The Arts & Humanities Research Council has provided funding of over £200,000 to a team from the Department of Information Science (DIS) and LISU to conduct a two-year study investigating the Management of Access to the Internet in Public Libraries (MAIPLE). The introduction of internet access in public libraries has been important in generating greater equality of access to information for UK citizens and has enabled significant steps to be taken in the provision of electronic public services (e.g. the ability to renew driving licences online). This offers considerable potential benefit to both the government and the citizen, in terms of cost-savings, accessibility, democratic participation, environmental sustainability etc. However, the provision of public internet access has also led to concerns that such access would lead to misuse and the downloading of inappropriate and illegal content. To date, there has been little research undertaken that provides a comprehensive picture of measures taken in the UK to address these concerns, or of the effectiveness and impact of alternative approaches. The project therefore aims to fill this gap by identifying and quantifying measures implemented in UK public libraries to regulate and manage access to Internet content. It will investigate the adoption of technical measures such as filtering software, and organisational measures such as Internet Use Policies, as well as the provision of user education.
The project will use a phased mixed methods approach to achieve a triangulation of data collected. This will involve a combination of desk research to review current academic, statistical and guidance material available in the UK and worldwide; a questionnaire survey to all Public Library Authorities (PLAs) in the UK to collect factual data with regard to the extent of implementation of filtering software and other regulatory measures; case studies in a range of PLAs, as well as within commercial public internet providers to enable the identification of potential transferability of good practice. The case studies will involve a combination of documentary analysis of key policy statements; interviews with primary stakeholders such as IT managers and library personnel; and focus groups with users. The final stage of the project will be a workshop to provide a mechanism for testing of the research findings, as well as to act as a forum for the exchange of information and the dissemination of research findings.
September 2012 – August 2014
- Phase One: Desk research and literature review, to establish current knowledge. (September – December 2012)
- Phase Two: Questionnaire survey: Design, piloting, dissemination and data analysis. (November 2012 – April 2013)
- Phase Three: Case study research and data analysis – six sites (February 2013 – April 2014)
- Phase Four: Final report writing and workshop to test findings (May – August 2014)