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Management of acceptable use of computing facilities in the public library : avoiding a panoptic gaze?

Gallagher, Christine and McMenemy, David and Poulter, Alan (2015) Management of acceptable use of computing facilities in the public library : avoiding a panoptic gaze? Journal of Documentation, 71 (3). pp. 572-590. ISSN 0022-0418

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The purpose of this paper is to investigate the language utilised in Acceptable Use Policies (AUP) in Scottish public libraries. Through this examination the paper aims to ascertain if power relationships between local authorities, public libraries and users are apparent. Finally, the paper aims to determine if Foucault’s theory of panopticism is relevant to public libraries in this context. Design/methodology/approach–The paper analyses all 32 of the AUPs used in Scottish public libraries, applying a Foucaldian discourse analysis to the content of the policies. By thorough examination of the literature the researchers were able to extract ten key features that ought to appear in an AUP. It was found that only one of 32 local authorities included information relating to all of these features. It was also found that one local authority contained as few as four of these key features. The median number of features included in the policies was seven. It was also found that power relationships are evident and can be perceived throughout the AUPs. By identifying the key Foucauldian themes of discipline, surveillance, knowledge, and power and resistance throughout the AUPs, the researchers were able to analyse and identify the existence of power relationships and consider the implications these could have on users and on the library services being provided. The study examines one geographic region, and is only indicative of the region concerned. In addition the usage of the qualitative methodology utilised could be deemed to have elements of subjectivity. Practical implications–The study would be of benefit to researchers and professionals interested in issues around AUPs and surveillance of library users. The use of Foucaldian discourse analysis is limited in library and information science research, and this study helps fill this gap. It is the first study the researchers have found that critically examines a range of public library AUPs.