Public Libraries, Public Access, Networking and the Law

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Networking is an effective way for public libraries to cooperate to optimize the development and utilization of their holdings. However, networking almost always requires expenditures beyond those provided for in existing library budgets-e.g., for on-line bibliographic searches and increased interlibrary loans. The problem is compounded by the fact that public library budgets generally are shrinking or remaining static. It is not surprising, then, that an increasing number of public libraries have determined to charge the end user for networking services. Such a policy has been criticized as contrary to the traditions of free public library service and equal access. The thesis of this paper is that the fee/free decision, though made at the local library level is frequently predetermined by the structure of state laws related to networks. The legal frameworks of New York and Wisconsin are compared to demonstrate this point. The paper also critiques prevailing theories to determine whether charges for networking services can be reconciled with the concept of free public libraries, and discusses policy options available to libraries.

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Resource Sharing & Information Networks

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