A Framework for Analyzing Electronic Resources, Privacy, and Intellectual Freedom

Alan Rubel


The tension between the provision of electronic resources and patron privacy is widely recognized in the Library and Information Studies (LIS) literature. But how to assess trade-offs between patron privacy and access to electronic resources remains elusive. Typically, the LIS literature has understood patron privacy as a constitutive part of intellectual freedom, and has justified privacy protections by appeals to intellectual freedom. But expanded opportunities to use more and different types of resources appears at first glance to expand intellectual freedom, even if those opportunities also diminish intellectual freedom by diminishing privacy. This paper seeks to better understand this tension. It does so by drawing on the rich philosophical literature in order to analyze the concept of freedom. It offers a positive conception of freedom, and intellectual freedom, according to which freedom is a quality of agency. An agent is free only if she acts autonomously. Using that conception it offers a number of principles that can frame the relation between electronic resources, privacy, and intellectual freedom. The framework developed here provides the foundation for a larger project examining the link between freedom and privacy and for examining the privacy implications of a variety of library electronic resource practices.

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