Personalization and Privacy in the Library

Workflow | May 14, 2020

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Users are coming to expect personalization options from library resources that enhance the research experience, but with personalization comes the need for privacy.

Today, personalized experiences are everywhere. From push notifications delivered from favorite news sites, to curated playlists based on listening history, to recommended products while we shop online — technology delivers dynamic personalized experiences that match our needs, tastes and behavior. It is inevitable that library users are coming to expect some sort of personalization to enhance their research efforts. But with personalization also comes the need to uphold a privacy-first intent. Ever-evolving privacy and data regulations such as the EU’s GDPR, HIPPA and state-mandated privacy laws need to remain at the forefront of personalized experiences that work off of an individual’s data. So how you satisfy personalization and privacy in the library?

First, let’s take a step back to understand what personalization is. According to the Norman Nielsen Group, “Personalization is done by the system being used. Content and functionality are delivered to a user based off their ‘role’ and or their behavior.” Personalization in the library is much different than a customized experience, as personalization is left to a system whereas customization is managed by the administrator. Putting trust in a system can seem overwhelming, but there are benefits to creating a personalized experience for library users. For example, personalization can help build contextual knowledge of a topic or subject, contributing to improved search behavior and in turn information literacy skills (and usage of the library). Personalization can also lead to a better organization of resources. Often, library users are faced with information overload when researching — personalized elements can push content to the user and organize resources according to projects or classes, saving users time.

A discovery system needs the right combination of personalization and privacy to deliver to the library.

Privacy-first personalization ensures users can access information without fear and protects the library and its users from breaches of data. In addition, a privacy-first approach builds trust with end users and complies with today’s standards. A discovery system needs the right combination of personalization and privacy to deliver to the library. This can be achieved through user-controlled personalization including, creating personalized accounts at the sole discretion of the user, automating the ability for users to delete personal accounts and have their account data forgotten and full GDPR compliance and applicable messaging to name a few.

A key experience for researchers is a personalized dashboard. One focus of the continuous evolution of EBSCO Discovery Service (EDS), includes offering those who choose to create accounts a whole new experience complete with a user dashboard. This user dashboard will allow for saved projects, viewing recent searches and more user-focused features, giving users increased value across sessions and letting them pick up where they left off.

The personalization approach we are taking with EDS is rooted in privacy-first. We strive to give users the choice to remain anonymous but also to develop personalization methods to bring greater user experience, controls, and customization to applicable situations for all library end users.

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