Core Concept 1: Information Access

All information resources that are provided directly or indirectly by the library, regardless of technology, format, or methods of delivery, should be readily, equally, and equitably accessible to all library users.

We uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources.

– Excerpted from American Library Association’s Core Values

Free, open, and un-censored information access is a core value of the American Library Association. As a profession, librarians believe that anyone, regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, and race, should be able to access any of a library’s material they choose. They also resist any efforts to censor material in any form. It is easy to state these values as firm, unbending rules. However, implementing them in practice is sometimes more difficult. For example, many public libraries restrict access to adult material from children. Many public libraries also install internet filter software on the computers they provide. Another example, dealing with censorship, is that the mere fact that libraries have a collection development policy, and that any material they acquire must be appraised based on that policy, causes a degree of censorship to take place. Some public librarians may dispute that simply selecting material based on a collection development policy is censorship, but even at its very least, and even though it is unavoidable, it is censorship to some extent. Where libraries must tread lightly – or better yet, avoid completely – is in censoring material based on religious, racial, lifestyle, or any other basis.

One of my early interactions with the library and information science field dealt with free information access. As a new LIS student, I came across a blog called Hack Library School (a blog I would later become a writer for). One of the posts discussed the issue of information access within the context of a public library. The author of the post wrote about an experience that posed an ethical dilemma for her. She worked as a youth services librarian in a public library. One day she was approached by a mother who wanted to know if she could recommend an internet filter and monitoring software for her home computer to keep her teen son from viewing inappropriate material. The dilemma this librarian faced was whether or not she should act as a disinterested party and simply help the mother find the information she desired or act as a privacy advocate and protect the privacy rights of the youth.

I believed then, and still believe, that this exchange should have simply been handled as a reference transaction. She should have simply helped the mother find the information she sought.

My specific interests lie in the areas of research data management and curation. Research data are important resources to society and should be accessible just as any library material is. I am passionate about information access relating to research data sets. I believe that there is real value in many of the data sets produced in research projects today, but much of that data never sees the light of day. The White House Office of Science and Technical Policy recently released regulations directing federal agencies “to develop plans to make the published results of federally funded research freely available to the public within one year of publication and requiring researchers to better account for and manage the digital data resulting from federally funded scientific research.” This is a great development in the free, open access of data. The public pays for extensive research with tax money and should have access to the results of that research without having to pay for it again. If we are to have any significant degree of data sharing taking place, it will come from this type of governmental mandate.

Another area I have become interested in studying is data peer review practices, citation, and publishing as related to data sharing and access. I believe if the scholarly community began to treat publishing data sets equal to publishing articles based on the data sets, then the incentive to share that data would increase. However, there is much debate over what data peer review really is. Peer review is a central part of assessing research quality, but peer review of data sets will create stress on a system that is already taxed. One question that must be answered is what is the thing that needs to be reviewed? Is it all the data, just the metadata, or the data collection practices and methodologies?

Whatever a scientist does with his or her data, if the scientist does not employ data management best practices, the data will not be useful to anyone other than the data creator. The way to ensure that data is understood and useful is my next core concept in librarianship, namely metadata.

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