Monday, December 7, 2009

US Government & Information Policy

The American federal government, like all governments, consists of policies that are to aid the efficiency, direction, goals, and sustain the government. There are a wide range of policies such as education policy, economic policy, foreign policy, etc. Policy is very important for governments and information policy is exceptionally important to democratic governments.
When considering organizations that compile and disseminate massive amounts of information the federal government is perhaps at the top of the list. In order to operate effectively and intentionally the government must have a set of standards for managing all the information it possesses. Information policy which comprises of all the laws, regulations, and public policies that encourage or discourage the flow, access, and regulation of information to the public is becoming more and more of an imperative facet of our government. Ian Rowlads states, “Information access and disclosure are critical elements in the working of participative democracies and measures concerning these aspects can be found in most areas of public policy.” Citizens need to be informed in order to participate in the government and the government likewise needs to have policies established to provide the necessary information to its citizens. Information policy, which is newer in existence than other policies like education and foreign, has become a focus of attention over the last thirty years or so with the advent of the democratization of information, digitization of documents, and the Internet. Historically, the first signs of systematic US national information policies emerged in the early 1960s. The Cold War and the space race are just two large topics that exemplify the growing importance of the nation’s scientific and technical information and how that information needed to be protected and managed for the nation’s security. Politicians and policy makers needed to have well thought out policies to manage the information and as a result people began to use the term information policy. Other major events such as: the Vietnam War, Watergate scandal, the military-industrial complex, the emergence of the computer, the Web, and 9/11 affected our nation’s communal perception of information policy
One of the most important policies passed by the federal government in regard to information policy is the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). It was enacted in “ … 1966, provides for any person – individual or corporate, regardless of citizenship -- presumptive access to unpublished existing, and identifiable records of the agencies of the Federal executive branch without having to demonstrate a need or reason for such a request.” The FOIA was passed because citizens and Congress had issue with the availability of information to the public from the executive branch and felt it necessary to begin to make official policy that would aid the democratic process. The FOIA pertains to documents that have not already been publicly published through the federal government’s information mouthpiece: the Government Printing Office (GPO). The federal government has published large amounts of literature through the GPO since 1860, and has used the GPO as its preferred method of information distribution. One of the goals of the GPO is to keep America informed, making them of specific interest when considering the government’s information policy (
The FOIA has gone through many updates as it has been critiqued and more importantly as information technology has changed. Information policy is unique to government policy in that it usually is reactive to the technologies that provide access to the information; policies have changed as print, telephony, radio, computers, and the Internet grew in popularity. The advent of the computer and the Internet put information policy back on the federal docket in the late eighties and early nineties. The government, local, state, and federal, has gone through an intense digitization of information. Naturally, this process has not been extremely smooth and has raised many other issues. Librarians have been in the forefront of these debates as they are one of the major interest groups that try to maintain and properly manage the information in order for the FOIA and other information policies to be effective for the populace. One specific issue that rose from the electronic information promotions was that after documents were digitized core information could on occasion disappear from public view or the public was forced to pay a fee to access the public funded information.
After the attacks of 9/11 the FOIA and the populaces’ access to publicly funded information came under attack. The executive branch of the federal government put national security above the established information policy. Water system plans, structural layouts of buildings, and other digitized information began to disappear in an effort to keep the wrong people from finding information that would aid them in committing terrorist acts. The administration’s ability to change their information policy and then quickly cut public access to the information because it was digitized exemplified the volatility information is when hard copies are not the norm.
Information policy should often be viewed as a verb rather than a noun according to Rowlands, and this is specifically true when considering government information policy. Policy making comprises a series of inputs (people, information, research) and outputs (access to democracy, better access to information), and when seen as this process we see that it is much more a verb rather than a thing. The information policy verb will continue to be in action as government, technology, and society changes, but its importance must never be overlooked.
Interesting sites to explore:

Clemons, C. S. A. (Summer 2009). Permanent Electronic Access to Government
Information: A Study of Federal, State, and Local Documents. Electronic Journal
of Academic and Special Librarianship,

Relyea, H. C. (April 2009). Federal Freedom of Information Policy: Highlights of Recents
Developments. Government Information Quarterly, 26(2), 314-320.

