Introduction to Library and Information Science/Information Policy

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Librarians are far from the only players in today's Information Age. A huge number of people and organizations have a say in how information is created, used, stored, accessed, and disseminated. Each of these parties is influenced by widely divergent goals, world views, and professional ethics.

These divergent viewpoints often come to the fore in debates over Information Policy. An information policy is a public law, regulation or policy that encourages, discourages, or regulates the creation, use, storage, access, and communication and dissemination of information.[1]

Librarians and other information workers are often involved in creating and transforming information policy, and invariably feel the effects of these policies. This chapter will discuss a number of Information Policy debates of particular interest to the LIS community.

After reading this chapter, students should be able to articulate how libraries

  1. are governed and funded
  2. establish and uphold policies
  3. develop collection development policies
  4. defend access to information in both physical and electronic media
  5. navigate restrictions from copyright law
  6. protect patron confidentiality
  7. navigate policy exceptions
  8. establish fine and fee structures
  9. make decisions regarding staff tasks and responsibilities

Collection development

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Collection development is the process of planning and building a useful and balanced collection of library materials[2]. Collection development policies provide guidelines for people who select Information resources for library collections, and can also be used to evaluate selectors' choices, to see if they were indeed appropriate for the library's collection.

Public libraries particularly face a "quality vs. demand" problem. Librarians are experts in book selection, and have tools, such as professional reviews, to guide them in choosing good books for their collections. However, this does not always mean that their selections are popular with their patrons.

The tension between "quality" and "demand" is often discussed in reference to the case of the Baltimore County Public Library's approach to collection development from the 1980s. When the library considered the fees they were paying to convert to online records, they began to wonder if every item was earning its keep. They checked circulation statistics for each item. Material that didn't circulate frequently enough was withdrawn. More attention was paid to areas of the collection that circulated well. More copies of bestsellers were purchased.

This approach was criticized as not being actual collection development, but just mindless reading of statistics. In an article for Library Journal, Nora Rawlinson, then head of materials selection at Baltimore County Public Library, admitted that it is easy to select popular items, but other material is carefully considered before being purchased for the collection. Esoteric material is rejected and fair service to patrons is considered when selecting. The diverse interests of their patrons can be met because they reduced staff and increased the book budget. The approach was successful: surveys showed that patrons were satisfied, and the library received a significant number more interlibrary loan requests than it made. The fears that the library would devolve into a collection stuffed with bestsellers and little material of real value were unfounded.

Although these collection practices were originally controversial for some libraries, Baltimore County's choice to use a combination of popularity (as represented by circulation statistics) and professional judgement has been widely adopted by many public libraries [3].


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The 2001 USA PATRIOT Act has changed how the United States Federal Government can obtain information. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has used the act to ask libraries which books patrons checked out, what databases patrons used, and what reference questions they asked. Ultimately, it requires a court order for libraries to turn over such records and information about patrons. A court decision in Colorado ruled that an adversarial hearing was allowed before a search warrant could be enacted. The PATRIOT ACT permits surveillance, allows for searches without probable cause, and enforces secrecy. All the FBI has to assert in its investigation is that terrorism is involved.

Library staff members should keep in mind that they should not turn over records to anyone without a warrant. In an article for Library Journal, Mary Minow suggests that all libraries have a plan involving staff training, supervising, having a lawyer present if a warrant has been issued, and procedures for handling the requests for information. Is library patron record privacy trivial compared to stopping terrorism? Several organizations asked for an account by the Department of Justice of the investigations carried out by the FBI since the passing of the Patriot Act. At the time of Minow's article, the information requested was termed "classified" and not available to the public [4].

Control of information

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This editorial states the situation of three specific libraries in Ohio whose hazardous materials emergency plans were removed without notice and without due cause by agents of the Department of Homeland Security. The pretense given by the agents in viewing the plans was that they were there to update it; instead, they took the plans to be stored at a Homeland Security office, where “proper ID may be required” for viewing. Since the areas affected were at risk for terrorist activities in that there was an oil refinery and a tank manufacturing plant in the area, the affected librarians did not necessarily take offense to the removal of these documents given the political climate, but rather the way the information was unceremoniously taken from them.

