→ Libraries must balance between
providing open access to all information
to all people in all formats, and
public policy demands related to
filtering and privacy.
→ The increase in digital content createsan opportunity to provide a widerrange of materials at public librariesfor patrons with print disabilities.
Cultural institutions such as museums, archives, and libraries often adhere to specific public policy requirements relating to the presentation of digital interfacesand information. With a mission ofuniversal service to their communities,libraries must navigate unique publicpolicy challenges related to interactiondesign. Meeting this mission canbe difficult, given the wide range ofeducational backgrounds, levels ofliteracy and digital literacy, languages,disabilities, and other factorsrepresented among library patrons.
Efforts to promote an environmentof inclusive technology access anduniversal usability in this contextprovide many important lessons aboutthe impacts of public policy.
The modern era of public librariesbegan in the mid-1800s, as publiclibraries were built around the U. S.,funded through tax funds and privatedonations. In the U. K., public librariesbegan to develop in a parallel mannerand timeframe. These libraries werebuilt with the general mission of serviceto all members of the community—theidea of providing the greatest access tothe largest number of people becameknown as “the library faith.” At thesame time that public libraries werefirst being established, school librarieswere being created in communities tosupport the educational needs of publicschool students. While their materialsand resources were targeted more to thecurriculum and young people’s needs,school libraries were built with thesame mission of access for all students.
Over the past 150 years, publicand school libraries have constantlyevolved to meet changing communityneeds and provide information andservices through the newest formatsand technologies. The current eraof libraries began in the mid-1990swith the rise of the World WideWeb. The rapid movement towardonline resources, communication,and interactions—along with thewidespread need for access to andeducation about using the Internet—has helped shape the contemporarylibrary into the only social institutionthat provides free public Internetaccess, support, and education.
Providing access and training also hastranslated to key roles in supportingaccess to social services, job searching,online education, and other Web-basedsocial functions.
AND LIBRARY SERVICES
IN THE DIGITAL AGE
As the long-running Public Library
Funding and Technology Access
survey studies (which began in 1994)
documented, libraries in the U.S.
quickly adopted Internet access and
achieved nearly 100 percent public
access in the early 2000s [ 1]. Since
then, libraries have continued to
add new resources and new means
of providing access, such as digital
library collections, e-books, and
mobile devices, and providing access
24/7. A significant portion of public
and school library staff time now
goes to digital literacy training and
facilitation, both through formal
(such as sessions or classes offered
on a specific technology or skill
development) and informal sessions
(such as just-in-time assistance).
Libraries play very different roles,based on community needs, culturalnorms, economic resources, prevalenceof literacy, and other factors. Alibrary often becomes a communitycenter and a center for governmentand social services. For instance,in the Netherlands, the widespreadtechnology and social support rolesof public libraries have led to manysocial service agencies being movedinto libraries. As another example,school libraries in Australia were theanchor institutions for a program thatran from 2009 to 2013 that gave allpublic school students a free laptop touse for their education and provided allof the necessary training and support[ 2]. Public libraries also play othersubstantial roles, such as creating“digital petting zoos” that enablepatrons to experiment with emergingtechnologies such as 3D printers, tabletdevices, e-readers, and other devices.
These services not only assist patronsin learning a range of technologyskills but also expose patrons to newtechnologies to which they would
Jonathan Lazar, Towson University, Mega Subramaniam, University of Maryland,
Paul Jaeger, University of Maryland, John Bertot, University of Maryland
HCI Public Policy Issues
in U.S. Libraries
INTERACTIONS.ACM.ORG 78 INTERACTIONS SEPTEMBER–OCTOBER2014FORUM INTERACTING WITH PUBLIC POLICY
Public policy plays an influential role in the work we do as HCI researchers, interaction designers, and practitioners. “Publicpolicy,” a broad term, includes both government policy and policy within non-governmental organizations. This forum focuseson topics at the intersection of human-computer interaction and public policy. — Jonathan Lazar, Editor