Managing Access to the Internet in Public Libraries (MAIPLE)

Lead Research Organisation: Loughborough University
Department Name: Information Science

Abstract

The introduction of public Internet access into UK public libraries has been an important factor in generating greater equality of access to information, and has enabled significant steps to be taken in terms of the provision of electronic public services (e.g. the ability to renew one's driving licence online, or to pay one's Council Tax online). This, in turn, carries with it considerable potential benefit to both government and to the citizen, in terms of cost-savings, accessibility, democratic participation, environmental sustainability etc. However, the provision of public Internet access in public libraries has also led to ongoing concerns that such access would lead to misuse and the downloading of inappropriate and illegal content. In particular, the management of Internet access on the part of minors in public libraries has, raised difficult issues with regard to responsibility for their protection. Concerns have also been expressed by librarians with regard to their own legal liability in the event of misuse of library public access facilities. However, to date there has been little research undertaken that provides a comprehensive picture of measures that are being taken to address these concerns, or of the effectiveness and impact of alternative approaches: this is of particular concern with regard to the key professional value of preservation of freedom of access to information.

Therefore, this research aims to identify and quantify measures being taken in UK public libraries to regulate and manage access to Internet content. These will include technical measures, such as the implementation of filtering software, and organisational measures, such as the adoption of Internet Use Policies and the provision of user education. Similar research will be carried out with a range of commercial public internet access providers, such as cybercafes, in order that the public library service can learn from practice elsewhere. This will also help to evaluate any 'added value' offered through the provision of access in libraries as opposed to cybercafes. In addition to identifying what measures are being taken, the impact of measures adopted will be evaluated: what are the problems raised by these measures for those charged with managing public Internet access? How do the measures impact on the user's freedom of access to information and freedom of expression? Are the measures effective in regulating access to inappropriate or illegal content? How could the management of public internet access be improved to ensure stronger legal compliance without impacting adversely on freedom of enquiry? Are children being adequately protected or do alternative measures need to be considered? How can public librarians be protected from legal liability as a result of their clients' actions?

These are all key questions for the 21st century public library service. This research will enable a more informed approach to be taken in the management of public Internet access that maximises access to information whilst minimising the risks from misuse of such access.
The study will adopt a mixed methods approach involving desk research, including analysis of documented approaches adopted elsewhere in the world, questionnaire survey analysis, interviews and focus groups with key stakeholders. Outcomes from the project will include the dissemination of examples of good practice in managing public access to the Internet for all user groups in UK public libraries, as well as the production of a set of guidelines for UK public librarians to assist them in managing to provide public access to the Internet whilst remaining within the boundaries of legal, ethical and practical constraints. The findings will also be used to provide relevant knowledge and guidance to professional bodies in order that they may offer strong leadership, advice and support to those charged with the public provision of public Internet access.

Planned Impact

Potential beneficiaries of the research include:
1. Policy makers at national and international level: national governments and international bodies, e.g. the EU, have all been involved in trying to address the issue of managing public internet access. An example can be seen with the Council of Europe guidelines on public internet access (2001) or the Museum Libraries & Archives Consultation on draft guidance on the management of controversial material in public libraries (2008). The Home Office Prevent Strategy (2011) highlights the importance of the issue, and notes that 'we are unable to determine the extent to which effective filtering is in place in schools and public libraries'.
2. Policy makers at local level: preliminary research indicates that decision-making with regard to the management of public internet access in public libraries takes place at the local authority level. However, there is currently a dearth of guidance available to such decision-makers, and a lack of transparency with regard to measures in place in other local authority areas. The findings will provide a critical source of information to guide decision making.
3. Chief librarians: heads of service in the public library sector carry responsibility for legal compliance of their service, and the protection of the rights and safety of their users. This duty includes the prevention of illegal file-sharing, infringement of copyright and access to obscene or dangerous internet content. At the same time, they are bound by a professional code to promote the principle of freedom of access to information. Managing this delicate balance can pose significant difficulties, and is hampered by a lack of up-to-date information on best practice or the range of alternative measures available to deal with this issue.
4. Other library personnel: those on the front-line of managing internet access find themselves in the difficult situation of having to 'police' users, whilst trying to provide a supportive and encouraging environment for users who are sometimes reluctant to engage with the public library service (e.g. teenagers). They also on occasion find themselves having to implement policies with which they have not been fully apprised, or in the formulation of which they have had no involvement. This raises significant challenges, and it is anticipated that the findings of this project will lead to the provision of training materials and workshops that will lend support to such personnel.
5. Public library users: the provision of internet access in public libraries is of key importance to those who do not have access at home or at work. Without public internet access, there is a risk of a proportion of society being routinely excluded from internet access, thus perpetuating existing inequalities and extending the digital divide between the information rich and the information poor. However, even when such access is available, if overly restrictive measures are in place to prevent misuse, users may not be able to access critical information sources. Examples may be given of teenagers wishing to access content on contraception and safe sex, or on issues concerned with sexuality. Thus, findings that lead to intelligent and informed decision-making with regard to public internet access, that does not rely on heavy-handed measures put in place to 'protect' the decision makers and implementers, could offer real benefits to users of public library internet access (and their parents).
6. Library users and personnel will also benefit from the potential development of more appropriate technical solutions as software developers will have access to information that will enable them to customise their solutions better to fit the needs of the library market; professional bodies charged with providing guidance to policy makers and practitioners will also benefit. UK society as a whole will benefit from the enhanced transparency and protection for freedom of expression