To remove information that could be vital to some, yet be used as a dangerous tool by others walks a fine line between looking out for the public good and censorship. The Department of Homeland Security manhandled this situation by treating the librarians, and indirectly their patrons, as bothersome pests because of a need to possess information. In the class discussions, the topic of information as a commodity always comes to the issue of who should control information. All parties involved have their own agenda, and in this case the government may have cloaked their desire to remove potentially damaging environmental data under the guise of preventing another terrorist attack.[5]

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How does copyright apply to libraries?

  • Libraries are often the only entities that provide access to the vast majority of copyrighted works before the expiration of the copyright, and to works that lose commercial vitality before the copyright expires (i.e. go out of print but are still legally protected).
  • First sale doctrine (1908) enables libraries to lend books and other resource
    • Except software gets dicier, because of End-user license agreements (EULAs)
  • Fair use allows for the use of (usually tiny snippets of) copyrighted works for purposes of criticism, comment, news reporting, scholarship, or research.
  • Libraries are permitted to make reproductions of copyrighted works for preservation and replacement purposes.
  • Libraries can aid in the transformation and reproduction of copyrighted works for users with disabilities.
  • Libraries often play an archival function with print works. Can they do this in the highly copyrighted, license-agreemented world of electronic information? Electronic resources tend to have a very short shelf life, and may not be archived properly for future use.
  • Digital Rights Management technologies often don't recognize any limitations to copyright, and just go ahead and restrict access.

The Teach Act helps redefine the terms and conditions of copyright laws, focusing on copyright protected materials in distance education. The act puts more pressure on the educational institution, rather than the educator; but there are several benefits because of the Teach Act: expanded range of allowed works, expansion of receiving locations, storage of transmitted content, and digitizing of analog works. It is important for educators to be aware of copyright information, the number of students enrolled in class, and the amount of time allotted to view the material. If they are cognizant of them, they will not have to worry about breaking the law. Since distance education is growing, librarians are expected to deal with interlibrary loans more often, amongst other new opportunities, and need to understand the Teach Act too. Kenneth brings up several points that are essential to remember about the Teach Act. Distance learning is growing rather quickly, and is becoming more popular amongst the student population. Because of this rapid growth, librarians are asked to perform several new tasks that coincide with the act. Librarians need to be familiar with the Teach Act, so no laws are broken, and all materials remain protected.[6]

Digital Rights Management

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In this editorial the authors propose that libraries must be involved in the development of digital rights management policies and the selection and implementation of appropriate technologies, because the interests of libraries are different from the interests of commercial information providers. The core mission of libraries is to offer free access to information rather than on a pay-per-use basis as many commercial entities do. Digital rights management for libraries requires identifying and authenticating rights holders and users, while protecting their privacy and confidentiality. The principles of first sale and fair use must be maintained in the digital environment while preserving authors’ rights, as well. As libraries begin to publish more on the web, their interest in digital rights management will increase.

Libraries already offer many products in a digital form accessible to patrons by remote access after identification and authentication. While the library bears the expense of the product, access is open to anyone who has a valid card. In my opinion, the user identifies this service with the library. I agree that libraries need to be involved in digital rights management so information does not become a commodity that can be accessed only by those who can afford it.[7]

Fines and fine waiving

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Government information

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International information policy

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This article provides a historical perspective on the development of international policies and sanctions regarding the fair and safe trade of information between countries. During the internet’s infancy, the issues regarding keeping privileged information confidential and regulation the economic aspects of electronic information were still being worked out. One of the bodies involved in these issues was called the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). When this editorial article was written in 1985 ways to control and regulate the international flow of information were still being worked out. This article only provides a small glimpse of the issue from a modern vantage point. One would assume that today, more than twenty years later that regulations would now be firmly in place. In order to get a better idea of the evolution of international information policy it would be necessary to read several articles that span the past two decades.[8]


