Updated! Access to Digital Resources and Services Q&A

Access, Intellectual Freedom Committee, Library Bill of Rights

You might or might not be aware of one type of resource that ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee (IFC) creates and updates: the Question & Answer. Designed to answer questions that would arise when reading an interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights, a Q&A is formatted with questions followed by answers crafted by a working group of the IFC.

These working groups usually contain one or more of the members of the IFC Committee, liaisons to the committee from the broader ALA community, and volunteers all appointed by the chair of IFC. As a Director-at-Large of ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Round Table (IFRT), I am the liaison from IFRT to the IFC and a volunteer for the working group charged with updating this Q&A.

On November 16th, during a regular meeting of the IFC, the IFC members voted and approved the document “Access to Digital Resources and Services Q&A.” The working group for this document was chaired by Eldon “Ray” James (Researcher/ Retired) and comprised of Lesliediana Jones (Head of Doc Services/Research Librarian at George Washington University’s Jacob Burns Law Library), Lisa Broughman (Director of the Library at Randolph College), Dana Hettich (Reference Librarian and Liaison to the School of Education, UAB Libraries), and myself. Members of the working group were appointed by IFC Chair, Martin Garnar (Library Director at Amherst College) and met several times over Zoom in Fall of 2020.

The working group incorporated feedback from a variety of different sources into new drafts at each of its meetings. Feedback was provided by members of other ALA units as suggestions and comments on Google documents. Ultimately the tenth draft of the document was the one that was approved by IFC in November of 2020. The 25 questions and answers are meant to deliver a comprehensive knowledge bank for information professionals about providing equitable access to digital resources and services. These questions have been sectioned into overarching themes for ease of reading: Rationale for Digital Access, Rights of Users, Equity of Access for Users, and Selection and Management Issues.

At the bottom of Q&A documents (and interpretations) the history of the document is described. In the case of this Q&A, the November approved document was the fourth approved version. The Intellectual Freedom Committee’s initial interpretation on the topic was adopted January 24th, 1996. When you take a moment to consider how much digital resources and services have changed since 1996, it is not hard to imagine the need to amend guidance created for contemporary use.

One example of changes over this time is how we refer to the resources themselves. The interpretation and thus the Q&As went through several title changes. Initially the document was called “Access to Electronic Information, Services and Networks: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights,” then later changed to “Access to Digital Information, Services, and Networks.” Most recently, “Access to Digital Resources and Services: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights” was approved by ALA Council on June 25, 2019.

The IFC is charged “to recommend such steps as may be necessary to safeguard the rights of library users, libraries, and librarians, in accordance with the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Library Bill of Rights as adopted by the ALA Council.” The IFC also works closely with the Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) and other units and officers of the association in matters addressing intellectual freedom and censorship. Learn more about the IFC on its webpage, and explore more intellectual freedom resources at ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom.

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