Data Management in Library Learning Analytics

My latest paper was published this week and I am so very excited to share it with you all. It is Data Management Practices in Academic Library Learning Analytics: A Critical Review.

Every article has a story behind it and this one, as happens with the best articles, started with me getting very annoyed. I had just been introduced to the concept of library learning analytics and was reading a pair studies for a different project. I couldn’t focus on the purpose of the studies because I kept running into concerns with how the researchers were handling the data. What annoyed me most was that one of the studies kept insisting that their data was anonymous when it clearly wasn’t, which has huge implications for data privacy. A little poking around made me realize that such data problems appear with terrible frequency in library learning analytics.

There’s quite a history of ethical debates around library learning analytics but almost no research on the data handling practices which impact patron privacy in very practical ways. After a little digging through the literature and a lot of shouting at my computer, I knew I had to write this paper.

So what did I find? Libraries: we need to do better. For all that we talk about patron privacy, there is sufficient evidence to show that we’re not backing up that intent with proper data protections. The best way to protect data is to collect limited amounts, de-identify it where possible, secure it properly, and keep it for a short time before deleting it. We’re not doing that. I’m also concerned about how we handle consent and opt-in/out, something I didn’t originally intend to study but couldn’t ignore once I started reading. There’s a lot more in the paper, including some explanations of why these are best practices, so I encourage you to go there for more details. And afterward go figure out how to protect your data better.

Finally, I need to again thank Abigail Goben and Dorothea Salo for acting as my sounding boards through this entire process. They listened to me rant, helped me worked out a path for this research, and edited drafts for me. I am deeply grateful for their assistance and I know this paper would not be half as good without their help.