Libraries and the Internet Toolkit

Preservation & Access

Librarians have a responsibility to preserve information and ensure that it remains accessible. Information that is accessed via the Web and through the Internet can be particularly difficult to preserve and protect because it is not owned by or housed in the library. Instead, online information can move locations, change addresses, or simply disappear.
Following are examples that illustrate the vulnerability of online information:
  • In September 2008 The New York Times reported that “the Website of the Environmental Protection Agency listed more than 50 ‘broken links’ that once connected readers to documents on depletion of the ozone layer of the atmosphere.” The same article reported that “at least 20 documents have been removed from the Website of the United States Commission on Civil Rights. They include a draft report highly critical of the civil rights policies of the Bush administration.” [[Pear, Robert. “In Digital Age, Federal Files Blip into Oblivion.”  New York Times, Sept. 13, 2008.]
  • In February 2008 programmers responsible for the POPLINE database made the term “abort” and its various forms (e.g., abortion, abort) stopwords, rendering them no longer searchable. Typically, only words such as “a,” “an” and “the” are considered stopwords. After librarians expressed concern and the story received media coverage, the decision was reversed. [Pear, Robert. “Database Was Set Up to Ignore ‘Abortion’.” New York Times, April 5, 2008.]
  • An academic library dean observed that when libraries purchase aggregate databases, “what we don’t know may well hurt us. Footnotes get dropped. Some images will not print. Graphics are at times missing, unprintable, hard to read, or display as the famous ‘broken image’ icon… Of course, if any library purchased an academic journal with pages missing or footnotes cut off, we’d file a claim immediately. [Herring, Mark. “A Gaggle of Googles:  Limitations and Defects of Electronic Access as Panacea.”  Internet Reference Services Quarterly, 10, no. 3/4 (2005):  37-44.]
  • In 2009 National Public Radio reported that the September 2009 issue of GQ magazine contained an article titled “None dare call it conspiracy” (about the root of terrorist attacks in Russia). The publisher (Conde Naste) refused to post the article to the magazine’s Web site, and the article is also absent from several commercial databases that claim to include full-text content of GQ. [Folkenflik, David. “Why ‘GQ’ Doesn’t Want Russians to Read its Story.”  National Public Radio, Sept. 4, 2009,]
The following ALA policies and statements address the importance of keeping information accessible and free from censorship:
Library Bill of Rights
“Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.”
 “Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.”
“Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.”
Code of Ethics of the ALA
“We uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources.”
Challenged Materials—An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights
“. . .any attempt, be it legal or extra-legal, to regulate or suppress materials in libraries must be closely scrutinized to the end that protected expression is not abridged.”
Diversity in Collection Development—An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights
“Librarians have a professional responsibility to be fair, just, and equitable and to give all library users equal protection in guarding against violation of the library patron’s right to read, view, or listen to materials and resources protected by the First Amendment, no matter what the viewpoint of the author, creator, or selector. Librarians have an obligation to protect library collections from removal of materials and resources based on personal bias or prejudice.”
Expurgation of Library Materials—An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights
“Expurgating library materials is a violation of the Library Bill of Rights. Expurgation as defined by this interpretation includes any deletion, excision, alteration, editing, or obliteration of any part(s) of books or other library resources by the library, its agents, or its parent institution (if any) when done for the purposes of censorship. . . Furthermore, librarians oppose expurgation of resources available through licensed collections. Expurgation of any library resource imposes a restriction, without regard to the rights and desires of all library users, by limiting access to ideas and information.”
Intellectual Freedom Principles for Academic Libraries—An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights
“The development of library collections in support of an institution’s instruction and research programs should transcend the personal values of the selector. In the interests of research and learning, it is essential that collections contain materials representing a variety of perspectives on subjects that may be considered controversial.”
“Licensing agreements should be consistent with the Library Bill of Rights, and should maximize access.”
  • When government information on agency Web sites disappears, the Freedom of Information Act and the Electronic Freedom of Information Act provide users a right to that previously published information. Public interest groups can use the FOI Letter Generator ( to have the information reposted in an electronic reading room. 
