All libraries create policies for the different departments in the library. Each of the different departments of the library have different rules that need to be followed. Libraries have certain legal and ethical obligations to consider when developing a policy. The policies for the department which pertains to computer and internet use mainly discuss the restrictions in place for internet use and the privacy of the people who uses the computer.
Each library has a different policy regarding computer and internet use, but some aspects of the policies are consistent. In many libraries, it is a standard policy that certain material is not allowed to be viewed such as child pornography. Some libraries have filters in place which disable this type of material from being accessed. Furthermore, libraries have policies against downloading illegal programs or material. Certain libraries may have more specific requirements for internet use. Some require that the internet only be used to obtain information whereas others allow people to use it to gather information and for entertainment. Due to the number of computers and the demand for them, some libraries will restrict the amount of time patrons can use computers.
Libraries expect the patrons to be well behaved and use good judgment while using the computers and the internet. It is expected that people will log in with their id number, will not harass other users, will not hack into other computers or accounts, and will not damage the equipment in any way. Patrons who violate these policies may be banned from future use of computers at that library. Depending on the offense, criminal charges may be pressed.
In some cases, libraries have these policies in place to uphold the law. Libraries which receive monetary assistance for internet services must comply with the regulations of the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). It is meant to keep children from viewing material that is considered obscene, harmful to minors, or child pornography (FCC, n.d.). It can be difficult to determine what material is and is not appropriate for children. People have varying opinions about what children should have access to. Some material, which many people feel is inappropriate for children, does not fit the legal definitions of the types of things children are protected from seeing. Therefore the library is not obligated to keep children from accessing it (ALA, 2000).
Other policies are made for the benefit of the library and its patrons. They want patrons to be well behaved and to respect the privacy of others so all patrons and employees can be in a peaceful environment. Also libraries do not want their equipment destroyed. It reduces the number of computers they have available for other patrons, and it can be expensive to fix or replace the equipment.
The Code of Ethics of the American Library Association (ALA) is an important factor in the development of policies. These ethics require that the best possible service is given to the patrons and that they have access to all of the libraries resources (ALA, 2008). For instance, some policies include time limits on computers to ensure everyone has access within a timely manner. To give good service, the privacy of patrons must be ensured. For those who are knowledgeable with computer technology, the internet provides a way for people to obtain private information of others. Not only is it illegal, but this violates the ethical obligations of librarians to keep personal information of patrons confidential, which is why policies are made against patrons who violate the privacy of others (ALA, 2008).
The Code of Ethics also states that libraries should avoid censoring materials (ALA, 2008). This is a complicated issue in terms of computers and the internet. The internet provides access to a wide variety of material including material that is against the law. Some libraries use filters in an attempt to block the offensive and inappropriate material in regards to children. However filters are not reliable tools. They may block material that people have a right to see and may allow information to be seen that shouldn’t be. Because of this, filters are used only if it is absolutely necessary (ALA, 2000).
Many materials in libraries, including material on the internet, is subject to copyright laws. Basically this means that written works and works of art cannot be reproduced without permission. It is an ethical obligation and a law in regards to copyright issues, so it is included in library policies that copyrighted material should not be copied or downloaded from the internet (ALA, 2008).
The ALA has guidelines for librarians to use when developing policies. Policies, as it was discussed earlier, must comply with any applicable laws (ALA, 2005). Laws may vary in different locations, so the policies may have to be adapted in different ways. The guidelines state that policies should follow the Library Bill of Rights, which strongly emphasizes that people should not be discriminated against in any way. In other words, everyone should have equal access to all resources. Furthermore, the policies should be easy to understand and made available to the patrons. To ensure that the policies follow all of the appropriate guidelines, ethics, and laws, they need to be reexamined at regular intervals and revised if necessary (ALA, 2005).
The Association for Library Service to Children recommends certain guidelines specifically for internet use. They recommend that it is clear in the policy whether or not the library uses a filter. It is advisable to inform patrons about any restrictions on use such as time limits. It is recommended that CIPA is explained so the patrons understand the restrictions on internet use that are specifically in place for children. Inappropriate behavior which may cause the patron to lose internet privileges should be described in the policy as well as the appeals process if the library has one (Harris, 2003).
It is a complicated process to develop a comprehensive policy. It is necessary that the policies follow the Code of Ethics of the ALA, the Library Bill of Rights, and any applicable laws. The ALA has several guidelines for developing policies which should be taken into consideration. It is recommended that the policy is written or reviewed by a lawyer to ensure that the policy is in compliance with all laws in that area (Harris, 2003). Restrictions on internet use may vary based on the type of library. Each type of library may have different expectations for how the internet will be used based on the needs of the people who use the libraries. Regardless of the type of library, it is important to have a policy that explains proper behavior and use for all situations relating to computers and the internet, which should be available to the patrons.
American Library Association. (2008). Code of ethics of the american library association. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/advocacy/proethics/codeofethics/codeethics
American Library Association. (2000). Guidelines and considerations for developing a public library internet use policy. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/bbooks/challengedmaterials/preparation/guidelines-internet-use-policy
American Library Association. (2005). Guidelines for development and implementation of policies, regulations and procedures affecting access to library materials, services and facilities. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/statementspols/otherpolicies/guidelinesdevelopmentimplementation
Federal Communications Commission. (n.d.) Children’s internet protection act. Retrieved from http://www.fcc.gov/guides/childrens-internet-protection-act
Harris, Cathy. (2003). Internet safety policy guidelines. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/alsc/issuesadv/internettech/childrentheinternetpoliciesthatwork/childreninternetarttwo