School of Business and Economics


26 Mar 2015

Calls for more transparency with regard to filtering software at libraries

MAIPLE workshop discussants MAIPLE workshop discussants

Led by Dr Louise Cooke at the School of Business and Economics, Loughborough University, the final report for MAIPLE (Managing Access to the Internet in Public Libraries), a two-year research project funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC), has now been published. The report calls for greater transparency with regard to filtering software used at public libraries.

Dr Cooke and her MAIPLE research team investigated how public libraries manage internet access for their users, focussing especially on the filtering techniques and/or software used by the libraries.

MAIPLE’s main focus is on the maintenance of ‘acceptable’ use, and what kinds of content restrictions – such as the use of filtering and blocking software – are being applied. 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.

The team recently finished analysing data collected from a large-scale survey that went out in 2013 to all Public Library Services across the UK along with in-depth case studies carried out with five services in Edinburgh, Northern Ireland, Brighton and Hove, Derbyshire and Merthyr Tydfil in Wales.

Principal Investigator Dr Louise Cooke said:

“The conclusions of the project were not quite as anticipated at the start: we had expected to see librarians coming out strongly against the use of any filtering and blocking software, but our field work has led us to the conclusion that this is seen as a ‘necessary evil’ in some instances, and one that cannot be avoided altogether.”

The final project report is now completed and published. It can be downloaded free in PDF form here with a limited number of hard copies available to purchase at cost price. To purchase a bound full-colour paper copy at cost price plus p&p, please visit the online store.

The Team’s Recommendations:
The research team’s recommendations have focussed on good practice in the use of tools such as filtering software, particularly with regard to transparency and awareness-raising, and have emphasised the importance of educating users, young and old alike, on how to stay safe online.

The project concluded with a workshop attended by practitioners and policy makers. “Needless to say,” said Louise, “when discussing such a difficult and sensitive issue, the discussions at the workshop were lively and, at times, even heated, particularly when it came to the closing panel debate.

“The outcomes from the workshop have been very positive: not only were our recommendations accepted fully, but Arts Council England have expressed the desire to work with us, co-ordinating all relevant organisations in the field, to develop them into a set of national guidelines that will inform practice in this area.”

Proving to be extremely topical, Louise’s research has led her to being invited to speak as part of a panel at the recent International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) in Lyon, France discussing internet surveillance and filtering of information, and to an e-safety policy forum. The project’s findings have also been presented at international conferences in Geneva and Athens.

The photo above shows MAIPLE workshop discussants Brian Ashley, Director Libraries and Midlands, Arts Council England; Darren Smart, Chair, CILIP Public and Mobile Libraries Group; Anne Goulding, Professor of Library & Information Management, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand; Ayub Khan MBE, Head of Library & Information Services, Warwickshire County Council.