Public-records requesting my own library records

Hi, all. Been a while since I posted anything here; I doubt I need to explain why. I do, however, want to announce the existence of a dataset and give a little background on it. I will have much more to say about it, here and in planned publications, but let’s start with the basics.

The dataset can be found on OSF, and the README.txt file contains the text of my public-records request and details about the files in the dataset. I won’t repeat those here!

Instead, I want to talk about how this came about, because some folks who are not me deserve credit.

I teach a mixed grad/undergrad course in information security and privacy (LIS 510) aimed primarily at non-technical layfolk. The big semesterlong group project for this class asks students to investigate various aspects of the privacy/security situation surrounding their choice of campus-related data. In spring 2021, two groups of graduate students in the LIS master’s program investigated library circulation data.

Both groups independently dug up the records schedule for circulation data, which I hadn’t previously known about and which absolutely blew my mind (and not in a good way) for reasons I will address in a subsequent post. It’s their doing I made this public-records request; if not for them I wouldn’t have known to ask. (I have invited them to work on one or more related publications with me; two have accepted and one more is thinking it over. I am giving them the choice of whether they care to be credited by name.)

I also want to thank the UW-Madison Public Records Office and the General Library System’s IT staff for getting this done promptly and completely, despite a bobble on my part that you can read about in the README.txt. I spent $280 on the request, and it was worth every penny. The records schedule is emphatically not the fault of these offices or their staffs; nor is the (as I believe it to be) immensely and unethically too long retention duration for circulation records. I should add that current Vice-Provost for Libraries Lisa Carter inherited this (as I believe it to be) deeply troubling situation from her predecessors; it is not her doing, either, and working out who actually is responsible will likely take at least one more public-records request.

There’s a lot to explore in this, and I expect it will take me a goodish while to write it all up. (Who has two thumbs and an emergency new-prep summer course that is eating her brain? This gal!) But at least the data is out there to look at now.