by sites such as Google and Amazon.  Traditional library websites such as OPACs seem to be a world away from a modern web experience (see Aaron Schmidt’s blogpost on Library Journal for example).

One of the interesting things that is coming out of the work for me is around attitudes and expectations for the personal use data that is being collected as part of user engagement with our systems.   I’d expected that students would be quite guarded about what they would expect a library system to know about them, because generally speaking, libraries rarely seem to use data to provide much in the way of a personalised service.  But expectations seem to be that once a student has logged in then library systems should know their name and the course they are studying, at least.  But that maybe the library systems should also know what previous courses they’d studied or their contact preferences.   And that is really interesting to know as it’s difficult to think of many (any? other than some experimental work) examples of library systems that do track what courses a student is studying and actively use that data to provide a tailored service.

When we asked some specific questions about whether students would object to us using certain data to tailor services, over 90% of respondents didn’t object to us using their course or previous material they’ve accessed as a means of providing personalised services.  More than 80% had no objection to using their previous courses or search terms for personalisation. I think I would have expected a larger number of respondents who objected to the use of their data.

What I think is that there’s a trade-off between privacy and service (highlighted in this article by Li and Unger ‘Willing to pay for quality personalization?‘ (link is to abstract) from European Journal of Information Systems (2012) 21, 621–642. doi:10.1057/ejis.2012.13).  So there is a conscious calculation being made in terms of being able to see that you, the user, are getting a direct benefit from allowing the system to know something about you.  As a user you make that calculation and judge whether it seems reasonable to you or not.  ‘Does the benefit outweigh the loss of privacy?’  It strikes me that there seems to be an element here where users might be ascribing a ‘value’ to their data and they’d ‘trade’ that value for a benefit.  That makes me wonder whether the likes of Google (that essentially make their business model in part at least out of the value they can leverage from user data) have had the effect of making users realise that their ‘data’ also has a value that they can swop for a service?