Publications

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Cooke, L. (2015) Importance of users' privacy in library public internet access in Multimedia Information and Technology

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Muir A (2016) Regulating internet access in UK public libraries: legal compliance and ethical dilemmas in Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society

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Spacey R (2013) Regulating Internet access and content in UK public libraries: Findings from the MAIPLE project in Journal of Librarianship and Information Science

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Spacey R (2016) Filtering wireless (Wi-Fi) Internet access in public places in Journal of Librarianship and Information Science

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Spacey R (2014) Regulating use of the internet in public libraries: a review in Journal of Documentation

 
Description To date, the project has completed its desk research phase; a large questionnaire survey directed towards all UK Public Library Authorities (PLAs); and 3 case studies, involving interviews with library personnel and users (a further three case studies remain to be completed). To summarise the key findings (which will also be published in detail forthcoming journal papers currently in press in the Journal of Documentation and the Journal of Librarianship and Information Science):

- UK public libraries play a key role in providing internet access to a significant minority of otherwise excluded citizens (to date, findings indicate that this group is primarily composed of young unemployed males and senior citizens). This role is expanding as the UK government moves forward with its 'Digital by Default' programme of electronic delivery of government services;

- internet access in public libraries is routinely filtered, whether at the ISP or at the local level. Decisions concerning filtering are most often taken by senior library personnel, but ina significant number of cases by non-library personnel (e.g. IT staff or local government personnel), and are not subject to high levels of transparency;

- the provision of wifi access is a growing but less regulated aspect of public internet access in libraries;

- considerable levels of power appear to have been devolved to technology organisations, such as the suppliers of filtering or booking control software and ISPs. These organisations may not hold the same commitment to the professional values of freedom of access to information which is a core value of the library professional;

- the most commonly blocked content is that of sexual/ obscene 'speech', and users report concerns with regard to the over-blocking of content;

- nevertheless, a surprise finding of the research thus far is the degree of acceptance among users - and even among librarians - of the need for filtering software, and its utility in maintaining the public library as a 'decent' space that is free from offensive materials;

- there is a strong case for investigating the privacy impacts of monitoring measures that are currently in place in many libraries - this is an area where future research would be useful.
Exploitation Route The findings of this study will enable the formulation of policy at national level in the UK that will provide a uniformity of approach, and stronger guidance for library professionals. It will also save a 'reinvention of the wheel' whereby every PLA starts from scratch in drafting their own policy. Ultimately, it is hoped that the dissemination of project findings will lead to a heightened awareness of professional codes of ethics with regard to the value of freedom of speech.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL http://www.lboro.ac.uk/microsites/infosci/lisu/maiple/about.html
 
Description The findings have been used for guidance by a number of public libraries in formulating their own policies and practices with regard to management of internet access. In addition, work is underway with regard to the formulation of national and international guidelines based on the project findings.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

 
Description Development and endorsement of new international standard on management of public internet access for IFLA
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Membership of a guideline committee
 
Description Invitation to join IFLA Freedom of Access to Information & Freedom of Expression (FAIFE) Advisory Committee
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
URL http://www.ifla.org/faife
 
