Managing Access to the Internet in Public Libraries [MAIPLE]. (Report) by Rachel Spacey and Louise Cooke with Adrienne Muir and Claire Creaser. LISU, Loughborough University. August 2014
NOTE: Their is more information about the project, including links to articles, on the project website
From the report:
Managing Access to the Internet in Public Libraries (MAIPLE) was a 24-month project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), carried out between September 2012 and August 2014 by a team from Loughborough University, led by Dr Louise Cooke.
The aim of the project was to identify measures taken in UK public libraries to regulate access to Internet content, and evaluate their impact and effectiveness. A mixed methods approach was adopted comprising a review of relevant academic, professional and grey literature; an online questionnaire survey of Public Library Services with 80 responses; five in-depth case studies of public libraries across the UK; desk research into commercial public WiFi provision; and a workshop for a range of stakeholders, held towards the end of the project to test and refine the findings. The team was supported throughout by an independent External Advisory Board of experts in the field.
Key findings from the research include:
• Filtering of Internet access appears to be ubiquitous in UK public libraries, with 100% of survey respondents reporting that their public access is filtered to a lesser or greater degree.
• Librarians generally accept filtering as a pragmatic solution to the regulation of public Internet access, albeit with some reluctance.
• There is a lack of transparency with regard to filtering, with around half of users interviewed in the case studies unaware that access was filtered.
• Users were generally supportive of decisions concerning the filtering of access in libraries, particularly where children were concerned.
• Decisions concerning filtering policy appeared to have been taken either by senior personnel within the library service or by senior IT personnel in the relevant local authority.
• Procedures for unblocking sites on request are inconsistent, and around half of users interviewed would be uncomfortable asking library staff to unblock a site, however legitimate the site may be.
• The majority of library services have an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) in addition to filtering software.
• Major breaches of the AUP are rare; minor breaches are most frequent in relation to viewing pornographic material.
• Levels of staff training vary, and staff interviewed felt that more formal training to keep up to date would be welcomed
• Commercial public WiFi providers operate a diverse set of criteria with respect to filtering, which often depend on the policies and preferences of the company mediating public access.
The project findings support the conclusions of previous research with regard to the ubiquity of filtering and suggest that its popularity has grown over the lifespan of the People’s Network. Librarians appear to be at risk of marginalisation from key decision-making in this area, which is often devolved to IT or local government managerial personnel, and even (and perhaps more worryingly) the vendors of Internet Service Provision. What is clear from the findings is that access to legitimate Internet content is being withheld from users on a seemingly arbitrary basis, often for reasons of simple expediency.
The following (2006) article is a useful summary and challenge and has references to further sources
“Do we want a perfectly filtered world?” By Louise Cooke, Lecturer in Information & Knowledge Management in the Department of Information Science at Loughborough University. Library Student Journal November 2006. Loughborough University
Leicestershire, UK. (note this is an Open Access peer reviewed Journal)
She comments '…after a flurry of comment during the 1990s, filtering software in public libraries seems, in practice, to have “crept in through the back door” with little more than a murmur on the part of librarians. Despite the low level of debate here in the UK, the most recent publicly available statistics with regard to the implementation of filtering software in UK public libraries indicate that in 1999 60 per cent of 111 public libraries across England, Scotland and Wales were using filtering or blocking software on at least some of their public access computers