Penn State librarians co-author book on privacy literacy in academic libraries

Practicing Privacy Literacy Book Cover

Sarah Hartman-Caverly (top) and Alexandria Chisholm, reference and instruction librarians at Berks Thun Library, Penn State Berks, co-authored “Practicing Privacy Literacy in Academic Libraries: Theories, Methods, and Cases," published by the Association of College and Research Libraries on Oct. 12, 2023.

Credit: Association of College and Research Libraries

UNIVERSITY PARK, PA. — A new book edited by two Penn State librarians, Sarah Hartman-Caverly and Alexandria Chisholm, collects practical ways for academic librarians to incorporate privacy literacy into their instruction and practice. "Practicing Privacy Literacy in Academic Libraries: Theories, Methods, and Cases” was published by the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) on Oct. 12.

Hartman-Caverly and Chisholm, both reference and instruction librarians at Berks Thun Library, Penn State Berks, created the book for other librarians who are interested in privacy issues and how to integrate them into their teaching and librarianship.

Privacy is not dead, said Hartman-Caverly and Chisholm — students care deeply about their privacy and the rights it safeguards. They need a way to articulate their concerns and guidance on how to act within the complexity of the current information ecosystem and culture of surveillance capitalism.

“We were inspired by findings from studies we conducted showing that academic librarians saw privacy as an important topic to explore with students, but faced numerous barriers to developing a privacy literacy practice, including lack of time, resources, and support,” said Hartman-Caverly. “A natural progression from our research, this volume is the first book-length examination of privacy literacy practices across all academic library functions. We want the book to provide a record of privacy literacy practices in academic libraries at their time of emergence.”

Although privacy has long been a central part of professional ethics in libraries, it has gained prominence in recent years, Hartman-Caverly said. Its interdisciplinary nature connects it with many knowledge domains and issues facing higher education, including debates surrounding student health and academic integrity monitoring during the coronavirus pandemic, and the more recent emergence of generative AI and its reliance on user-generated content for model training. The disparate impact of data collection, profiling and surveillance also aligns privacy efforts with diversity, equity, inclusion, access and belonging initiatives, she said.

“We would like to position library workers to be campus and societal thought leaders on privacy issues,” she added. “Soon after our own privacy literacy teaching and research collaboration started in 2018, the American Library Association amended the Library Bill of Rights to add article VII, which directly calls on libraries to educate about privacy. While we were working on the book, privacy literacy was recognized as an expanding literacy in the ACRL’s 2021 ACRL Environmental Scan. We were also awarded ACRL’s Instruction Section Innovation Award for our Digital Shred Privacy Literacy Initiative in 2021.”

The book is divided into four sections to help academic librarians center their practices on the people behind the data and on the ethics of library work: (1) What is Privacy Literacy? (2) Protecting Privacy, (3) Educating about Privacy, and (4) Advocating for Privacy. Chapters cover topics including privacy literacy frameworks; digital wellness; embedding a privacy review into digital library workflows; using privacy literacy to challenge price discrimination; privacy pedagogy; and promoting privacy literacy and positive digital citizenship through credit-bearing courses, co-curricular partnerships, and faculty development and continuing education initiatives. The book provides theory-informed, practical ways to incorporate privacy literacy into library instruction and other areas of academic library practice, said Hartman-Caverly and Chisholm.

Other Penn State librarians contributed sections. Emily Mross, business librarian at Madlyn L. Hanes Library, Penn State Harrisburg, wrote an invited chapter based on her work incorporating privacy literacy into business information literacy instruction. Paul McMonigle, engineering librarian, Engineering Library, and Lori Lysiak, reference and instruction librarian at Robert E. Eiche Library, Penn State Altoona, contributed a chapter on applying privacy literacy in engineering, which added to examples of disciplinary contexts for integrating privacy literacy across the curriculum.

“Practicing Privacy Literacy in Academic Libraries: Theories, Methods, and Cases” is available in print and as an ebook.

In addition to their award-winning student-facing workshops, which are available as open educational resources (OERs) in the ACRL Sandbox and other respositories, Hartman-Caverly and Chisholm offer continuing education workshops and training for peer library workers and instructors in the disciplines who are interested in integrating privacy literacy concepts and practices in their work. Those interested in scheduling a privacy literacy consultation or professional development session, can contact Hartman-Caverly at [email protected] or 610-396-6243.