Public Policies as Spaces for the Articulated Professional Identity of Librarians

Public Policies as Spaces for the Articulated Professional Identity of Librarians

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4735-0.ch010
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This chapter provides a preliminary analysis of Internet Use Polices in public libraries as a vehicle for the articulated professional identities of librarians. Policy documents are one of the ways, especially outside of one-on-one interactions, that librarians can articulate their professional identities to users. By examining policy documents through a discursive lens, the identity of librarians can be discerned. Internet Use Policies provide an excellent place to examine librarians’ identities because they deal with the difficult task of managing user behavior within the library while the patrons use a resource, the Internet, which is often out of the librarians’ control. Policy documents highlight areas that the authors, librarians, believe require action or direction. The way a document is worded, the intended audience, and the intended outcome of the document all shed light on the professional identities of librarians. Internet Use Policies, for example, share wording with policies on freedom of information and Internet use from professional associations, and while their intended outcome is to warn patrons of the potential dangers of the Internet and place limits on how the Internet is used within the library, the unintended outcome is to position librarians as gatekeepers of the Internet. The non-librarian written policies that librarians choose to support in their work, such as Creative Commons licenses, also provide insight into how librarians understand their professional identities. The public policies they choose to support, as well as those they reject, indicate which professional values they value and which aspects of their professional identities they want to highlight.
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This chapter offers a preliminary exploration into how librarians articulate their professional identities in organizational policy documents, specifically Internet Use Policies. On their surface, such policies appear to be straightforward documents that attempt to regulate how library patrons use the Internet. Often, they are written by library staff members in an effort to balance professional norms, such as freedom of information, with community values (Ward, 2003). They also present librarians, whose work is largely invisible, with the opportunity to make their professional identities known to the public, as policy documents communicate organizational and professional values. In addition, these documents serve as messages about what people can and cannot do while using a library and its resources.

There are limited ways for librarians to articulate their identities to the public. Some examples include one-on-one encounters at public service desks and marketing and advertising campaigns. Policy documents, however, shed light on areas that librarians themselves have decided are important enough to articulate, even if that decision is in response to external pressures. How that document is worded, the intended audience for the document, and the intended outcome of the policy (i.e., the problem the policy is attempting to solve) all shed light on the identity that the librarians who crafted the document are trying to convey. Public library Internet Use Policies attempt to regulate the kinds of activities library patrons can perform via the Internet, articulate the library’s vision for acceptable Internet use, and define the library’s role in providing Internet access to the general public. While this chapter will focus on public library policies, the methodological and theoretical principles can be extrapolated to other library settings. Additionally, the public policies, i.e., policies that librarians have not written themselves, librarians choose to embrace or reject in their work, such as Creative Commons licences, is an articulation of core professional values and identity.

This chapter is divided into four sections. First, “policy” will be defined and further explanation will be given as to why policy documents are appropriate sources for exploring the professional identity of librarians. Specific attention will be paid to the methodology of discourse analysis and how it can be used to understand professional identity. Here an exploration of the policy analysis literature, both as it relates to LIS and to other policy analysis fields, will be conducted to see how, and even if, discourse analysis can be applied to policy documents. This will then be tied to the policy analysis literature on identity. Next, the policy problem that Internet Use Policies are trying to address will be explored, followed by how this issue has been discussed within the LIS professional literature. The Internet has become a ubiquitous information technology. Everything from bank accounts to government services to entertainment now exists online. Librarians use policies to try to ensure their users have equitable access to this important information technology. This section will be followed by a case study of one public library’s Internet Use policy. This case study was chosen for a variety of reasons, including proximity to the author, but it was largely chosen because it offers a fairly typical Internet Use Policy, one that attempts to balance access to the Internet with issues of privacy and protection. This case then provides the foundation for a discussion of the values that impact Internet Use Policies, and arguably all library policies, regardless of whether the problem is, technological or not. Finally, how librarians have embraced the use and support of Creative Commons licences in their work will be explored to examine what the backing of a non-librarian created policy tells us about librarians’ professional identities.

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