Libraries, Electronic Resources, and Privacy: The Case for Positive Intellectual Freedom

Library Quarterly 84 (2):183-208 (2014)
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Abstract
Public and research libraries have long provided resources in electronic formats, and the tension between providing electronic resources and patron privacy is widely recognized. But assessing trade-offs between privacy and access to electronic resources remains difficult. One reason is a conceptual problem regarding intellectual freedom. Traditionally, the LIS literature has plausibly understood privacy as a facet of intellectual freedom. However, while certain types of electronic resource use may diminish patron privacy, thereby diminishing intellectual freedom, the opportunities created by such resources also appear liberty-enhancing. Adjudicating between privacy loss and enhanced opportunities on intellectual freedom grounds must therefore provide an account of intellectual freedom capable of addressing both privacy and opportunity. I will argue that intellectual freedom is a form of positive freedom, where a person’s freedom is a function of the quality of her agency. Using this view as the lodestar, I articulate several principles for assessing adoption of electronic resources and privacy protections.
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