What Trump Taught Us: If You’re Going to Do It, Do It Right (User-Generated Content in Library Discovery Systems)

First Amendment, Library Bill of Rights

Find out how U.S. constitutional principles apply to libraries with the help of the Library Bill of Rights and its interpretations. This post looks at “User-Generated Content in Library Discovery Systems”, an interpretation that was adopted January 12, 2016, by the ALA Council and amended June 24, 2019 in the wake of a lawsuit brought against President Trump and his twitter account. More on that later (see “What Trump Taught Us”).

American Libraries Magazine demonstrates users contributing to digital content
American Libraries Magazine

The Basics

Library “catalogs” are changing. They’ve become complex “discovery systems” that yield results from many sources when you search the library holdings from the library’s webpage. Some discovery systems allow for user-generated content features such as discussion forums and reviews.

Libraries Should Not…

  • Let search results be influenced by user-generated content (e.g. ranking by starred reviews) by default, but rather have that be a separate, opt-in choice for users.
  • Limit user-generated content based on a person’s views, beliefs or affiliations (though you can limit participation by requiring contributors to have a library card or online account with the library).

Libraries Should…

  • Adopt policies that clearly define the “time, place and manner in which the user [can] contribute content to the library’s discovery system”.

And I particularly like this line of the interpretation:

“Policies should be regularly reviewed with legal counsel, shared with staff, and made available to the public in all of the commonly used languages within the community served.”

And this one:

“Libraries should safeguard the privacy of users who contribute content to library discovery systems and should review—and encourage users to review—the user-data-collection policies of any third-party providers involved in managing or storing the user-generated content. User consent should be obtained before any personal data is collected and shared with third-party providers, and libraries should protect all library-use data collected from library users.”

More on how to do this at Choose Privacy Every Day (Library Privacy Guidelines for Library Websites, OPACs, and Discovery Systems).

What Trump Taught Us

Donald Trump twitter

When you are the president, you are not allowed to ban people from your Twitter account – a public forum – on the basis of their political views (Knight First Amendment Institute v. Trump).

Libraries must protect freedom of speech if they extend features of the public forum into library discovery systems.


Libraries — at least at an aspirational level — are on top of things. They’re looking to:

  • include library users in the discovery process and civic discourse,
  • adapt to the norms of participation around social media, the internet and personal computing, 
  • promote and advance freedom of speech, 
  • and keep participants secure in a world where privacy and information security are not guaranteed.

Like this post? Read my first post on the Library Bill of Rights to learn expurgation.

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