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The Hawaii State Library, a historic building surrounded by trees
The Hawaii State Library, the seat of the Hawai'i State Public Library System

In recent years, many libraries have explored outsourcing "behind-the-scenes" activities, such as cataloging and book selection, to private companies. A classic example of this was a 1996 decision by Bartholomew Kane, the Hawaii State Librarian, to outsource all cataloging and selection for the libraries in the state to the private company Baker and Taylor. Kane's philosophy in this decision was guided by public surveys which showed a public desire for increased library assistance and longer hours of operation. By outsourcing cataloging and selection, Kane was able to meet both of these public demands.

However, this approach also has its drawbacks. For instance, by outsourcing selection and cataloging, the library loses its autonomy in making differentiated selections to suit their individual populations. Although the State Library argued that it would be in Baker and Taylor's best financial interest to select the appropriate materials, the issue is not entirely resolved. For instance, will the selectors at Baker and Taylor have the same interactions with and knowledge of the public that the librarians would have? Additionally, the state of Hawaii is in a unique situation, as the only state with a state-wide library system, and in a state of geographic semi-isolation from the rest of the country. Applying a blanket solution such as outsourcing some of the traditional roles of the public library is not a catch-all solution for all libraries that need to increase their hours and personnel without increasing their bottom line.[9]

Web content filters

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A screenshot of filtering software DansGuardian blocking

Libraries are one of the primary providers of public Internet access within the United States. American librarians are also ethically bound by the ALA's code of ethics to "resist all efforts to censor library resources." Therefore, when the 2000 Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) required libraries and schools to filter web content as a condition for receiving certain federal funding, many in the library community strongly objected. The ALA challenged the act as unconstitutionally blocking access to constitutionally protected information on the Internet. The ALA also noted that E-rate funding, one of the federal funding programs contingent on web filter use, was created to provide Internet access to all communities, including historically underfunded communities. Mandating filters imposes additional financial burdens on the same schools and libraries that the e-rate program was meant to help. Finally, the ALA stated that web filters are notoriously unreliable, with "no filtering software successfully differentiat[ing] constitutionally protected speech from illegal speech on the Internet." The case made it to the Supreme Court, which in 2003, ruled that CIPA was in fact constitutional.

The debate over filtering in the library community is far from over, however. Writing in 2004, Nancy Kranich notes seven reasons filters do not succeed in protecting patrons from offensive Internet material:

  1. Filters underblock sites that are banned by CIPA
  2. Filters overblock sites that are legal
  3. Filter providers cannot review every site
  4. Filters do not distinguish between users of different ages
  5. Overriding or disabling filters is time-consuming and costly
  6. Some users find ways around filters or find access elsewhere
  7. Filters do not block email, chat rooms or videos

Kranich argues that the best ways to protect consumers are through education, Internet access policies, links to approved, quality sites, and reference assistance. Requiring parental consent for minors to use the Internet, public monitoring, and the use of privacy screens also help protect consumers.[10]

Many in the library community also worried that federal laws such as CIPA could lead the way to even more restrictive laws on the state level. Some libraries filter because violating certain state laws could lead to criminal charges. Most libraries depend on community support and money, so resisting the public’s requests puts libraries’ futures at risk. Would libraries choose filtering if there were no threats of legal action and eliminated funding? If so, what does this say about the ALA’s mission?

However, Hampton Auld takes a different view of filtering. In Auld's article, the Chesterfield County (Virginia) Public Library began filtering all public Internet-access computers after complaints that adults and children were viewing pornographic images. The library observed a reduction in the number of times pornography had to be cleared from screens, a reduction in the number of reported complaints, and an improved library environment, despite mistakes made by the filtering software. Auld argues that filters work in blocking pornography while only slightly affecting access to protected speech. According to Auld, the ALA should revise its anti-filtering policy because filters are more effective than any other ALA-recommended method and the policy is undermining and dividing the profession.[11]

The following table represents arguments for and against filtering requirements from an earlier supreme court case, Reno v. ACLU. In this case, the supreme court sided with the ACLU, unanimously striking down a portion of the 1996 Communications Decency Act (CDA).

