Information service policies and Web use increasing defense of virtual collections

Information service policies

Service policies in a library directly affect when and how patrons can use library resources. Circulation policies direct patrons on which materials are available and how long they can borrow materials. Reference policies determine how librarians answer patrons’ questions, either through instructional or fulfillment oriented roles (Rubin, 2010, p. 374). Instructional librarians teach patrons how to use library resources and equipment, whereas fulfillment oriented librarians provide solutions to questions (Rubin, 2010, p. 374). Staffing policies determine the number of librarians on staff in library, and if they have specialized training or skills.

There are several circulation policies that can influence access to library resources. Some include borrowing eligibility, checkout duration, resource renewal difficulty, and late material fines. Many libraries require patrons to meet minimum criteria to be able to borrow materials, typically based on residency or academic affiliation. This ensures that materials are primarily available to the community the library is intended for, but can create a barrier to patrons that do not qualify to borrow resources. Some libraries offer alternate means, which typically involves inter-library loans or paying a non-resident fee to become eligible to borrow materials. Many libraries offer inter-library borrowing, but patrons have to wait for resources to arrive at the requesting library. Once a patron borrows a resource, they have a defined amount of time until the resource needs to be returned to the library. This ensures the item is available to other patrons in a timely fashion, but can be difficult for individuals that are not able to completely utilize the material within the defined time frame. Libraries typically allow renewal of items to give extra time, but often that is only available if no one else has requested the material. Renewals also require interaction with the library in some capacity to process the renewal, which can be inhibited by a lack of technological skill in using the internet or electronic library circulation applications. If a resource is not returned within the defined amount of time, fines accrue. If the fines are excessive, library services may be suspended until the balance is paid in full, which they may not be able to do economically. If the balance is higher than the patron perceives the value of the library to them, they typically discontinue use of the library altogether. Librarians can help alleviate these difficulties by educating patrons on renewal procedures when they are initially borrowing resources, and providing physical reminders for due dates on materials for the patron to take with them.

Reference policies affect access through patron perception. Instructional librarians can be perceived as not providing the answers a patron anticipates, and fulfillment oriented librarians could be perceived as not helping patrons to find their own answers by teaching them how to use resources. Disappointed patrons may be discouraged from engaging librarians for future assistance if they do not receive the type of assistance they are seeking, losing valuable insight on library services. LeMaistre, Embry, Van Zandt, and Bailey (2012) found the “reference interview” (p. 270) has decreased in prominence, with reference librarians asking fewer questions to determine patron information seeking needs. Librarians can avoid these misunderstandings by asking questions to understand how best to individually help patrons in their information seeking.

Staffing policies directly form the core of the library, and the type of training and knowledge librarians offer to collection development and patrons. A library that does not have any specialized librarians might suffer in collection development, due to a lack of familiarity in different genres and types of collections. When specialized librarians are available, these individuals are able to focus their attention to specific genre collection development, providing patrons with resources that would otherwise be missed. Libraries that do not have enough staff to support the community discourage patrons from requesting help or checking out resources when faced with long lines. Many libraries are developing self-service check out stations to reduce nonessential staff, freeing up staff to help patrons in other capacities.

Web use increasing defense of virtual collections

The internet has provided almost limitless access to information, necessitating librarians to justify virtual collections more rigorously than previously required. Costs of digital licenses are more complex than print, and require significant consideration to determine the best fit for the library type (Hansen & Sparks, 2000, p. 4). Many digital licenses specify lending and access limitations, including formatting and availability to patrons. Librarians are expected to be able to justify the higher costs of digital resources compared to print materials. Frequently, external pressures arise from individuals who voice opinions about the validity of particular journals, demanding their viewpoint supersede all others (Hansen & Sparks, 2000, p. 10).

Dresang (2006) found the issue of intellectual freedom in virtual collections is typically contested in public and school libraries, where youth access issues were the most hotly contended (p 173). Access to mature subjects and websites are considered to be “corrupting the morals of youth” (p. 182) when offered by libraries or schools to patrons under the age of 18. Dresang (2006) discussed publicized campaigns against libraries who offered a greater degree of information freedom to youth, and the pressure to conform to the individual critic’s moral standards (p. 182). Only when access to information is available to everyone, regardless of any socially constrained barriers, will intellectual freedom cease to be difficult.


Dresang, E. (2006). Intellectual freedom and libraries: Complexity and change in the twenty-first century digital environment. Library Quarterly, 76(2), 169-192.

Hansen, C., & Sparks, J. (2000). Framework for accessing the impact of an electronic journal collection on library costs and staffing patterns. Retrieved from

LeMaistre, T., Embry, R., Van Zandt, L., & Bailey, D. (2012). Role reinvention, structural defense, or resigned surrender: Institutional approaches to technology change  and reference librarianship. Library Quarterly, 82(3), 241-275.

Rubin, R. (2010). Foundations of library and information science (Third Edition). New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc.


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