O Privacy, Where Art Thou?

A violation of privacy

A very disturbing discovery has been made. The software used by the St. Mary’s library, University System of Maryland and Affiliated Institutions (USMAI) libraries, and countless other academic and public libraries to lend ebooks is knowingly violating users’ privacy.

As documented in Ars Technica, Adobe Digital Editions tracks and compiles data on which ebooks users download and read, and exactly what each user does with those books. Worse yet, Adobe is sending that information to its servers in plain text, using unencrypted channels, so just about anyone could access that information. Nate Hoffelder of The Digital Reader made the discovery on October 6, 2014, but the violation is believed to have started with the release of Adobe Digital Editions 4.0 in early September.


How it works

Adobe Digital Editions is used by many libraries as a PDF reader for ebook lending to control the digital rights management (DRM) on all borrowed ebooks. This software is essentially what “returns” a borrowed ebook when the loan expires by removing it from a borrower’s computer. Most ebook publishers require a DRM as part of the licensing or sales agreement to ensure intellectual property rights are not violated by end users.


Our reaction

Librarians are furious. As you may recall from when Edward Snowden leaked the NSA’s secrets, librarians value their patrons’ privacy and take every possible precaution to ensure privacy is maintained.  The American Library Association (ALA) has issued this statement and the Library and Information Technology Association (LITA) has published this blog post in reaction to the news. Quoted from the ALA statement:

In response to ALA’s request for information, Adobe reports they “expect an update to be available no later than the week of October 20” in terms of transmission of reader data.

Here at St. Mary’s, we will be keeping a close eye on the situation.


Update 10/29/2014:

Adobe made available a software update on Friday, October 24th which includes an encryption mechanism so all user data gathered by and sent to Adobe’s servers is no longer transmitted in plain text.  ADE users can download the update (and read Adobe’s privacy statement) here. The American Library Association issued a statement on October 27, 2014 and Nate Hoffelder of The Digital Reader published an update on the privacy breach on October 23rd.


Discovery, but not so discoverable


OneSearch.  We like it a lot.  It’s the main search on the library website and will give you everything from journal and newspaper articles to books, images and DVDs.  It’ll retrieve anything it can find somehow related to your search terms.  It’s a great tool and time saver.

Despite all the positive things we have to say about OneSearch, we’re feeling a bit frustrated at the moment.  We always knew, and do our best to explain, the results in OneSearch would not include everything which the library owns or has access to. OneSearch provides a service.  It pulls results from the library catalog and databases in one search, on your behalf, so you do not have to search the catalog and databases individually.  In exchange for this service (and in order for this service to function properly and legally) the company which owns OneSearch, EBSCO, has signed licensing agreements with other database vendors and publishers.  The providers who do not agree to such terms do not participate in the service.  We knew about these agreements, always and from the beginning.

OneSearch is accessible from off-campus.  Students, faculty and staff members can search and must only authenticate into the system to access the full text of articles.  Members of the community can search our holdings and view citations, but not access licensed materials.  To borrow a book or read an article, a community member would have to physically come to the library.  This “guest access” is helpful to our community members who rely on our resources for their research needs, and to students from other academic institutions who also use our resources.

Something has changed in the licensing agreements. Now, some of the citations themselves are inaccessible and un-viewable to anyone off-campus unless that person authenticates using a network ID and password.  What does that mean?  Faculty, staff members, and students, have to login before being able to view all the results displayed.  It’s an extra step, but not any different from searching a database from off-campus.  Members of our community, however, can no longer search across our collection and view article citations from the databases while off-campus.  Essentially, OneSearch, which is designed to promote discovery and access, is now limiting that freedom and access and our patrons are suffering because of it.    What to do about it?  We’re not really sure yet.

A Win for Libraries

Have you heard about the recent ruling of the Google Books case?

The case began eight years ago when The Authors Guild filed a suit against Google for violating copyright law by scanning copyrighted books and making them available electronically.  Finally, last week, U.S. Circuit Judge Denny Chin dismissed the lawsuit and issued this (30 page) statement.

Why does this ruling matter?


Essentially, the ruling judge decided that Google’s efforts in scanning tens of millions of books, which are still under copyright, falls under the guidelines for fair use and is therefore legal.  How is that possible?  By scanning these books, Google provided added value, which is unavailable in print form, by allowing users to search books electronically.  This feature greatly increased the accessibility of the books’ contents, which the judge decided was more valuable than any possible violation of copyright.  In addition, Google provides access to only the most relevant pieces of a text in the briefest form, with outside links to retailers and libraries where users can acquire full text access legally.

Why are librarians so excited?

To quote Ian Chant’s article from Library Journal:

In the opinion issued today, Judge Chin agreed that Google Books is not a place where readers can go to pirate books but a tool to help people find books that may be of interest to them. Chin cited libraries as a particular beneficiary, noting that “Google Books has become an essential research tool, as it helps librarians identify and find research sources, it make the process of interlibrary lending more efficient, and it facilitates finding and checking citations.”

Simply stated, Google Books has increased the accessibility of books, and enabled librarians to do a better job finding, researching and sharing those books with their patrons.

What do librarians love?

Information access.

New database trial!


Are you in search of information about Latin America?  The Caribbean?  Looking for scholarly articles, or simply statistics?  What about primary sources?  News sources?  Well, look no further!  The Library is hosting a free trial of Gale World Scholar:  Latin America and the Caribbean.  This database contains both historical and contemporary content from a variety of sources and document types, including:

  • Historical monographs, manuscripts and newspapers
  • Peer-reviewed journals
  • Audio, video and other multimedia
  • International news sources
  • Reference sources
  • Reliable statistics

You can access this trial through the month of November from on-campus at this URL

What do you think of this database?  Let us know!  By sharing your thoughts and feedback on this anonymous form, you’ll help us decide if we should continue providing access to this product or not, when our trial comes to an end.  Thanks!


New Database Trial!


Welcome back from Fall reading days!

We have another database on trial.  ProQuest Newsstand is a newspaper database of international, national and regional titles, including The New York TimesThe Wall Street JournalUSA TodayWashington PostThe Baltimore Sun, The GuardianEl NorteJerusalem Post, and South China Morning Post.  We encourage you to give this database a try and let us know if it’s worth a subscription!  We have one month of free access, through November 14th, available on this trials page.  And while you’re there, take a look at ProQuest Central!  To share your feedback, use this anonymous online form.   We appreciate your thoughts and opinions, and use that feedback to make a more informed decision at the end of the trial.  Thanks in advance!


The SMCM Library is entering the wonderful world of ebooks, and using data to get there.  The Library is participating in a pilot project, along with other USMAI campus libraries, to begin adding ebooks to the library collection.  For this pilot, however, we’re following your lead and only purchasing titles which you would like to read and borrow.  During the pilot, the Library has access to 8500 ebooks.  Those titles which are borrowed six or more times will be permanently adding to the collection.  The USMAI campus libraries have access to the same pool of 8500 ebooks, and those titles which are purchased will be accessible to all of USMAI.  A book will not belong to a single library, and can be read and borrowed by multiple users at the same time.


To use library jargon, this process is called demand driven acquisitions.  Our library users create a demand by borrowing a title, and we let that demand dictate which books we purchase or acquire.  Traditionally, the librarians make acquisition decisions, based on a variety of information and recommendations.  For this pilot, we’re standing back and letting you select the titles.  If you’d like to learn more about how the pilot project works, and how to access and borrow ebooks through the catalog, take a look at this research guide, USMAI Demand Driven eBooks Pilot Project.