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 http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/librarybill
Kent District Library. (2013). KDL Policy Manual. Retrieved from http://www.kdl.org/kdl/pdf/KDLPolicyManual.pdf
Lakeland Library Cooperative. (2013). Home Page. Retrieved from http://www.lakeland.lib.mi.us/
Michigan eLibrary (2013). Home Page. Retrieved from www.mel.org
University Library: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. (2013). Image [Interlibrary Loan and Document Delivery]. Retrieved from http://www.library.illinois.edu/learn/intro/tours/virtualtour/alllibraries/interlibraryloan