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Nov 20 / Joanna Sturgeon

Library Information Access Policies

Written by Emma MacGuidwin

Some of the most obvious instances of information policies that affect my daily life are those found in the various libraries that I visit. For example, I am a cardholder at the Kent District Library (KDL), which is a member of the Lakeland Library Cooperative (Lakeland) and the Michigan eLibrary (MeL). (Lakeland Library Cooperative, 2013; Michigan eLibrary, 2013). I regularly patronize KDL, especially to find material for my online classes. However, I do not often think about how the library and cooperative policies affect the information to which I have access and the decisions I regularly make about items that I will borrow. Most of the time, these library policies provide me with access to a vast universe of information, but occasionally, the policies prevent me from gaining full access to materials, although this is usually an unintended effect.

KDL’s Materials Selection Policy states that KDL “supports the principles of intellectual freedom adopted by the American Library Association and stated in the Library Bill of Rights.” (KDL Policy 1.3, 2013). The library “assures equal access to all library resources by patrons within the constraints of Michigan law,” and patrons are “free to select or reject for themselves any item in the collection.” (KDL Policy 1.5, 2013). This policy of open access to all library materials for a cardholder is a core, universal value of librarianship, espoused by the ALA and libraries worldwide (“Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves.”). (American Library Association, 1980). However, I do not often consider or appreciate how such a policy allows me to easily access anything in the library. For example, although I typically frequent my home “branch” of KDL, I have access to any print materials located at any of the 18 KDL branches, and all KDL cardholders have access to the same electronic databases. These principles of giving patrons open access and allowing them to exercise independent judgment in choosing materials are so engrained in me that it is difficult to imagine what it would be like if I were unable to check out everything that I wanted.

However, KDL’s membership in Lakeland and MeL, while opening up the universe of information available to me as a KDL cardholder, results in policies that do not reflect the principle of total “open access” that is available for all KDL materials. KDL states that inter-library loan transactions “are an essential library service to patrons,” and that KDL agrees to participate in inter-library loan to and from other libraries. (KDL Policy 1.7, 2013). KDL also states that all current Lakeland member library cards will be honored by KDL, but there are exceptions, i.e., non-resident local use library cards, underfunded contract service area cards, and institutional cards. (KDL Policy 2.2, 2013). Thus, other Lakeland member cardholders are restricted by KDL’s policies, and KDL cardholders are restricted by the policies of other member libraries. Several Lakeland libraries do not allow outside individuals, who are still part of the Lakeland cooperative, to check out certain materials, or these users cannot borrow materials for as long. Individuals often have to return the materials directly to the lending library, instead of being able to drop them off at their local library. Individuals are also typically unable to access the electronic databases of other member libraries.

In the same manner, although I can request items from any member library in the Michigan eLibrary, I typically have to do this through my own library. I cannot simply go to another MeL library, present my KDL card, and check out books. I experienced this recently when my MeL request was not going to be delivered to my home library in time and I tried to go directly to the lending library to check the books out in person. And, as with the Lakeland electronic databases, I cannot access the electronic databases of other MeL libraries unless I am also a cardholder at those libraries.

Usually, the information policies of other libraries that restrict my access to materials are not intended to discriminate against me as a non-cardholder. They might simply be logistical issues; the libraries must make sure that their cardholders have ready access to materials and thus cannot allow non-cardholders to borrow the material for as long. Some materials are in high demand or are only available in limited stock, and thus cannot circulate to non-borrowers. And, in the case of electronic databases, libraries are subject to strict licensing agreements that limit the number of users that can access the databases, or they can only be accessed by the library’s cardholders. However, it is only when my access to information is restricted that I start to reflect on information policies at libraries and how these policies affect the content to which I am entitled.


American Library Association. (2013). Library Bill of Rights. Retrieved from

Kent District Library. (2013). KDL Policy Manual. Retrieved from

Lakeland Library Cooperative. (2013). Home Page. Retrieved from

Michigan eLibrary (2013). Home Page. Retrieved from

University Library: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. (2013). Image [Interlibrary Loan and Document Delivery]. Retrieved from

One Comment

  1. Barb Szutkowski / Nov 24 2013

    We found your perspective on library services very interesting. One of our libraries has a reciprocal agreement with four other area libraries and vice versa. However, each library has restrictions on the materials a reciprocal user may access. At this library, reciprocal users are not allowed to check out video games. They must do this at their home library because this library has a small collection and often patrons are coming from a much larger home library. The larger libraries also have this restriction for certain types of material. This library also cannot offer MeLCat (the Michigan eLibrary Catalog and Resource Sharing System) and OverDrive (e-book lending) services. However, we believe these are constraints set up within the MeLCat and OverDrive systems themselves and cannot be changed by participating libraries. Although it may be very convenient for the user, it would actually be quite a burden to hold non-home libraries responsible for processing MeLCat books. One of our group members is responsible for this service at their library, which has some home school families who order a tremendous number of books. Some loads are very large for their small library to process. Imagine if reciprocal patrons from multi-branch libraries were able to order or return MeLCat books to their small library. They simply don’t have the staff to integrate such a model. In a better world, libraries would have more funding and adequate staff levels to make the lending experience more convenient for the user. However, it is likely that home libraries will always have certain materials they attempt to reserve for their patron base. These are the people that fund the library and in all fairness are due more privileges than those users who do not fund the library.

    Within the past two months one of our group members borrowed a book through MeLCat for the first time. She was considering reading the book “To save everything, click here: the folly of technological solutionism” by Evgeny Morozov for Exercises 4 & 5 and Essay 2 of this class. She was surprised that this book was not owned by either of the two libraries for which she has a card. However, she was able to borrow it from the Genesee District Library in Grand Blanc, Michigan through the Rochester Hills Public Library. She found it amazing that through this resource sharing system she was able to pick up a book from her local library and return it there, even though her library doesn’t even own a copy of the book. Although the amount of time it takes to get a book may be an issue, if a person does not have a specific deadline this service can be very useful. [Group Response]

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