  • To locate Web pages that are no longer available, try using the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, which has archived Web pages from 1996 up until a few months ago: (
  • If you discover that an item has been removed from a database or that database content is being censored in some way, contact the vendor and/or publisher and inquire about the problem. If it's not resolved, share the information with librarian colleagues in your professional network and inform relevant groups within ALA. Pressure from librarians has often been effective in changing censorial policies and practices.  
  • Realize that getting access to journal, magazine, and newspaper content through an aggregator database (e.g., LexisNexis Academic) is not equivalent to subscribing to those periodicals. The terms of aggregators' contracts with various publishers change frequently, and content is often added and deleted from such databases without warning. The fact that a database claims to have full-text content doesn't mean it's safe to cancel your subscriptions to journals, magazines, and newspapers. 
  • When negotiating the terms of license agreements between the library and the vendor or publisher, consider adding clauses about "Archival/Backup Copy," "Completeness of Content" and "Perpetual License" to protect against loss of access to content. Following is sample language for such clauses from a model agreement developed by NorthEast Research Libraries Consortium ( 
  • "Archival/Backup Copy.  Licensor will provide Licensee with one (1) copy in a mutually-acceptable format (or grant permission to make one copy) of any licensed materials holdings that are sold to another publisher/provider or discontinued for any reason, to fulfill Licensee's rights under the "Perpetual License" section of the agreement. In addition, upon termination of this agreement or upon request, Licensor agrees to provide to Licensee in a mutually-acceptable format a machine-readable copy of the licensed materials for licensee's use. Licensee is authorized to make such further copies in perpetuity as it may deem necessary for purposes of archival preservation, refreshing, or migration to other formats, so long as the purpose of such copying is solely for continued use and/or archival retention of the data and does not violate or extend the use rights contained in the agreement."
  • "Completeness of Content.  Where applicable, Licensor will inform Licensee of instances where online content differs from the print versions of the licensed materials. Where applicable, Licensor shall use reasonable efforts to ensure that the online content is at least as complete as print versions of the licensed materials, represents complete, accurate and timely replications of the corresponding content contained within the print versions of such materials, will cooperate with [library] to identify and correct errors or omissions, and shall make available the electronic copy of the licensed materials no later than the date on which the paper version is issued."
  • "Perpetual License.  Licensor hereby grants to [library] a nonexclusive, royalty-free, perpetual license to use any licensed materials that were accessible during the term of this agreement. Such use shall be in accordance with the provisions of this agreement, which provisions shall survive any termination of this agreement. Except in the case of termination for cause, Licensor shall provide the [library] with access to the licensed materials in a manner and form substantially equivalent to the means by which access is provided under this agreement."
  • If you're an academic librarian, encourage faculty authors to negotiate with publishers to retain the copyright to the articles they write.  This way, if the publisher takes down the article, the author can make it available through other means. For the same reason, encourage your institution to develop an institutional repository that stores locally authored materials.
  • Consider purchasing "dark archives" tools (e.g., PORTICO, CLOCKSS, and LOCKSS) that ensure you will have access to electronic materials you have purchased if certain events happen--for example, if a flood destroys the back file of electronic content or the publisher goes out of business and no longer provides access to the content.
Affelt, A. “Paving Paradise.” Online, 34, no.1 (2010):  14-17.
Discusses the removal of content from the LexisNexis, Westlaw, and ScienceDirect databases.
Mart, S.N. “Let the People Know the Facts:  Can Government Information Removed from the Internet Be Reclaimed?” Law Library Journal, 98, no. 1 (2006):  7-31.
Quint, B. “Where Have All the Archives Gone?  Newspaper Archive Aggregators Face the Challenge of All-Digital, No-Paper Publications.” Information Today, 26, no. 7 (2009):  1-2, 38-39.
Relyea, H.C. “Federal Freedom of Information Policy:  Highlights of Recent Developments.” Government Information Quarterly, 26 (2009):  314-320.