Description Loughborough University Higher Education Innovation Fund: Enterprise Project Grant
Amount £4,100 (GBP)
Organisation Loughborough University 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2016 
End 07/2017
 
Description Loughborough University Research Fellowship
Amount £4,998 (GBP)
Organisation Loughborough University 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2018 
End 07/2018
 
Description Collaborative funding application to BA/Leverhulme Small Grants Awards and conference contribution to iConference 2019, Washington DC 
Organisation University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Department School of Information Sciences
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution A visit was made to meet with Dr Emily Knox, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign who is PI on the Mapping Access project in the US: her work with Dr Shannon Oltmann (University of Kentucky) mirrors that carried out by the MAIPLE project in the UK. As a result, we co-authored a blue sky conference submission for the iConference 2019. Although this submission was not accepted we have further developed the proposal and submitted it to the BA/ Leverhulme Small Grants Awards scheme in order to develop our collaborative efforts in the area of filtering of content in public libraries in the UK and US. This would be the first large-scale comparative project in this field. My input into this work focuses on the UK aspect of the project.
Collaborator Contribution Drs Knox and Oltmann have completed a substantial amount of work mapping the use of filtering software in public libraries in Alabama. The intention is to develop this to gain a large-scale data-set mapping the entire US public libraries sector.
Impact This is not a multi-disciplinary collaboration. Outputs to date include on conference paper submission and one funding bid (outcome pending).
Start Year 2018
 
Description Collaborative funding application to BA/Leverhulme Small Grants Awards and conference contribution to iConference 2019, Washington DC 
Organisation University of Kentucky
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution A visit was made to meet with Dr Emily Knox, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign who is PI on the Mapping Access project in the US: her work with Dr Shannon Oltmann (University of Kentucky) mirrors that carried out by the MAIPLE project in the UK. As a result, we co-authored a blue sky conference submission for the iConference 2019. Although this submission was not accepted we have further developed the proposal and submitted it to the BA/ Leverhulme Small Grants Awards scheme in order to develop our collaborative efforts in the area of filtering of content in public libraries in the UK and US. This would be the first large-scale comparative project in this field. My input into this work focuses on the UK aspect of the project.
Collaborator Contribution Drs Knox and Oltmann have completed a substantial amount of work mapping the use of filtering software in public libraries in Alabama. The intention is to develop this to gain a large-scale data-set mapping the entire US public libraries sector.
Impact This is not a multi-disciplinary collaboration. Outputs to date include on conference paper submission and one funding bid (outcome pending).
Start Year 2018
 
Description Key Stakeholder engagement workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The workshop was funded by a Loughborough University Enterprise Project Grant. Eighteen experts, policy makers, academics and other interested parties participated in a key stakeholder engagement event to debate content of Internet Use guidelines. This resulted in a draft White Paper which will now inform the development of international guidelines to be taken forward by the PI in collaboration with the International Federation of Libary Associations (IFLA) Expert Advisory Committee on Freedom of Access to Information and Freedom of Expression (FAIFE).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Participation in e-safety forum at CILIP HQ, London, October 2014 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Representatives from a range of organisations involved in internet safety and policy-making bodies attended a presentation of the project findings, followed by a panel debate on key issues.

The event led to significant interest from a member of the Tinder Foundation who is now keen to work with the Research Team in taking forward some of the ideas presented with regard to the teaching of internet safety.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.cilip.org.uk/cilip/advocacy-campaigns-awards/advocacy-campaigns/information-literacy/digi...
 
Description Participation in panel debate at IFLA WLIC 2014 on Mass Surveillance and libraries 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact 100+ attendees including practitioners, policy makers and academics. Other panel debate members represented Electronic Frontier Foundation, Google, and La Quadriture du Net (activist organisation advocating for an open internet)

The event generated some media attention and also forged partnership with participating organisations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://conference.ifla.org/past-wlic/2014/ifla80/node/896.html
 
Description Presentation at workshop on Ethical Dilemmas in the Information Society, Geneva, August 2014 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation to professional practitioners sparking debate and testing research findings.

Several practitioners reported that they would now be looking at their own filtering policies in the light of the project findings.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.globethics.net/web/ge/conference-ethical-dilemmas-in-the-information-society-