Program on Public Access to Information


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.

“Public access to information” is a concept that comprises multiple dimensions, all of which are needed to achieve effective access:

  • Technological: Access to information must not be inhibited by unnecessary technological mechanisms or complexity. Software for information access must be usable, especially by audiences with specialized needs.
  • Economic: Providing public access to information must be affordable to libraries. Public access to key segments of information (e.g., federal government) should be made available to the general public for no fee.
  • Legal: Several provisions of intellectual property law, such as first sale and fair use in copyright law, make up the foundation of the public’s access to information and must be maintained for the digital world. Information access across national borders now often happens seamlessly and, therefore, international treaties, laws, and trade agreements can have a material effect on public access to information in the United States.
  • Social and Individual: As more diverse information services are increasingly available online, the importance of knowledge about information searching and use (information literacy) increases accordingly. Libraries have a role in supporting users in the appropriate use of information across domains that include government, healthcare, education, and career development.
  • Intellectual: The library and information studies (LIS) community has been central to the unbiased organization and provision of information. LIS professional norms place the highest priority on satisfying user needs irrespective of any commercial or other considerations.
    System: A basic element of public access to information is access to the physical system – hardware, software, and network service. Public access computing services and/or other means are necessary to ensure that all segments of society have reasonable access to the physical system to enable participation in the information society.

Major Areas of Focus

  • Conduct, facilitate, and encourage research in all dimensions of public access to information as it is affected by the digital world.
  • Develop and make available educational programs, information resources, and consulting services to support librarians in providing effective services for public access to information in the digital world.
  • Develop and make available educational programs and information resources to assist the general public in effectively accessing digital information.
  • Advocate for policies and practices that maintain or strengthen the public’s rights to access information and the libraries’ roles in facilitating this access.
  • Monitor and respond to technological and policy challenges to public access to information that imperil the library profession’s core values of equity of access,intellectual freedom, and the objective stewardship and provision of information. Relevant topics include the first sale doctrine, fair use, and privacy.
  • Submit comments to the federal government in response to formal requests for input.