Popular Library Online Resource May End Due to Privacy Concerns

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Newport Beach Public Library may be forced to cancel a popular online resource by July 27 due to privacy concerns and state law compliance.
— Photo by Sara Hall ©

A popular online library resource may soon come to an end, due to privacy concerns and state law compliance issues, officials reported at a meeting this week.

LyndaLibrary from Lynda.com, an online subscription database that offers business, software, and technology training resources, was bought out by LinkedIn and will soon require patrons to create a LinkedIn account in order to use the LyndaLibrary learning resources.

This new requirement creates a few concerns, Library Services Director Tim Hetherton explained during his report to the Board of Library Trustees on Monday.

The biggest issue is that they ask patrons for visitor information that would be made public, like name, email address, visitor location, and other basic details. That information is then searchable on Google, Hetherton explained.

“It’s a big deal,” he said.

All five Board members expressed concern at the potential privacy risks.

“That is a big problem,” Board Secretary Douglas Coulter commented. “It’s very discouraging to hear them talk about Google getting in.”

Another issue is that California state law mandates that libraries keep personal information confidential and do not share it with third parties, Hetherton explained. First and foremost, they have to adhere to state law, and because of that they can’t comply with this new requirement, he pointed out.

With the new requirement, LinkedIn Learning will have access to a large amount personal data that should remain private, and more personal information than other library e-content vendors require, Hetherton pointed out, referencing an article Samantha Lee wrote on the American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Blog last month.

LinkedIn

The information collected by LinkedIn includes IP address, proxy server, operating system, web browser and add-ons, device identifier and features, and/or ISP or mobile carrier, and data about patron location.

“Staff is concerned that these new requirements violate California library confidentiality laws,” which require patron use records to remain confidential, and only disclosed to authorized individual or by court order, Hetherton wrote in the staff report.

After a user creates an account, they are prompted to add employment history and import their email contacts, Lee wrote in the June 4 ALA blog post. So, LinkedIn would not only have patron information, but also information for others who did not agree to use its platform, she concluded.

“The same patrons who are turning to LyndaLibrary to improve their technology skills are also the same patrons who may not know to protect their PII (personally identifiable information) or practice good digital hygiene,” Lee wrote. “LinkedIn is strategically taking advantage of technology novices all the while fleecing money from limited library budgets.”

LinkedIn bought Lynda.com for $1.5 billion in 2015. The professional networking site used by job-seekers and employers later rebranded Lynda.com as LinkedIn Learning.

The Lynda.com website now states that 100 percent of their courses and instructors have moved to LinkedIn Learning.

Library administration is also concerned about using public money to promote a commercial entity, Hetherton added. Staff has spoken about the matter with our peer regional libraries and the California State Library, who are consulting with their attorneys.

“Under these new requirements, staff is reluctant to renew the subscription to this popular resource,” Hetherton concluded.

Newport Beach Public Library Media Lab
Newport Beach Public Library Media Lab
— courtesy city of Newport Beach

On the Newport Beach library website’s page explaining the migration to LinkedIn Learning, officials wrote that representatives from libraries and library organizations from around the country have been meeting with LinkedIn to discuss these concerns, but unfortunately a resolution has not yet presented itself.

It’s incredibly popular and an excellent resource, Hetherton said Monday, so they are trying to work with LinkedIn, but that has proven difficult.

“I best describe their stance as intransigent,” Hetherton said.

They may have some leverage though, he continued, since the public libraries represent such a large market it’s a substantial amount of money on the line.

“I don’t think this is over, (not) by any shot,” Hetherton said.

They hope to be able to maintain access, but unless these concerns can be adequately addressed, the subscription may end.

The American Library Association is working on a statement with recommendations for public libraries, which should be released by the end of the month, Hetherton said.

They want to do a collective action statement, but that’s a two-way street, he added.

“It’s good to let the vendor know that there’s an issue with a lot of public libraries, but I don’t know if we really want to put ourselves out there, other than saying we can’t comply with your requirements because of California state law,” Hetherton said. “Although, it’s such a good database and so beloved by patrons that it would be nice to put some pressure on them to not go to this new business model.”

It’s encouraging that the ALA is trying to come up with something, Coulter noted.

Vice Chair Paul Walker suggested looking at other opportunities and what other libraries are doing. According to the monthly statistics, Lynda.com is heavily used, he added.

“I would be inclined to be proactive,” Walker said.

In about the last week, Hetherton received inquiries about competing database services. It’s like they smelled the blood in the water, he joked.

They will be looking into the possible alternatives, he confirmed.

July 27 is the deadline, but depending on how discussions go, what the ALA recommends, and other factors, things could change. The service could end in Newport for a few weeks or months, then, if LinkedIn changes their policy, the library could start it right back up. Or they could find a new service in the meantime.

“Hopefully this ends well,” Hetherton said.

For more information, visit newportbeachlibrary.org.

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