What is access?
In an intellectual freedom context, “access” refers to our profession’s belief in removing and preventing barriers to information. The ALA’s “Libraries: An American Value,” adopted in 1999, states, “Free access to the books, ideas, resources, and information in America’s libraries is imperative for education, employment, enjoyment, and self-government.” We believe that all people should have access to the information they need, without regard to age, background, identity, viewpoint, or any other factor.
The Core Values of Librarianship state that “[a]ll 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.”
Lack of equity in access manifests in a variety of areas:
- Digital access: Due to inconsistencies in networks, people in various areas of the country or even of geographically close communities can experience very different access to information. Lack of fiber optic cables, slow-performing computers, and unaffordable internet service all contribute to the digital divide. Libraries help to mitigate this access issue through providing access to public computers. Furthermore, we continue to advocate for policy changes at the local, state, and national level that will continue to level the digital playing field.
- Economics: Libraries increasingly serve people with low incomes and those experiencing homelessness. Both of these factors contribute to a lack of access to information in many areas of life. As public institutions dedicated to equal access, libraries have a responsibility to constantly evaluate their services, programs, and policies, to ensure we are not imposing economic barriers.
- Correctional libraries: We hold that those who have been incarcerated have not lost their right to freely access information. While correctional libraries may be required to restrict access to material that poses a threat to safety, these restrictions should be minimal and should not extend beyond reasonable and immediate safety concerns.
- People with disabilities: No disability should prevent anyone from freely accessing the same information that is available to people without disabilities. For libraries, this includes providing material in a variety of accessible formats, such as large-print, audio, and Braille; ensuring digital materials are accessible; providing assistive technology; and staying abreast of legal and technical advances with respect to accessibility. Our value of intellectual freedom also requires that our collections include the voices and experiences of people with disabilities.
More information about our profession’s dedication to access, including links to a wide variety of resources, can be found on the ALA page “Access to Library Resources and Services.”