last century saw a remarkable transformation in public libraries, from
Andrew Carnegie's buildings that would ensure the "education and improvement
of the poorer classes" to the glorious modern facilities in which people
across the socio-economic spectrum read books, listen to jazz, and surf
the Net. Indeed, books, computers, classes, programs, children's story
times and puppet shows, and new electronic formats make today's libraries
indispensable. By far the most significant changes in public library service
have come with the advent of computers and Internet access. Libraries are
no longer restricted by their physical spaces as they connect people to
the information, books, and other materials they seek. This is certainly
true for the Mt. Lebanon Public Library, which is located about 6 miles
south of Pittsburgh. We are the vital link between our citizens and the
knowledgethey seek; we are the conduits of information delivery as we use
our skills to navigate, organize, and clarify the incredible amount of
information found on the World Wide Web.
|"Have a specific children's
use section, including a statement that the library does not act in
my library first acquired access to the Internet nearly 7 years ago, it
revolutionized our reference service and opened a whole new world for our
patrons. We had just moved into a renovated gas station that would serve
as a temporary library for nearly 2 years while the existing library underwent
a $4.2 million expansion and renovation. In our cramped quarters we had
only one public computer with Internet access, next to the reference desk,
and it was in constant use. That year the library board adopted a computer
use and Internet access policy that contained only three points: The availability
of the Internet was part of our mission to the public; we did not monitor
and had no control over the content; and parents or legal guardians were
responsible for their (minor) children's use. That was all—good statements,
true, and fine for the temporary library with one public computer, but
we realized we would need a stronger policy when we moved into the new
building in June 1997.
community had eagerly awaited the opening. We had publicized the wonderful
features of the new facility, especially touting the fact that we would
have 50 computers, nearly four-fifths of them for the public, and all with
Internet access. Our library quickly became one of the busiest in the county;
situated near several public transportation lines and in a relatively densely
populated area of the county, we began serving patrons from communities
well beyond our own of more than 33,000. We needed a policy that would
address all the issues involved with computer use and Internet access,
communicate effectively with the public, and protect the library. Thus
began our work to craft an effective Internet policy.
had been a children's librarian for 25 years, and had served as head of
children's services at Mt. Lebanon from 1986 until becoming director in
September 1996, so I was involved with our Internet activity from the beginning.
Moreover, I have chaired the Internet Access Committee for our county's
Electronic Information Network (eiNetwork) since 1997 and have worked with
library staff and trustees on various aspects of Internet use in public
libraries. Mt. Lebanon's experience in managing Internet access by the
public had relevance for other libraries as well.
important consideration in working on our Internet policy was our membership
in the eiNetwork, a consortium of 70 public library locations in Allegheny
County, Pennsylvania. Funded by the county and private foundations, the
eiNetwork provides the shared online catalog, databases, and access to
the Internet for the 70 library locations. It also provides hardware, software,
and technical support and maintenance to member libraries. (And until this
year, when a lease arrangement was established because of funding shortages,
there was almost no cost to the libraries.) Libraries in our county include
the large Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh with its 18 branches, and another
47 independent libraries ranging from large suburban to small rural facilities.
We learned that other libraries in the eiNetwork needed Internet policies,
too, so we formed the Internet Access Committee to explore all of the issues
surrounding Internet policies and to help member libraries develop them.
I will describe the process we've used over the last few years and some
"extras" that we have found useful.
the Raw Materials
with many library activities, our committee's first step was to find out
what others were doing, so we surveyed libraries in Pennsylvania and examined
the policies of those in other states. We also scoured reference books
and Web sites (see Further Reading) and attended every workshop on the
subject that we could find. During this process we identified some essential
elements that you should include when you're developing an Internet policy.
What follows is the result of our work. You will need to adapt the content
of your policy for your library's specific local needs and requirements.
|1. The Internet policy
should be rooted in your library's mission statement. This is where you
state your library's purpose in providing the Internet, the "why" of your
policy. For example, we say that the "Internet enables the library to provide
information beyond the confines of our own collection and allows access
to ideas, information, and commentary from around the globe that can be
personally, professionally, and culturally enriching."
2. The policy should be
developed with community participation and should specifically meet local
needs. We discussed the good and the bad of the Internet with various civic,
school, and community groups such as the PTA, League of Women Voters, Women's
Clubs, Lions Clubs, and so forth. We used these opportunities to find out
what members of the public expected in terms of access and control, and
to promote the positive aspects of Internet access in public libraries.
