Thursday, June 18, 2009

If your library is one of the rare ones that has open positions, where does privacy begin and end for your applicants? If you are in Boseman City, Montana, applicants for city positions are asked to give up their login information and passwords for social networks. This story showed up on BoingBoing today: Bozeman City job requirement raises privacy concerns

I expect to conduct myself accordingly online, in order to not bring embarrassment to my employer, my professional colleagues, or my family. (Crossing my fingers as I write that, actually.) I think the suggestion to solve the social network privacy issue is embedded in the article: the city should set up their own page on each network, and 'friend' any job applicants, so they would be able to view the pages that the people have created. But I think the city is being short-sighted in only seeking social network information. There are so many other places they could look to see someone's character. What about the backgrounds of all the people the person plays poker with each weekend or has coffee with down at the diner each morning? How about their tithing history at their church, or even if they belong to a church or not, and what type? Why not go into their genealogy, and see what skeletons live in the family history closet? Let's supeona their check-out list at the library, and even give them demerits if they don't have a library card. How about calling 3rd grade teachers to ask what their study habits were, if they tattled on their classmates, told falsehoods, and if they showed initiative?
As an academic librarian, I have done my level best to help the current generation of students (as well as my own children) to understand that what they put on social networks may come back to haunt them when it comes time to apply for a job. But I don't think that Bozeman City's method of inspecting the actual accounts on social networks in order to "ensure employees will protect the public trust" are that effective. For one thing, unless they have their skilled library staff hunting down the names of applicants, how will they know they have been told all of the digital goodies?
The most disturbing thing about all of this - when does a person get the chance to better themselves and overcome a possibly shady past? Are we all sentenced to be the person we were 20-10-5-1 year(s) ago forever? Really?
Update (6/22/09) the city has discontinued this practice: Bozeman to job seekers - we won't seek passwords

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