Argument Defense
Filters use keywords. True, but good filters can turn off keyword blocking and rely on site-selected blocking.
Filters block sex education, AIDS info, etc. Can be set up so only pornographic sites are blocked.
Outsiders select material. Librarians have vendors preselect books.
The lists of sites that are banned cannot be viewed or changed. They are all different. Some have viewable lists, main thing is that it is editable and accurate.
Libraries look like "publishers" and can be responsible for its content. "Good Samaritan" blocking amendment protects libraries if blocking offensive material.
Internet is too big and changes too fast to be 100% accurate. Libraries have to try to be consistent, not ensure appropriateness.
Let the users decide appropriateness, not the librarian. Libraries have always had global judgment (ex.- not to carry Huster).
Libraries have limited budgets which is why they don't carry everything. Wrong- remember appropriateness! (and offensiveness)
Violates the Constitution. Uses discretion, not removing from one thing, selecting from several.
Selection is addition, censorship is removal. Restricts the potential access.


Edwards' commentary focuses on the questionable success of filters meant to block access by young people to websites with pornographic content in libraries and schools. While allowing schools and libraries to maintain access to federal funding under the Children’s Internet Protection Act of 2000 (CIPA), the use of these filters may also be blocking access to sensitive health information. The most frequently blocked sites included the following words:

  • Gay or lesbian
  • Condoms
  • Safe Sex
  • Abortion

The more the restrictive filters prevented the twelve testers from finding health information on topics such as pregnancy, abortion and drug use, while only marginally improving protection against pornographic sites. Both sides of the filtering debate claim victory. Those for filters advocate their use by applauding the success of the study in blocking between 87-91% of pornography in the study. Those against the use of filters cite the potential 24% of health information sites blocked as the failure inherent in the system. The perplexing portion of CIPA is that the government mandates the use of filtering to remain eligible for federal funding; yet they make no policy as to what should be filtered. The recurring theme with library policy is the information as a commodity, again leaving the question of what information should be available to whom to be an arbitrary decision. One can infer that the debate regarding this topic will remain controversial since there is no way to standardize to a general agreement what issues should be blocked.[13]


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  1. Information policy. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved September 11, 2012, from Information policy
  2. Reitz, J. M. (n.d.). Collection development. In ODLIS: Online dictionary for library and information science. ABC-CLIO. Retrieved from c.aspx#collecdevel
  3. Rawlinson, Nora. "Give 'Em What They Want!" Library Journal (November 15, 1981): 77-79.
  4. Minow, Mary, 2002. “The USA Patriot Act.” Library Journal 127: 52-54.
  5. American Library Association. "Homeland Security Agents Pull Ohio Libraries Haz-Mat Documents."
  6. Crews, Kenneth D., 2004. New Copyright Law for Distance Education: The Meaning and Importance of the TEACH Act.
  7. Agnew, Grace, and Mairead Martin. “Digital Rights Management: Why Libraries Should Be Major Players.” In The Bowker Annual: Library and Book Trade Almanac. 48th edition. Edited by Dave Bogart. Medford, N.J.: Information Today, 2003, 267-278.
  8. Bortnick, Jane. "National and International Information Policy." Journal of the American Society of Information Science 36 (1985): 164-168.
  9. Oldon, Renee. 1996. Hawaii hands collection development to Baker & Taylor. School Library Journal 42:10-11.
  10. Kranich, Nancy. “Why Filters Won’t Protect Children or Adults.” Library Administration and Management 18 (Winter 2004): 14-18.
  11. Auld, Hampton. “Filters Work: Get Over It.” American Libraries 34 (2003): 38-41.
  12. Burt, David. “In Defense of Filtering.” American Libraries 28 (August 1997): 46-48.
  13. Edward, Ellen. "Web Filters Block Health Information." Washington Post, December 11, 2002, p. A02