We also met with municipal officials to exchange ideas. We used all of
this information as we drafted our policy.
found that after you have completed your research and you are ready to
begin writing your policy, you will need to make sure that you address
several key points.
found that following these steps and including these key points in our
policy helps us to effectively communicate with patrons about our library's
Internet access, skillfully manage that access for patrons of all ages,
remain organized, and adapt to change more easily.
|1. Disclaimers and warnings
are an important component of the policy. We state in our policy that the
content of the Internet is unregulated and that the library does not monitor
and cannot control information accessed by patrons, including minors, through
the Internet. We consider it important that patrons understand that the
information accessed may contain material that is incorrect, inauthentic,
unreliable, illegal, obscene, or sexually explicit. Even if a library offers
filtering software on its computers, it cannot hold itself out as having
made the Internet safe for patrons.
2. Address restrictions
on fraudulent or unlawful activities prohibited by any applicable federal,
state, or local laws, including information that is obscene, child pornography,
bestiality, and, depending on your state laws, harmful to minors. Use legal
terms such as "obscene" and "indecent" rather than the broad and not legally
3. Have a specific children's
use section, including a statement that the library does not act in
loco parentis and that parents or legal guardians are responsible for
their children's use of the Internet. Mention ways in which the library
assists children and their parents in using the Internet. Address the issue
of minors' access to explicit sexual material on the Internet, citing specific
references to applicable law, and mentioning the approach your library
takes regarding this issue (e.g., parental responsibility and control,
installing filters on children's computers, or providing a "limited universe"
such as restricted Web sites for children).
4. Address the points necessary
to comply with the Internet Safety Policy required by the Neighborhood
Children's Internet Protection Act (NCIPA) by adopting and implementing
"a policy that addresses access by minors to inappropriate matter ...;
the safety and security of minors when using electronic mail, chat rooms,
and other forms of direct electronic communications; unauthorized access,
including so-called 'hacking,' and other unlawful activities ...; unauthorized
disclosure ... of personal identification information regarding minors;
and measures designed to restrict minors' access to materials harmful to
minors." Look at your mission statement to determine what you want your
library to do in these areas. Involve parents in discussions and information
sessions, perhaps forming a focus group to work with the library. By adding
these points to the existing Internet policy, a library will also comply
with this particular NCIPA requirement.
5. Reserve the right for
the library to control use of the computers and Internet access, for example,
ending an Internet session, designating computers for a specific purpose,
setting time limits, or requiring registration.
6. Include acceptable use
applications, such as using Internet workstations in a responsible manner,
respecting the rights of other users, not damaging computer equipment or
software, and not invading the privacy of others or engaging in any activity
that is harassing or defamatory.
7. State the consequences
of violation of the policies and regulations that govern the use of your
library's Internet resources. These may be the suspension or loss of use
privileges or prosecution by the appropriate authorities.
8. Finally, include a statement
that the library board will review the policy annually to ensure that it
remains vigorous and continues to support your mission and meet community
People Aware of Your Internet Policies
post your policy at each public computer and post it on several areas of
your Web site. Make sure it's on the children's and parents' sections as
well. We put the text for our link in red so people cannot miss it. In
addition, make sure your staff is familiar with the policy and its role
in enforcing it. We've found the latter to be a perennial challenge as
staff has little time for enforcement and the difference between what is
acceptable use to one staff member and unacceptable use to another is a
serious one. One way we've tried to meet this challenge is through staff
workshops and training.
content of our workshops and training includes several components:
discuss the public's perception of Internet access vis-a-vis the library's
experience with it. We have had some lively staff discussions over these
related to Internet access in a public library, such as the benefits of
the Internet, principles of intellectual freedom, legal issues, and filtering
practices and rationale (if relevant)
tips for promoting positive Internet use
of maintaining a good customer service presence in areas where public computers
are in use
treat behavior problems
|"We are much less likely
to be held legally liable for patrons' behaviors if we can prove that we
have made a good effort to inform the public about the Internet and the
library's Internet policy."
important, too, to develop procedures for staff to notify supervisors about
problems. We also developed simple scripts for staff to use with patrons:
seems to be a good time to remind you about our Internet Access Policy.
