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NYC Libraries Take the Lead for Digital Privacy Week

Libraries throughout the city this week are hosting more than 30 free data privacy workshops as part of New York's ongoing privacy efforts.

New York City is holding its first library privacy week this month, which includes a series of more than 30 free public workshops aimed at teaching residents better data privacy practices.

The library privacy week workshops have already started and will continue through Monday, Oct. 22, taking place throughout the city and hosted by the Brooklyn Public Library, New York Public Library, Queens Library and the Metropolitan New York Library Council. Topics covered within these workshops range from how to use available digital privacy tools to what to expect from emerging issues of digital privacy in the future. Protecting your data while using public Wi-Fi networks is also a major point of emphasis.

Samantha Grassle, a senior manager in the Mayor's Office of the Chief Technology Officer and with New York's broadband enhancement program, NYC Connected, is one of the leaders of the initiative, and she recently discussed the effort as a weeklong celebration of the city's ongoing work to help residents better protect their data and privacy online.

Grassle said the primary goals for the week, as well as for the broader ongoing work in this area, are to raise awareness of cyberthreats, get residents to start thinking proactively and “really position libraries as a place in the 21st century where you can go for these types of digital resources.”

Aside from this dedicated week, New York has also invested in training, ensuring that every library in the city has at least one staff member who is equipped to answer questions about digital privacy. The wide network and sheer number of physical library locations, as well as their stature as community gathering places, have positioned them well to serve in that role.

“Libraries are one of the main channels we’re working through,” Grassle said. “They’re trusted institutions, and they’re really importantly located all throughout the city. We’ve been able to take advantage of their position to get out this information.”

Separate from the week, the city has also invested in a free cybersecurity training program for nonprofit organizations and advocacy groups. The city is also aware that there’s only so much individuals can do to protect their own information online, and, as such, the local government there is working on a bill that would put some of the onus on Internet and cable companies to better secure personal data. New York is also one of the few cities in which the mayor has appointed a chief privacy officer.

Looking forward, Grassle and other library privacy week organizers expect this event to become an annual occurrence, one that adapts and changes along with the ever-evolving nature of digital threats.

“This is the first time we’re doing it, and we’re learning a lot about what works well for New Yorkers and what doesn’t,” Grassle said. “We just announced we’ll be providing additional funding to libraries to make sure the curriculum is up to date. We’ll definitely be back next year.”

New York plans to make the curriculum for its library privacy week workshops available to any and all other interested cities, essentially making this all open source.

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine.