Today I was trying to find a book I read some time ago. I couldn’t remember the title or author, just some general points from the text. I hit upon the bright idea to go back through my library account to try to jog my memory, since I could at least remember the approximate time period in which I read it. Turns out that my library offers that service, but you must opt in to use it. If you don’t opt in, your account is simply wiped clean when books are returned and no records are kept about what you’ve read. My book was long gone.
It wouldn’t help this time but I thought, “Okay, I’ll opt in for the next time my brain fails me.” However, near the end of the opt in process was this language: “If you choose to use this service, records showing your borrowing history may be subpoenaed by the federal government, or during any legal proceeding against you. This may include titles and authors, as well as the dates of checkout and return and any fines incurred.” In other words, if I agree to have a running list of all of my books kept by the library, the government can see what I’ve read and my reading tastes can be brought up in any legal action against me. (Plus they’ll know about that $0.25 that I owed for returning “Game of Thrones” late. The horror!)
Okay, I get it. It’s no different than subpoenaing your web browser records to see if you’ve been looking up bomb making methods, or Googling, “How to hide a body” or some other criminal nonsense. Or getting your credit card records to see if you’ve been buying weapons or booking trips out of the country on short notice. But just because I get it doesn’t mean I like it.
While I’m not expecting any trouble from the government or anyone else, it just seems a bit weird to think of someone accessing my reading records and making assumptions about me based upon them. It’s certainly not the most interesting thing about me and there’s very little that I read that I wouldn’t mind seeing out in the open, but the notion of being profiled based on what I choose to read is a bit unnerving. Plus, the whole thing just feels so Big Brother-ish. It’s like Fahrenheit 451 and 1984 got together and had a baby.
What if I start researching a new novel where the main character is a serial killer, some sort of deviant, or criminal. That’s going to look mighty damning on my reading record.
What does it say if I choose to read a lot of horror in a short period of time? Am I on the verge of going nuts? What if I read a lot of environmental or governmental policy books in a short period of time. Should I be watched because I might become some sort of dangerous activist? Or what if I start researching a new novel where the main character is a serial killer, some sort of deviant, or criminal. That’s going to look mighty damning on my reading record.
(Although, my tastes are so eclectic that it might be impossible to piece together a profile of me that makes any sense. I read so much, across all fields and genres, that my profile might not conform to any known stereotype. Of course, that in and of itself may paint a bad picture. Hmmm.)
In the end I decided not to sign up. Not because I truly fear trouble or because my tin-foil-hat-wearing side told me not to, but more as an act of defiance. So much about me is already public and I didn’t get to choose whether to opt in to any of that or not. I choose to keep my reading private, except for the things I share here with you, most of which are related to my work as a writer.
The whole thing reminds me of that scene in Star Wars where Obi-Wan Kenobi waves his hand in front of the stormtroopers and says, “These are not the droids you’re looking for.” I waved a hand over my computer and opted not to have my borrowing habits tracked and recorded. “I’m not the reader you’re looking for.”
(Photo courtesy of Kenn W. Kiser)