19 Association of Research Libraries Research Library Issues 299 2019 or lawn mower next month? What type of car will you buy in two years? Technology companies probably know before you do and can sell advertising to the highest bidder standing by to translate your purchasing power into their future revenue. The world learned from the 2016 US presidential election and from England’s Brexit campaign that data science in the form of psychographics might also be used to modify people’s behavior. This was the basis for Cambridge Analytica’s business model. Using 5,000 data points on a given individual, the company had developed over many years effective means of directing the decisions that targeted voters would make at the polls.7 Entities ranging from governments to schools to private corporations to law enforcement enjoy unprecedented access to previously unimaginable volumes of data about people throughout the world today. This fact alone poses an immense ethical issue: how much data is too much for any entity to possess? Should data sets be classified as public to prevent them from being monetized? If monetizing data represents a viable path for ethical outcomes in humanity’s future, should individuals benefit financially from the use of their data? These difficult questions defy easy answers but they must be met with deliberation at both practical and regulatory levels if we are to avoid the most undesirable consequences. As it happens, information is also the central concern of library science and of the educational domain more broadly. This poses both a special opportunity and a perplexing challenge for academic libraries specifically and for the world’s educational institutions more generally. The opportunity rests largely with the fact that libraries occupy the center of gravity in a technocratic society because they manage the most valuable asset category the world has known—data, “the oil of the digital era.”8 This also implies that libraries are uniquely positioned to leverage innovation for enhancing the delivery of information to a broad population of learners. The challenge, by contrast, is perhaps best demonstrated by the monetization of digital information.
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