A framework for information policies with examples from the United States.

Author:Case, Donald O.


What is "policy?" It is a word often used in a very general way. What is encompassed by this term, and how might we apply it to the role of information in society? McClure and Jaeger (2008) say that policy is "directives intended to shape decisions and actions of individuals, organizations, and government agencies." Yet to Ohegbu (2008) it means simply "guidelines to regulate participation." Rubin (2010) offers us a more general definition by stating that "policy" typically refers to political laws or regulations, yet can also mean a rule or practice followed more locally.

Where library and information issues are concerned, we would hope that a national policy would guide the development of both infrastructure (things like telecommunications networks and computers and library buildings), and content (everything from copyright agreements to actual documents). Braman (2006) found 20 different clauses in the US Constitution (a document written well over 200 years ago) that might be considered information policies.

Hence, "library and information policy" could be defined as those laws, regulations and practices intended to facilitate the creation and dissemination of information throughout society. A fundamental aspect of this goal is creating channels for this to happen. Computer networks are one example of a channel, and libraries are another.

As Tom Galvin (1994) pointed out at a speech to the F.I.D., and as many of us have experienced in practice, there is always some level of disagreement or divergence among us regarding goals and values. For example, different branches of government have different priorities. And the local, "bottomup" view often differs from the national view. This divergence will be illustrated through several examples later on.

There is also a time element in policy, depending on the stage of development of a nation, and its current concerns. Policies change as political leaders come and go. The elements that are emphasized may change as a nation evolves. The Canadian International Development Research Centre makes this very generalization as regards African nations (IDRC, 2002), yet it could apply to others as well. This is why those policy goals concerning "Human Resources" need special emphasis in industrialized countries; physical infrastructure tends to be emphasized in developing nations more than it does in developed parts of the world.

Multiple Stakeholders, Multiple Policies

There are many, sometimes even conflicting, policies partly because there are many different parties involved in creating policies (Case, 1998). Consider, for example, the types of organizations that have a stake in policies. These differ by type of organization, and also by geography, for example, local governments versus national governments. British library director Michael Hill (1994) lists 17 government departments and 5 government agencies involved in setting information policy in the UK.

Thus, it is more appropriate to speak of "information policies." The United States, with a federal system, including 50 semi-autonomous states, a long tradition of local government, and three branches of federal government that are sometimes in conflict, is perhaps an extreme example.

Here is one story to illustrate the complexity, and inter-connectedness (see McClure & Jaeger, 2008) of information policies, and how they may conflict. As I will discuss later, "national security" is one information policy goal. Following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11 of 2001, the United States passed a law called the USA Patriot Act, which included many provisions intended to increase surveillance and detection of possible terrorists. Two types of evidence that federal agents wished to investigate were reading habits, including the books that were borrowed from local public libraries, and patron searches on the Internet. The Patriot Act made it much easier for federal police to request circulation records and examine Internet searchers at libraries. It also forbade the libraries from announcing that they were under investigation.

At the same time there were policies at the state and local level that conflicted with these federal powers of investigation. Before the attack, 49 of 50 states had some kind of law that prohibited this kind of investigation in the interests of privacy and freedom of thought. Over the last few years at least two states added or strengthened laws protecting client privacy, showing some resistance to the federal law.

More importantly, the national law went against a long-standing effort to resist governments from "spying" on what citizens read. At various times in US history, especially about 50 years ago, the Federal Bureau of investigation (FBI) has tried to monitor citizen reading habits. For this reason, most libraries have not kept records of who borrowed which books, after the books are returned--even though this might be useful information for the library. In doing so they follow their own privacy policy, which is encouraged by the American Library Association.

And because libraries were forbidden to announce publicly that they were under investigation, some libraries posted a sign that said "today we have not been visited by the FBI"; the idea was that, if the library WAS investigated by the police, they could take the sign down, thus signaling to the public that the FBI had requested library records. By doing this they could stay with in the law, at the same time that they oppose the law.

So, here we have examples of policies in conflict at three levels: the nation, the state, and the organization. And The Patriot Act was challenged also within the federal government, by the federal courts.

Identifying and Categorizing Policy Goals: Tom Galvin (1994) and others say that the identification of policy goals starts with identifying "Needs." Various writers have proposed frameworks or tables for classifying policy areas (e.g., Couture, 1991; Gray, 1988; Grieves, 1998; Hill, 1994; Moore, 1993; Rowlands, 1996). Unfortunately their frameworks tend to be specific to one nation and /or set of issues. Rowlands and Moore's articles are perhaps the best of these, however their matrices and examples reflect only certain types of information policy, and make no clear attempt to relate them to other societal goals and activities.

Therefore this article proposes a more general classification of policy goals (Figures One and Two). The classification divides policy into the categories of Technology, Legal (e.g., regulation) and Human infrastructures, that are intended to be governed and developed. Their effects are aimed at two concerns: Economic goals and...

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