Libraries are major sources of information for society and they serve as guardians of the public’s access to information more generally. The advent of the digital world has revolutionized how the public obtains its information and how libraries provide it. The central purpose of the Program on Public Access to Information is to help ensure that Americans can access the information they need – regardless of age, education, ethnicity, language, income, physical limitations or geographic barriers – as the digital world continues to evolve. Core values of the library community such as equal access to information, intellectual freedom, and the objective stewardship and provision of information must be preserved and strengthened in the evolving digital world.
Networks are the core infrastructure that enable public access to information. At physical libraries, networks provide access to information resources within a library building, a library system, and around the world. Because of the proliferation of networks, library users are increasingly demanding services from outside of the physical library, whether at homes, schools, workplaces, or when in transit. Ubiquitous, convenient access to networks is essential for the public’s access to information.
The scope of the Program on Networks includes all aspects of networking related to libraries and public access to information, from technical, operational, managerial, and user-interface topics to social, economic, legal, and political considerations. Achieving reasonable access depends on networks that are available, affordable, sufficiently capable, easily managed, supported by effective inter-library and cross-sectoral institutions, and supported by public policies and practices that are consistent with library core values.
The fundamental changes that underlie how much information is now created, modified, disseminated, and accessed enable many opportunities and challenges for libraries and public access to information. The Program on America’s Libraries in the 21st Century focuses on monitoring and evaluating trends in technology and society to assist the library community in shaping its future to the maximal benefit of the Nation.
In which roles may libraries be most useful in serving the Nation? Physical library spaces continue to have value for communities, though their roles are evolving. The explosion in online information enables users to access many non-library information sources readily, but the online environment also affords opportunity for libraries to serve existing clients in new ways and to reach out to new clients. How should the LIS community’s core principles of equal access, intellectual freedom, and objective stewardship of information be represented in the future online environment?
The prevalent use of technology by youth in formal educational and informal social settings, and individually raise a number of issues related to how young people access, apply, create, and share information. These issues range from questions at the individual level about developing basic digital citizenship skills to impacts on intellectual and ethical development. Questions also include societal issues from perpetuating the digital divide to impacts on economic development, innovation, and ultimately global competition. As a critical access point, libraries serving youth are not only implicated by policies regarding technology use among young people, they are also a powerful ally for decision makers as they develop policies, especially in areas that are still emerging and influence future directions in information policy.
The Fellows Program serves as a means to draw on nationally-recognized researchers, practitioners, and policy advocates in LIS or allied areas to strengthen the Office’s involvement in national policy discussions and otherwise support ALA's mission. Fellows may have expertise in core LIS areas or in a wide range of other relevant areas that include telecommunications, intellectual property law, computer science, management and organizational behavior, political science, public policy and government, economics, and sociology, among others.