“The ways libraries operate has been deeply influenced by trends in retailing. Barnes and Noble borrowed library décor to furnish their stores, and libraries then had to borrow it back after learning that our patrons love of bookish and comfortable reading spaces was not being nourished in libraries. We had an awesomely vast catalog of books in Worldcat, but it wasn’t until our patrons showed up with Amazon printouts that we realized how shortsighted it was to confine all that information about books to a fairly clunky library-based subscription database. We had accrued a lot of cultural capital, but we didn’t value it until corporations borrowed it and began to exploit it.
One bit of library capital that hasn’t been borrowed by social media companies is our respect for privacy as a condition fundamental to intellectual freedom. We don’t want to look over your shoulder when you read. We don’t want to provide information about what you’re reading to others. This runs against prevailing ideas about how social relationships work. Even JSTOR is trying out a way of trading limited free access to articles in exchange for data that publishers can use. In the absence of any access, this seems like a good deal, but it’s not clear to me why we can’t do better. I already click through a copyright statement every time I use JSTOR because I prefer not to tie what I read to a personal account. I suppose JSTOR might say establishing personal accounts will improve our user experience, but I’m not buying it.