People might believe that access to information is a right for most U.S. citizens, with the exception of incarcerated persons. For some people, especially in urban areas with easy access to public libraries, personal computers, internet access, and educational institutions, access to information is a matter of every day practice. However, is access to information ever a complex issue?
Access to Information
In theory, the public’s understanding of access to information is correct as expressed in the American Library Association’s mission, which states the role of libraries is “to provide leadership for the development, promotion, and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all.”
Nonetheless, what happens in communities in rural areas where transportation is scarce and people lack access to computers, the internet, books, and a public library? Then, access to information becomes problematic. This is one example of a complex access to information scenario.
Similarly, think of a differently abled person, who destroys library materials when they are upset. Once, a differently abled client indicated he wanted to check out a DVD newly acquired by the library. He was holding his library card. However, the moment I slided the barcode on the check-out machine, I received a caution note on our system indicating that his parents had requested that the library not let him check out any materials.
How do we handle this complex information access matter?
At this moment, I had to make a decision. Do I honor his parents’ request or do I honor the client’s access to information as a library card holder?
I had no knowledge of any disciplinary action taken against him due to the destruction of materials, only his parents’ request. My judgement prompted me to choose the second option, alerting our Circulation Supervisor not to charge his parents if the item returned damaged.
As a mother myself, I understood the parents predicament very well, but I could not ignore my duty to provide access to information, in this case access to a DVD, since the client presented a library card in good standing.
Examining the issue with my library director, I contemplated a different scenario. What happens if a minor seeks to check out materials that an adult might deem inappropriate? Unlike school teachers, librarians do not act in loco parentis. The burden falls on the parents to educate their children about different types of information, and parents are responsible for the content of the items their children are checking out from the library.
We librarians might act, alerting a minor that a material in question is not age appropriate, but ultimately it is a decision of parents to censor materials for their children, not the librarian. The experience with this differently abled client has prompted me to analyze the question: Is access to information ever complex?
What do you think?
Kathia Ibacache, is a Youth Services Librarian at Simi Valley Public Library. She has worked as a music teacher and Early Music Performer, and earned her MLIS from San José State University and a DMA from the University of Southern California. She loves to read realistic fiction and horror stories, and has a special place in her heart for film music.
This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competency: V. Outreach and Advocacy.