Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Service Policies

The ALA encourages librarians and libraries providing and creating accommodating services for a wide variety of patrons, depending on their unique information needs and requirements. These decisons should be appropriately reflected in the content of the collection, and with a Collection Development Policy which should reflect "...the fundamental mission of the library," Lorenzen, "Information Policy" presentation. Librarians are to meet patrons 'where they are,' which include a variety of possibilities, including (according to the ALA Policy Manual):

  • Prisons and their inmates:

    52.1 Service to Detention Facilities and Jails

    The American Library Association encourages public libraries and systems to extend their services to residents of jails and other detention facilities within their taxing areas. ALA instructs its Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies in cooperation with the Public Library Association, the American Library Trustee Association, and other interested units to design a plan to assist public libraries in extending their services to local jails and detention facilities.

  • Immigrants, both to use the library's resources and in support of their rights in other areas:

    52.4.3 Immigrants’ Rights to Free Public Library Access

    The American Library Association in cooperation with REFORMA and other affiliates works to inform and educate public libraries and member constituents about alternate forms of identification that will encourage the use of free public library services by all immigrant populations. (See “Current Reference File”: Resolution in Support of Immigrants’ Rights to Free Public Library Access, 2004-2005 ALA CD #65)

    52.4.5 Support of Immigrants’ Rights

    ALA strongly supports the protection of each person’s civil liberties, regardless of that individual’s nationality, residency, or status; and that ALA opposes any legislation that infringes on the rights of anyone in the USA or its territories, citizens or otherwise, to use library resources, programs, and services on national, state, and local levels.

  • The youth of communities:

    52.5.1 Youth Services

    The American Library Association recognizes that the future of libraries and of society itself depends upon the preparedness of youth to carry adult responsibilities for business, government, parenthood and other leadership. Children and young adults cannot fulfill their potential or that of society without high quality library opportunities through both public and school libraries. ALA is committed to the support and development of resources and services for children and young adults through both school and public libraries.

The ALA also has many general recommendations on library service practices, programming to offer, and ethical standards:

  • 52.4 Confidentiality of Library Records

    The ethical responsibilities of librarians, as well as statutes in most states and the District of Columbia, protect the privacy of library users. Confidentiality extends to ‘‘information sought or received, and materials consulted, borrowed, acquired,’’ and includes database search records, reference interviews, circulation records, interlibrary loan records, and other personally identifiable uses of library materials, facilities, or services.

The ALA's Policy Manual goes on to illustrate the importance of each individual library institution having a definitive plan in place, should law enforcement ask to see records and other sensitive patron information:

The American Library Association strongly recommends that the responsible officers of each library, cooperative system, and consortium in the United States:

1) Formally adopt a policy which specifically recognizes its circulation records and other records identifying the names of library users with specific materials to be confidential.

2) Advise all librarians and library employees that such records shall not be made available to any agency of state, federal, or local government except pursuant to such process, order, or subpoena as may be authorized under the authority of, and pursuant to, federal, state, or local law relating to civil, criminal, or administrative discovery procedures or legislative investigatory power.

3) Resist the issuance or enforcement of any such process, order, or subpoena until such time as a proper showing of good cause has been made in a court of competent jurisdiction.

  • The ALA also encourages libraries to restrict the amount of sensitive information they decide to record on their patrons, and when those patrons set up library accounts (Policy 52.4.4, Retention of Library Records.)
  • Keeping sensitive information private from other branches of government, including but not limited to law enforcement- such as state and federal agencies- is also urged by the ALA (Policy 52.4.2, Confidentiality of Personally Identifiable Information About Library Users.)
  • Libraries are urged "to include instruction in the use of libraries as one of the primary goals of service," Policy 52.6, Instruction in the Use of Libraries.

  • Libraries and their staff should remain politically-unswayed, willing to educate on a variety of opinions, while never hesitating to point out how information and statistics can be manipulated to produce a particular result (Policy 52.8, Disinformation, Media Manipulation and the Destruction of Public Information.)
  • Libraries should consider when making hiring and training decisons which qualities are most important in their librarians, and whether their "...service policy (is) instructional or delivery-oriented," which will have influence over the nature of programming and over patron's reference experiences in general (Lorenzen, "Information Policy" presentation.)
  • Libraries must have basic rules in place which monitor the check-out times, fine amounts, and other check-out related issues (Lorenzen, "Information Policy" presentation) to encourage reasonable item turn-over, giving patrons a more equal opportunity to check out even the most popular of items.

Perhaps even more interesting is the type of materials the ALA encourages libraries to carry; though none particularly controversial, they may otherwise be overlooked:

  • Libraries are encouraged to carry the most up-to-date, accurate, and informative information on sexuality, making sure "...that information is available for children and adolescents, parents, and youth-serving professionals," Policy 52.5.2, Sex Education Materials in Libraries.

  • Libraries are to carry information on joining different branches of the military to assist those "...persons who are facing the prospect of conscription," Policy 52.5.3, Selective Service Information in Libraries.

Though this is certainly not an exhaustive list of all of ALA's service policies, the range of information should help provide a basic level of understanding of the ALA encouraged ethical practices, to what should be provided in a collection.


American Library Association (2009.) The ALA Policy Manual- 52. Services and Responsibilities of Libraries. Retrieved:

Lorenzen, M (2009.) Service Policy as Information Policy.


Sarah said...

Excellent post Lauren. Great information regarding the types of policies ALA encourages libraries to adhrere to. There are certainly some I don't always think about (including immigrants and the right to use the library).

Virginia Pierce said...

Thanks for your blog, Lauren. I found the part about military interesting, as well as ALA's policies towards people in jail/detention. Thank you for the quick overview.

HeidiJoGustad said...

Great work. Where did you find the "War Service Library" image?

Gail said...

Thanks, Lauren. We we read about Andrew Carnegie, there was much written about immigrants. I am glad they are still important in ALA policies.

Orien D said...

Nice blog Lauren. I found your section about ALA's stance on immigrants and their rights to library resources and use, interesting. Open access to library resources and use, of course, also applies to non-immigrants. However, this made me think of the special medical library and the academic law library I visited. Even though these libraries are funded by private institutions and are designed to accommodate the staff or students which are part of these organizations, they are still open to the public. Obviously, not all services like ILL or checking out material is available to non-members of the library, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that ALA ethical standards concerning basic library use and access to resources for all patrons still existed in these typically non-public libraries as well.