'To be understood as to understand' : a readability analysis of public library acceptable use policies

Robinson, Elaine and McMenemy, David (2019) 'To be understood as to understand' : a readability analysis of public library acceptable use policies. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science. ISSN 0961-0006

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    Abstract

    Acceptable Use Policies (AUPs) are documents stating the limitations users must agree to when first accessing information and communications technologies (ICTs) in organisations, such as employers, educational institutions and public libraries. AUPs lay out the parameters of acceptable use expected of someone accessing the ICT services provided, and should state in clear and understandable terms what behaviours will attract sanctions, both legal and in terms of restricting future access. Utilising a range of standard readability tests used to measure how understandable documents are, the paper investigates how readable the AUPs presented to public library patrons in the UK are in practice. Of the 206 AUPs in use across the local government departments who manage public library services 200 were obtained and subjected to a range of readability testing procedures. Four readability tests were used for analysis: the Flesch Reading Ease, the Coleman-Liau Index, the Gunning Fog Index and the SMOG Grade. Results for all four readability tests administered on all AUPs raise significant questions. For the Flesch Reading Ease score only 5.5% of AUPs scored at the standard readability level or higher (60+), and 8% scored at a very high level of difficulty akin to a piece of scientific writing. Similarly, for SMOG, only 7.5% of the 200 AUPs scored at the recommended level of 10. Likewise, very few AUPs scored at levels recommended for a general audience with either the Gunning Fog Index (11.5%) or the Coleman-Liau Index (2%). With such variability in readability, the fitness for purpose of the average AUP as a contract patrons must agree to can be called into question. This paper presents the first ever analysis of the readability of library AUPs in the literature. Recommendations are made as to how public library services may improve this aspect of practice.