[Show patron policy posted at computer or on Web page.] You can read it
over and I'll be back in a couple of minutes to see if you have any questions."
the feedback we've received, employees have found our workshops and training
sessions to be of considerable value. Internet policies and practices are
placed in context and staff members have the opportunity to discuss their
experiences, both the pleasures and the frustrations, and to learn managing
techniques from others who are facing the same challenges.
also ask staff members to explain our policy whenever they provide informal
computer assistance to patrons, as well as when they conduct classes for
adults and/or children on computer use and the Internet. These actions
are effective in educating the public about our policy and providing staff
with an opportunity to answer questions and correct any misconceptions
quickly. We are much less likely to be held legally liable for patrons'
behaviors if we can prove that we have made a good effort to inform the
public about the Internet and the library's Internet policy. Although the
issue is fraught with difficulty, we have found that a strong Internet
policy protects us.
help other libraries, we have conducted workshops for local library board
members and library directors on developing Internet policies, gathering
community opinion, and interpreting policies for the public. We have also
created classes about computer use and the Internet for library staff to
conduct for adults, children, and parents with children. These classes
promote positive Internet experiences and give parents the tools they need
to help their children become responsible Internet users. We plan to add
classes and workshops on "techno-ethics," too, addressing such Internet
topics as copyright, intellectual property, researching on the Internet,
attribution, and avoiding plagiarism.
who have participated in our public workshops and classes have responded
enthusiastically. Parents are grateful for the guidance we've given them
and tell us that they follow up at home. In some cases, however, attendance
has been disappointing, sometimes with only a handful of people actually
showing up, whereas scores have expressed interest in Internet education,
asking us how the library can help. The dichotomy between what patrons
talk about wanting to do with their children and what they actually do
with them is significant. It seems as though many parents abrogate their
responsibility for educating their children about the Internet and, instead,
expect the library to do it all. We've found this to be true in other libraries
across the country as well. Still, we press on, trying to reach as many
people as we possibly can.
More Flexible Future
much has changed since we first developed our policy back in 1997. We have
added 25 more computers with Internet access; the Internet itself has exploded
into a staggering volume of global information; state legislation has been
enacted that has had a direct effect on our Internet policy; and the public
has grown more sophisticated in its expectations for this kind of library
service. Add to that more pending legislation on the state level and, of
course, CIPA, and we are reminded that our Internet policy has never been,
and can never be, a final work; it is, rather, a perennial work-in-progress.
But having carefully crafted an effective Internet policy in the first
place has enabled us to reshape it as necessary with relative ease.
Acceptable Use Policies: a handbook.
Virginia Department of Education, Division of Technology. http://www.pen.K12.va.us/go/
American Library Association's Children's
Internet Protection Act Web Site. http://www.ala.org/cipa
Children and the Internet: Guidelines
for Developing Public Library Policy. The American Library Trustee
Association (ALTA),the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC),
and the Public Library Association (PLA), divisions of the American Library
Association. Chicago: American Library Association, 1998.
Connecting Kids and the Internet:
a handbook for librarians, teachers, and parents. Second edition. Allen
C. Benson and Linda Fodemski. New York: Neal-Schuman, 1999.
FamiliesConnect, the parent/extended
family component of the American Association of School Librarians' ICONnect
Technology Initiative. Free online courses introducing families to the
Internet offered periodically. http://www.ala.org/ICONN/familiesconnect.html
"Guidelines and Considerations for
a Public Library Internet Use Policy."
The Office for Intellectual Freedom, American Library Association. Issued
1998, revised November 2000. http://www.ala.org/alaorg/oif/internet.html
Internet Policy Handbook for Libraries.
Mark Smith. New York: Neal-Schuman, 1999.
"The Librarian's Guide to Cyberspace
for Parents & Kids." American Library Association Public Information
Libraries, Access, and Intellectual
Freedom: developing policies for public and academic libraries. Barbara
M. Jones. Chicago: American Library Association, 1999.
Libraries & the Internet Toolkit:
tips and guidance for managing and communicating about
the Internet. Chicago: American
Library Association, 2001. http://www.ala.org/alaorg/
Libraries, the First Amendment,
and Cyberspace: what you need to know. Robert S. Peck. Chicago: American
Library Association, 1999.
Office for Intellectual Freedom home
page. American Library Association. Contains many sites on intellectual
freedom, filtering, Internet use, policies, privacy and confidentiality,
etc. Also contains the Library Bill of Rights and its Interpretations.