Libraries, Overdrive, Amazon, and privacy

Sarah Houghton tells it like it is.

Language occasionally NSFW, but completely appropriate.

Personally, I’m very wibbly on privacy rights. Jenica The Person believes fiercely in the value of an educated and well-informed populace that has a protected right to access information freely and without coercion or monitoring. Jenica The Library Administrator At A State Institution has certain responsibilities to follow the law, whatever the law is. As Sarah points out, sometimes the law says “we respect your privacy”. Sometimes it doesn’t. But either way, I sure as hell don’t believe corporations have a right to track the behavior of the user. We all make choices about that — my Amazon user account, for one, the cookies my web browser plants for another, the entirety of Facebook for a big one — but we’re making our individual choices. When libraries begin offering and endorsing a product — an enticing product — that removes those choices, then we’re treading on uncomfortable ground. I also am seriously unhappy about the idea that there are confidentiality and nondisclosure issues in play — TRANSPARENCY, people. Transparency.

And if you feel you can see your stand more clearly than I do, here’s your call: Join Sarah. Get fucking loud. Don’t go quietly down a road that appears to lead to disaster.


  1. I’m not a librarian but I’ve read two other blogs on this topic and it raises several questions. There is much about what is feared in the blogs but no actual facts about the agreement.

    On the Overdrive/Kindle arrangement you state: “I think there is a lot going on here that I think libraries are not aware of or haven’t necessarily thought through because of our greedy attempt to get content into our users hands we have failed to uphold the highest principles of our profession which is intellectual freedom.” My questions are why don’t you or the other librarians know what’s in the agreement?

    1) Was there no prior discussion?
    2) What institution signs a contract without reading and knowing what in it? Are you saying the libraries have a contract with Overdrive but don’t know what the privacy policy is?
    3) Are you saying the libraries know but have thrown library users under the bus, so to speak?
    4) Are your saying the administrators of the libraries are so incompetent they don’t know or understand the privacy policies they have signed with Overdrive? It’s not a technology issue but a legal document that’s at issue.

    It seems you, yourself, should know this. What are the privacy stipulations between Overdrive and libraries? You say libraries will sign just about anything to get digital content. You are a librarian can you not read the contract to actually quote what it says or will your library not give you access to the document? I have to assume without any actual wording of the contract you haven’t seen it or the library won’t allow you to read it? Without the wording of the contract you are just stating your fears without any substance for them.
    I write this as someone who has admired the historical stance of libraries to protect the privacy rights of its users. But so far all I’m hearing is what is feared without actual evidence. What is Overdrive allowed to do with user information?
    I stress Overdrive here because my last reading on this issue said the Amazon agreement is with Overdrive, not the libraries and that the link runs from Overdrive to the Amazon Kindle. If that is so, one must conclude Overdrive can only pass on to Amazon the personal information it’s allowed to contractually collect? And if this conclusion is correct the real question of personal information privacy is what has the libraries over the years agreed to Overdrive collecting and using?

    Thomas Rogers


  2. Thomas, I believe this comment is better pointed at Sarah — I am not Sarah. That is not me in the video. Your questions should be posed at

    That said, you appear to be accusing libraries of a lot of negligence and ignorance — and perhaps we deserve some of it. That said, as I understand it (noting that I am not Sarah) the contract between Overdrive and Amazon is private corporate correspondence to which librarians as customers have no access. That’s not our bad — that’s on them. And, now that we know some of the details via the product launch and via venues like Sarah’s video, it’s up to us to decide if we’re going to throw users under the bus or not.

    I vote not.


  3. Sorry,Jenica. I will direct my comment to

    But, no, I’m not accusing libraries of negligence. I don’t know what they are possibly negligent of as I have no knowledge of the agreement or lack of enforcement. I’m asking what the agreement is and that I assume the libraries know. And that telling us readers/listeners what they are cuts right to the concern. We will know how much our privacy is at risk if we are given details about what information Overdrive can and can’t disclose.

    I’m saying that the way the voice of concern comes across, in this case, I guess, Sarah’s concern sounds like libraries don’t know the details of their agreement. As I quoted her above, she says libraries “haven’t thought through” or “are not aware of”, etc. And my question is why not? If anything her words suggest negligence or that the libraries didn’t know what they were doing. They had to sign an agreement with Overdrive and negotiate what information gets used/disclosed to third parties — was there no legal assistance?

    The libraries are in a contractual agreement with Overdrive. The link runs from their agreement with Overdrive to Amazon. In other words, if Overdrive, by agreement with the libraries, is prohibited from disclosing the private information it captures about library users, it can’t create a separate agreement with Amazon in which it passes on the information — unless the libraries agreed to allow it. Amazon is a third party in this instance.

    (My understanding from another blog is that Overdrive and Amazon have the agreement and that the arrangement is not between Amazon and the libraries. The libraries’ agreement with Overdrive should/will legally dictate what it can or cannot pass on to Amazon. If this understanding is in error, letting us know what the agreement and its scope is will make things clear.)

    I hear the privacy concerns which I share and will willingly add my voice to but no one is telling us what the agreement is so how do we “know” if users are being thrown under the bus? Have the libraries given away too much control, what did they give up? How do we know libraries haven’t exercised the proper contractual precautions and Amazon has access to no more information than what libraries already allow to Overdrive?

    Until that’s addressed all we really have is people voicing their fears about Amazon’s access to user information and no way to know if the fears are valid. Is it a tempest in a teapot? We don’t know without some facts.


  4. I’m not an Overdrive customer. I can’t speak to their agreement. But, based on my experience buying library services, I expect that the agreement between libraries and Overdrive does not include the details and terms of each of Overdrive’s publisher contracts; it is likely very simply about the services Overdrive will provide, and the library’s responsibility to pay for said services.

    And it seems, from what Sarah has said, that Overdrive is claiming that the terms of its contract with Amazon are confidential. Therefore, the library has no access to the terms between Overdrive and Amazon. However, Amazon is making it clear (as Sarah indicated) to the *end user* that they are tracking reading activity. Which librarians have traditionally opposed, and which Overdrive has not been telling libraries about.

    Only Overdrive and Amazon can tell us what they agreed to between themselves.

    Thus the call to action before libraries agree to Overdrive’s terms.


  5. There is an intriguing problem here that is buried in a lot of other stuff. I have a blog post planned about this but will have to wait until a little later this week to post it (though I did edit it a little more).


  6. As an Overdrive user in the public school I’m not sure that this is as big of a concern as everyone is making it sound. Overdrive only has a number for each student which is not connected with a name or an email address. Our students do not receive an email when the book is about to be removed from their device. It is an option whether or not to give out that information. Overdrive does not a have a name, email, only a number so the privacy of the user cannot be violated. We don’t have a lot of choice here if we want to make digital content available on student devices. Maybe someone else should step up and offer something better.


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