Rowlands, I. (Ed.) (2003) International Encyclopedia of Information and Library Science
(2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.

The Role of Information Policy in the Library

Information policy dictates the privileges and duties pertaining to the use, preservation, and distribution of information. The library serves as an important information pipeline. As such, it will need to carefully uphold the standards and policies which support its mission.

A clearly articulated information policy will enable the library to both serve its patrons in the best possible manner and answer challenges that arise regarding information access or use. Internet access, for example, is a particularly sensitive topic. However, an information policy enables the library to manage rights and user expectations. The West Virginia University Libraries created a policy outlining “the rights and responsibilities of consumers of electronic information in the West Virginia University Libraries” (Electronic Information Policy for Library Users, 2001). Visit to review the document in its entirety. Information policy enables the library to offer services while respecting the interests and concerns of all involved.

Information policy involves both patron privileges and patron duties. Patrons have privileges under such documents as the Bill of Rights, the Library Bill of Rights, et al, to freely access and express information. However, patrons also have the duty to observe library policies and state and federal laws (including copyright laws). The library can effectively fulfill its mission through the guidance of information policy.

ALA Statements on Information Policy
The American Library Association offers numerous statements and policies which address the vast scope of information policy. Librarians and patrons alike can access ALA’s resources on fair and equitable information access and management.

The statement on Intellectual Freedom says, “ALA actively advocates in defense of the rights of library users to read, seek information, and speak freely as guaranteed by the First Amendment. A publicly supported library provides free and equal access to information for all people of that community. We enjoy this basic right in our democratic society. It is a core value of the library profession” (Intellectual Freedom, 2009).

The Library Bill of Rights is a crucial document for information policy. It outlines six key rights of every library user (Library Bill of Rights, 2009). View the statement here:

The statement on Equity of Access guarantees every person the right to obtain information: “Equity of access means that all people have the information they need-regardless of age, education, ethnicity, language, income, physical limitations or geographic barriers. It means they are able to obtain information in a variety of formats-electronic, as well as print. It also means they are free to exercise their right to know without fear of censorship or reprisal” (Equity of Access, 2009).

The seventh edition of the Intellectual Freedom Manual states: “"Intellectual freedom can exist only where two essential conditions are met: first, that all individuals have the right to hold any belief on any subject and to convey their ideas in any form they deem appropriate, and second, that society makes an equal commitment to the right of unrestricted access to information and ideas regardless of the communication medium used, the content of work, and the viewpoints of both the author and the receiver of information." (Intellectual Freedom, 2009)

The ALA Policy Manual states in section 50.3 Free Access to Information, “The American Library Association asserts that the charging of fees and levies for information services, including those services utilizing the latest information technology, is discriminatory in publicly supported institutions providing library and information services” (The ALA Policy Manual, 2009).

Questions to Ponder
What is the library’s policy on computer (or wireless internet) access?
What is the library’s policy on serving patrons with special needs?
How are patrons equipped to access, evaluate, and utilize information?
What is the library’s policy on information literacy?

