Why I give money to my employer


It is often said that there is no great university without a great library.  My wife and I believe that.  And here at Berkeley we are very fortunate to have one of the truly great academic research libraries.  We maintain and develop amazing collections, provide access to the world’s growing information resources, provide instruction to thousands of students, consultation and support to one of the finest research faculties in the world, and serve the public.  We have a great mission, helping people find, evaluate and use information to improve their lives and better the world.

We are also passionate about public higher education.  Public education at scale has opened the doors to a college education to millions of students who could not afford elite private universities, or who preferred the advantages offered by public campuses.

Jeff MacKie-Mason 2

Very sadly, the meaning of “public” higher education has been changing: the public has decided to disinvest.  Despite getting only 13% of our operating budget from the state — typical for public research universities — Berkeley is deeply committed to it’s public mission.  But the only way to continue being the best public institution in the world is if those of us who believe dig deep and contribute.

Indeed, to provide the great library resources and services we offer requires that we spend a lot on a talented workforce (we have about 450 FTE to provide these services and staff our one million square feet of space and 53 miles of stacks).  And we have to spend a lot on acquiring, processing, and preserving resources and tools for using them.

Berkeley writes my paycheck.  But Janet and I believe in its mission, and so we write checks back.  The only way forward for high quality public education is for those who believe to donate.



Can we afford privacy from surveillance? Do we want to?


A couple of weeks before I started my position as University Librarian, the UC Berkeley School of Information invited me to give a talk on the future of individual privacy; here is a video of that talk.  Last week, nationally-syndicated radio show host Katherine Albrecht interviewed me on this topic for about 45 minutes; here is an MP3 of the show (with many commercials, I’m afraid).

In short, I think the economics of surveillance and protection from surveillance are leading inexorably to a not-very-distant future of radical transparency, at least for any information about us that is captured and stored on digital, networked-computers (which is more and more all the time, and will be even more when the Internet of Things really takes off).  I don’t see an alternative: we get to much value from selective revelation of information about ourselves, value that will be increasing as we learn better ways to network and use that information.  And the costs of capturing networked information are going down faster than the costs of protecting ourselves, and I think this is a technologically unavoidable fact driven by the nature of selective revelation in a networked world.

Relevance for libraries?  You might be thinking, “libraries have strong policies to protect the privacy of their users information.”  Yes…sort of.  First, policies are themselves a technology, and they are costly to enforce.  How good is our security against data breaches?  Better than at the IRS, or at JP Morgan Bank?  How fast are our budgets for security growing?

Another issue: to provide our users with access to the rapidly expanding networked stores of information, we provide them with access to an ever increasing array of third-party tools and databases.  What sort of privacy protections do we have on how those third-parties protect our users’ privacy?  Do we have contractual provisions with all of them? No.  (Can you spell “Google”?)  And contractual provisions are another type of policy, that needs ever-increasingly expensive enforcement, whether it be cybersecurity against external attacks, or protection against unscrupulous employees who might sell access.