The Challenge


How can we strengthen the Internet for free expression and innovation? read the brief


Privacy, Data Literacy, and Libraries

Libraries are a digital lifeline for members of underserved communities in the United States. They provide connectivity, offer one-on-one assistance, and teach digital literacy. As concerns about digital discrimination and protecting online privacy grow, the capacity of libraries to meet patrons' data literacy needs becomes urgent. By providing frontline staff at libraries with knowledge and skills to confront these concerns, this project aims to improve library's capacity to support meaningful digital inclusion of the Internet's most marginal users in an age of pervasive data collection, sharing, and profiling.
The New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute (OTI) in partnership with the Metropolitan New York Library Council (METRO) proposes a project to promote data literacy among library professionals, especially those serving patrons with the greatest digital literacy needs.

During the first portion of the grant, OTI will develop a staff training module on data literacy. The training module will build upon prior digital privacy literacy research completed at Brooklyn Public Library and other digital literacy organizations. Through focus groups with librarians and technology trainers and facilitated discussions with key staff, OTI ascertained that staff—not just patrons—require greater understanding and awareness of digital privacy and how data about individuals flows on the Internet.

During the bulk of the grant, OTI will conduct staff trainings for library professionals who seek the services of METRO. METRO will develop an innovative recruitment plan to engage library professionals serving patrons with marginal digital literacy skills. It will also develop opportunities to learn in real-time or asynchronously, at METRO and in members' locales. Across the project grant period, both partners will ensure that data literacy becomes a more frequent topic of conversation among key stakeholders involved in privacy and universal broadband debate.

The outcomes of this project include increased growth in knowledge and teaching capacity among library professionals in the New York metropolitan area, particularly those serving marginalized populations; broader adoption of data protecting tools among library professionals; and, creation of reputational capital of libraries among key stakeholders about the importance of data literacy to digital inclusion.

Data literacy is increasingly a critical component of digital inclusion. The ability to benefit from computers and Internet access—whether in civic, economic, social, or cultural terms—depends on the integrity of one's personal data. With a grant from the Knight News Challenge, the METRO-OTI partnership aims to establish libraries as leaders in bridging not just the digital divide but also the divide between data "subjects" and data "holders," and adequately preparing patrons for the privacy and discriminatory challenges brought about by pervasiveness of surveillance technologies in digital communication networks today.

To evaluate its efforts, OTI will work with Brooklyn Public Library and one other library system in the METRO network, to:

-ascertain baseline privacy and data profiling knowledge and data-protecting skills;
-gather feedback on the effectiveness of the training; and
-conduct focus groups to determine midterm impacts of the project.

Results from this evaluation process will function as a means by which to upgrade the training curriculum as well as provide systematic evidence of the role of library professionals in serving the data protection needs of patrons.
In ONE sentence, tell us about your project to strengthen the Internet for free expression and innovation.
Through this project, libraries will get us one step further in protecting against privacy intrusions and digital discrimination and help ensure that the Internet's most marginal users can participate in digital society on their own terms.
Who will benefit from what you propose? What have you observed that makes you think that?
Primary benefits include greater awareness among library professionals of privacy problems and discrimination in a data-driven world--as well as solutions; adoption of data protecting techniques by library professionals; and, greater knowledge sharing among library institutions regarding patron's data protection needs. Longer-term impacts include increased capacity to field patrons’ concerns about digital privacy or digital discrimination and deepened public trust in the library's role as a community anchor. Finally, this project will help patrons more capably confront the challenges of going online. Prior research completed at OTI has demonstrated the integral role of social infrastructures--such as the wealth of social support provided by library institutions--in successful digital inclusion initiatives.
What progress have you made so far?
We have a network of library professionals eager to learn; material to build off of for staff training; a clearly demonstrated need for this kind of work; and, a history of research evaluating this kind of work.
What would be a successful outcome for your idea or project?
METRO-OTI will triangulate between enrollment numbers, clickstream data (for asynchronous portions of the training), evidence of changes in knowledge and skills-use, stories from librarians "on the floor" and in the classroom, to determine the effectiveness of the staff trainings at both the staff and patron level. More broadly, we will regard our project as successful if our training material and methods find a home in other library councils and other digital literacy training networks around the country. Overall, in doing this work, we hope to establish some baseline standards and baseline practices for engaging community anchor institutions in data literacy.
Who is on your team, and what are their relevant experiences or skills?
Seeta Peña Gangadharan is a Senior Research Fellow with the Field Team at the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute (OTI). Her research lies at the intersection of technology, civil society, and communication policy. She researches the nature of digital inequalities, data and discrimination, social dynamics of technology adoption, communication rights, and media justice. She also writes about the politics of communication policymaking, who’s heard, and who has power in debate and decision making. Jason Kucsma is the Executive Director of the Metropolitan New York Library Council. Jason's range of experience in library science includes emerging technologies, digitization, and digital preservation. He started at METRO in 2008 as the Emerging Technologies Manager, managing METRO's online presence and digital services including grants and professional development opportunities.
New York, NY, USA


