Monday, December 7, 2009

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:


Amy Smola said...

I'm going to quote a section of your posting: "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." This speaks to our discussion topic for this week about bad library policies. I found a library that refused to allow people living in public-assisted shelters check out more than 2 books at a time. These people were limited because of where they lived... the library had a list of shelter addresses, and if you provided one of these addresses, your access was greatly limited. Essentially, these people were being restricted based upon their income and geography. They had little if any money, so they had to live in certain shelter areas. Denying these people the ability to use the library with the same benefits as a person who lived in a house or apartment was shameful. Equity of access SHOULD apply to everyone, and no one should be discriminated against or limited due to the factors listed above.

Jeremy L. said...

Equity of Access should apply to everyone regardless of street address! I was able to obtain a library card with full rights when I was living in a 13' trailer right beside the railroad tracks in the mountains of Vermont. I got mail through the church in town and I was able to use that address for my library card. People who don't have normal addresses may have the greatest need for library resources! Libraries must not restrict access or usage based upon "inferior" living conditions.

kbankovich said...

I researched the policies at the library I frequent and found that the library provides both filtered and unfiltered internet access. Children between the ages of 12-17 are limited to a filtered workstation unless accompanied by a parent or guardian.

They also provide books to patrons who are home bound. A librarian or a volunteer will talk with the patron to evaluate their needs. If the patron is blind or handicapped, the Library for the Blind will send out special players free of charge.

Access is most commonly thought of as an architectural or facilities issue, but access to
collections through well-designed programs, services and equipment is equally important. The
library will attempt to provide services in a convenient, cost effective and efficient manner to all users while following policies and procedures adopted by the Library Commission and obeying all applicable laws such as the ADA.

Children and young adults should not be denied access to the adult collection because they are
juveniles. Librarians must consider their information needs and exercise judgment in selecting
materials to answer those needs.

Nicole Lesperance said...

In reference to what Amy said, I feel that the situation that you described is really a serious shame. It is very important to make sure the policy regarding access is the same for everyone, and it is always unfortunate when a library has to make decisions that limit certain people in their community. Jeremy's comment about how sometimes it is the people that have non-traditional addresses sometimes need access moreso than other patrons makes a great deal of sense to me. In this particular circumstance, I think that the library should seriously re-evaluate its reasons and extend a little beyond to help the people by giving them opportunities.