Electronic Information Policy for Library Users. (2001, January). Retrieved from West Virginia University Libraries:
Equity of Access. (2009). Retrieved from American Library Association:
Intellectual Freedom. (2009). Retrieved from American Library Association:
Library Bill of Rights. (2009). Retrieved from American Library Association:
The ALA Policy Manual. (2009). Retrieved from American Library Association:
What is information policy?
Information policy is more of a concept that became a policy. Information policy is the act of evaluating what kind of information will be stored, how it will be evaluated once stored as well as who has access to that information once it is stored. Information policy also determines if that information once cataloged will be free to the public or if there will be a charge for that information. Information policy is typically handled by governmental agencies and from there the government determines the rules and regulations in which private information providers and the media will operate. Information policy includes the following, intellectual property rights, protection of personal privacy, freedom of information access, just to name a few.
When we think of housing regulations, policies that govern education or legislative policies to protect citizens, we are readily able to think of laws that protect those entities. Information policy is the same concept, laws that govern information. Copyrights, surveillance videos in public places, regulation of the Internet and crimes that may occur are all a form of what information policy protects.
Why we need information policy
Information policy is less visible because there are not always clear cut laws in place. With technology growing as fast as it is, sometimes laws have not caught up with all of all of the types of crimes. Information policy tends to be a bit ambiguous because it covers decisions, interest groups and laws not yet brought into policy. Information policy affects all of us because without information, we don’t function individually and definitely not as a society. Information policy covers everything from using your credit card, voting, enrolling your child in school as well as health care. Telephone systems, cable television, HIPPAA laws (health insurance medical privacy acts) as well as Facebook are forms of information that we encounter everyday that are governed by information policies and we are protected by these policies.
It seems the difficult part is making sense of the concept of information policy, what it means and how to regulate it. A concept is difficult to understand when it constantly is growing and evolving due to the information it covers and as we know information is always changing.

Burger, R. (1993). Information policy: a framework for evaluation and policy research. Norwood, N.J.: Ablex Pub. Corp., c1993
International encyclopedia of information and library science / edited by John Feather and Paul Sturges. London ; New York : Routledge, 2003. 2nd ed. 278-284

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Diversity in Elementary School Libraries

Recognition of the need to address diversity in education has steadily increased in recent years yet a clear definition of what diversity means remains elusive. The Council for Exceptional Children defines diversity as “understanding and valuing the characteristics and beliefs of those who demonstrate a wide range of characteristics. This includes ethnic and racial backgrounds, age, physical and cognitive abilities, family status, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, religious and spiritual values, and geographic location” (CEC website). This broad, yet accurate, view of diversity must drive the work of elementary educators including information professionals and library staff. Specifically, the approach and strategies used by school libraries to address the needs of a diverse student population must be as wide-ranging and all-encompassing as the definition of diversity itself.

Ethnicity, Race, and Culture
Perhaps more than any other element, differences in ethnicity, race, and culture are traditionally thought of when discussing diversity. It remains critically important for school librarians to recognize and respect the needs of the increasingly diverse school population. Minority students are more likely to face challenges in accessing information, technologies, and educational opportunities. So, while important, addressing cultural diversity is more than simply stocking books and materials that reflect the cultural and racial background of each student. In addition, students from minority populations may also belong to one of the other areas of diversity, creating complications and conflicts in the librarian’s ability to meet their needs.
What is more, even in the most homogeneous school populations, the library must be the arena to promote awareness of cultural diversity. A reading program in which students are presented Cinderella stories from a number of different cultures can be used to increase student understanding and appreciation of different cultures.

Physical and Cognitive Ability
In today’s public schools, students with varying physical and cognitive abilities are being increasingly mainstreamed. This mainstreaming does not stop at the door of the classroom. School libraries can make an important contribution to the education of students with disabilities, especially in teaching them information skills that will assist them in accessing information that will be important to their daily living. School librarians must understand these needs and, specifically, work with the Special Education staff to ensure these needs are met.
According to Murray (1999), school libraries can, and do, positively contribute to students facing physical challenges, “particularly in providing opportunities for collaboration and teamwork, in exercising independence, and in creating perceptions of value and acceptance.”

Credaro, A. (2006). School Libraries: Catering to the Special Needs of Children. Warrior Librarian. Accessed November 29, 2009.

Love, E. (2007). Building Bridges: Cultivating Partnerships between Libraries and Minority Student Services. Education Libraries, 30(1), 13 – 19.

Murray, J. (1999). An Inclusive School Library for the 21st Century: Fostering Independence. IFLA Council and General Conference, August 20-28, 1998.

Murray, J. (2000). Training School Library Staff To Cater for Diversity. Education for Information. 18(4), 313-23.

Murray, J. (2001). Teaching Information Skills to Students with Disabilities: What Works? School Libraries Worldwide. 7(2), 1 – 16.

Murray, J. (2002). The Implications of Inclusive Schooling for School Libraries. International Journal of Disability, Development and Education. 49(3), 301-322.