Join the conversation and post a comment.

Francesca Rodriquez

April 15, 2014, 14:10PM
Thanks Seeta and Jason. Whether this receives Knight funding or not, I look forward to following the develop of this project on the OTI blog. I am interested to know the level of concern about personal data and privacy from library patrons and library digital technology staff.

Seeta Peña Gangadharan

April 15, 2014, 14:13PM
Thanks Francesca! Here's are links to OTI's prior research on the topic (and that pertains to libraries): and Would love to hear your thoughts.

Francesca Rodriquez

April 15, 2014, 14:16PM
Thanks for sending these. I look forward to reviewing.

Lee Fox

April 09, 2014, 18:39PM
Seeta your project is innovative and meaningful. I would love to explore synergies? You can take a peek at why I think we have a prospective partnership to consider here:

Francesca Rodriquez

April 09, 2014, 18:09PM
Hi Seeta, "METRO-OTI partnership aims to establish libraries as leaders in bridging not just the digital divide but also the divide between data "subjects" and data "holders," This to me is innovative. I really like this in theory. Couple of questions in terms of execution---In Chicago libraries, when we tried to implement a train the trainer model, we hit some bumps. You mentioned that the METRO program has a professional development track? Would these trainings be integrated into this portion of the already existing training track? From reading this, sounds as if there is good buy in. And are the focus groups for the library staff or the patrons who received the trainings? Thanks!

Seeta Peña Gangadharan

April 10, 2014, 20:46PM
Thanks Francesca for these questions.

This project will require some flexibility in order to meet the learning needs of library professionals, and we anticipate that the feedback we get from evaluations done at trainings (mostly quantitative indicators) as well as from the focus groups will allow us to adapt to contextual constraints and opportunities for training staff.

Similar to work OTI’s done on BTOP grantees and their populations served, we envision no less than four focus groups that target both staff and patrons. From staff, we plan to elicit stories about the nature of staff-patron interactions. How are trainees applying knowledge and skills in the contexts where patrons inquire or need help about privacy/data protection? How is this different other staff-patron interactions. We’ll use the focus groups to drill down to specific examples of problem solving and assistance, asking staff about the nature of concerns or problems that arise in classrooms or on the library floor.

From patrons, we plan to enter digital literacy classrooms to speak with students to ascertain their privacy/data protection concerns and their encounters with staff on the topic. What privacy/data protection questions have patrons asked? In what context (e.g., class or while in a computer lab)? To what effect? What questions remain? These qualitative insights will help us refine our training tools and provide us with the ability to make comparative statements about the impact of trainings.

As for your question about what kind of training we plan to conduct and METRO’s professional development track, I’ll defer to Jason to answer. Hoping he'll be able to join this comment thread (and if not—he’ll be posting a separate comment above).


Jason Kucsma

April 11, 2014, 12:45PM
Thanks, Francesca (and Seeta). Yes, METRO has an almost 50-year history providing professional development opportunities for library and archives professionals. You're 100% right about the challenge of getting buy-in (both administratively and from staff) at times. We've used varied workshop styles (full-day, half-day, two-hour technology tool sprints, webcasts) to address different learning styles and professionals' time constraints. We would apply the same sort of flexibility here, as Seeta points out, to bring library staff together in ways that are productive, outcome-driven, and responsive to professionals' needs and the needs of the communities we serve. It's our intention that this initial phase will produce a replicable model that can can be adapted by public library systems and community colleges nationwide.

Joseph Hall

March 19, 2014, 10:35AM
Love this... would love to get coffee sometime I'm up in NYC.

Seeta Peña Gangadharan

April 08, 2014, 12:51PM
Thanks Joe.... would love to meet up. Let me know when you're in NY next.
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