A year after its intended shut down, the camera enabling students to see how long the Starbucks line was finally turned off.
A camera with a live video feed of the Starbucks line was taken offline Tuesday, one year later than intended.
In April 2014, the Brown Library received a grant from the Texas State Library to install cameras as a mobile initiative to help students know whether the library common area was full or if computers were available. One of the cameras recorded the line at Starbucks.
Dr. John Weaver, dean of library services and educational technology, said the decision was made to discontinue streaming the live feeds one month later after strong debate among library faculty.
“People disagree on whether it is a helpful service or intrusive and a violation of privacy,” Weaver said. “If we erred, it was on the side of caution. I think we made the proper decision to discontinue the video feed.”
While the live feeds on the cameras in the common area were cut, the feed on the Starbucks line somehow went overlooked. Weaver said he only found out it still existed upon being contacted by the Optimist within the last week. The live stream was discontinued Tuesday.
Upon receiving the state grant, the library contacted ACUPD, which helped coordinate the implementation of the cameras as required by the university and ACUPD. ACU Chief of Police Jimmy Ellison said the cameras were not part of the university-wide surveillance system monitored by police for campus safety, but were managed by the library. ACUPD’s surveillance network on campus includes approximately 525 cameras.
“Any kind of camera system on campus is coordinated by the ACU Police Department,” Ellison said. “We coordinate the installation, the control and the usage of the cameras.”
Once the live feeds were discontinued, the cameras became part of ACUPD’s system.
Ellison said the library faculty’s decision to discontinue the live stream did not hinge on legal privacy issues in any way, as the library is a common public area.
“We looked at legal issues,” Ellison said. “We looked at the benefit to the university in terms of promotion and awareness, and that’s what the grant was centered around. And we didn’t see any issue with having a very limited number of promotional cameras tied to live feeds.”
Neither Ellison nor Weaver was able to definitively answer why the live feed of the Starbucks line went overlooked for a full year.
“Basically, in a nutshell, as a result of a little bit of miscommunication and a little bit of breakdown, the cameras were still able to be viewed even after the library staff thought they had been terminated by cancelling the web feed service subscriptions,” Ellison said. “However, that only killed the subscriptions, not the technical feed to the web. ACU Information Technology, who controls the feed and web aspects, never received the request to pull the plug on web access for the Starbucks line camera, and that wasn’t discovered until Tuesday.”
Weaver said the debate and ultimate decision to discontinue the live streams was contested.
“Video live streaming is a challenged practice in contemporary culture,” Weaver said. “Some people love the greater insight it gives into the world they live in; other people feel like it’s a violation of privacy. Library leadership here decided at first that it could be a valuable service, and then changed its mind based upon user feedback. It was an experiment that we decided to pull the plug on.”
The primary reason the feeds were cut was to be courteous to library users.
“We value patron privacy when they’re asking questions or using resources,” Weaver said. “We believe that someone should have access to information and not feel like there’s a Big Brother watching what they’re interested in. As we began to see what the cameras showed in terms of what people were reading sometimes, we sensed that violated information privacy.”