InfoIssues: August 2005 | Mansfield Library | The University of Montana-Missoula

The University of Montana Libraries—Missoula

A publication of the faculty of the Mansfield Library at the University of Montana

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To comment on this issue or to suggest an issue, please contact Jennie Burroughs, Chair, Key Constituencies Committee.

Issue of the Month: August 2005

Open, Equal, and Unrestricted Access to
Information in the Digital Age

-Sue Samson, Professor
Head of Information & Research Services Division

“We [members of the American Library Association] significantly influence or control the selection, organization, preservation, and dissemination of information. In a political system grounded in an informed citizenry, we are members of a profession explicitly committed to intellectual freedom and the freedom of access to information. We have a special obligation to ensure the free flow of information and ideas to present and future generations.” –American Library Association (1995).

Literacy is no longer defined by a core set of knowledge published in books but has evolved into a composite of hard copy, online data, and multimedia access. Libraries are on the cutting edge of access to information and provide information in its many formats. While preserving the historical and traditional, libraries also lead the way in meeting the demands for electronic access to e-resources and multimedia publications and in ensuring the availability of information in the future.

As the initial quote emphasizes, the benefits of access to online information need to be protected and fostered in the same way access to information of all kinds has been protected throughout the history of our nation. Recent initiatives such as the Children’s Internet Protection Act and strong grass-roots efforts to curtail open internet access have fostered interesting challenges in libraries. These initiatives include the leveraging of federal support with a mandate for internet filtering (Albanese et al 2003). Libraries are “committed to intellectual freedom and the freedom of access to information” (ALA 1995), and these initiatives are in direct conflict with this mission.

In a recent analysis of internet filtering software, it was defined as “better, but still fallible” and unable to differentiate between valid, value intensive sites and those considered to be inappropriate by an uncertain definition (Consumer Reports 2005). Koss (2005) further addresses the issue of filtering by stating, “much of what is banned is not pornographic, merely controversial.” Thus, by filtering the internet, the ability of academic libraries to fulfill their mission is significantly curtailed at a time when internet access has fostered communication and a multitude of higher education initiatives intrinsically linked to library and information resources.

Another important component of access to information that is central to the mission of the library is the individual’s right to privacy (ALA 1995). Libraries do not inhibit free inquiry, attempt to control the reading or viewing habits of library users, censor material for any reason, nor reveal the inquiries of library patrons (Hautmann 2002). Libraries are the preserve of free access to information; and libraries seek to build balanced, accurate, and objective collections and make them available to all of their constituencies without limitation.

At the Mansfield Library

Our primary mission is to serve the research and curricular needs of The University of Montana students, faculty, and staff; and, as a state university, our secondary mission is to serve the information needs of Montanans who benefit from access to our collections. In doing so, we are committed to providing access to information and to respecting the right to privacy guaranteed by the American Library Association Library Bill of Rights and its Code of Ethics as well as the Montana Library Records Confidentiality Act (1985) MCA 22-1-11.

Libraries, and academic libraries in particular, have a history that builds on the basic concepts of intellectual freedom and open access to information. Mansfield Library supports the rights of library patrons and seeks to uphold the American Library Association Code of Ethics. Our Collection Development Policy reflects our mission as do our Information Center services for students, faculty and staff, curriculum-integrated Instruction Program, assessment of services and collections, and attention to all library users. At the center of the university, academic libraries serve as learning laboratories both from their physical and virtual presence. During 2004-2005, 618,224 users entered the Mansfield Library, and there were 26,767,607 hits on its website. This multifaceted use of our building, hard copy collections, and electronic resources has fostered a variety of new and popular services, including online reference assistance, electronic reserves, and desktop document delivery.

During our all-library retreat in May 2004, the library staff identified the following goals that support the mission of The University of Montana and build on a campus-wide survey of library services (LibQUAL+) conducted during spring 2003.

· Goal 1: Continue to integrate assessment into all aspects of library operations.
· Goal 2: Enhance outreach to all library users.
· Goal 3: Build an environment of integrated, collegial partnerships that foster and encourage creativity and innovation, reward initiative, and increase and improve communication.
· Goal 4: Make positive customer service the cornerstone of all operations.
· Goal 5: Continue to enhance the Library as place, in terms of both its physical location and virtual presence.

We encourage input from library users and will continue to review our policies, procedures, and options in order to provide excellent service within the mandate of academic libraries and intellectual freedom.

Literature Cited

Albanese, Andrew, et al. 2003. “Privacy, porn, and public access in 2004.” Library Journal, 128(20):68-71.

American Library Association. 1995. Code of Ethics of the American Library Association. Accessed 18 May 2005.

Consumer Reports. 2005. “Filtering software: better, but still fallible.” Consumer Reports, 70(6):36-39.

Hauptman, Robert. 2002. “The sacrifice of confidentiality.” American Libraries, 33(3):43.

Koss, Linda. 2005. “Filtering is not the answer.” Library Journal, 130(1):70.

To learn more about intellectual freedom and libraries, try these links:

Intellectual Freedom Handbook

ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom

Library Patrons Rights & Responsibilities

Canadian Library Association Statement on Intellectual Freedom

To comment on this issue or to suggest an issue, please contact Jennie Burroughs, Chair, Key Constituencies Committee.