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Deborah Caldwell-Stone (staff)'s picture

Draft - Rating Systems An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights

Draft 6.0 May 29, 2015

 

Rating Systems

An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights

 

Libraries, no matter their size, contain an enormous wealth of viewpoints and are responsible for making those viewpoints available to all. However, libraries do not advocate or endorse the content found in their collections or in resources made accessible through the library. Rating systems appearing in library public access catalogs or resource discovery tools present distinct challenges to these intellectual freedom principles.

 

Rating Systems

 

          Many organizations use or devise rating systems as a means of advising either their members or the general public regarding the organizations’ opinions of the contents and suitability or appropriate age or grade level for use of certain books, films, recordings, websites, games, or other materials.  Rating systems presuppose the existence of individuals or groups with wisdom to determine by their authority what is appropriate or inappropriate for others. Rating systems also presuppose that individuals must be directed in making up their minds about the ideas they examine.  The creation and publication of such systems is a perfect example of the First Amendment’s right of free speech.  However, The American Library Association also affirms the rights of individuals to form their own opinions about resources they choose to read or view.

 

 

The adoption, enforcement, or endorsement, either explicitly or implicitly, of any of these rating systems by a library violates the Library Bill of Rights and may be unconstitutional. If enforcement of labeling or rating systems is mandated by law, the library should seek legal advice regarding the law’s applicability to library operations.

 

Libraries often acquire resources that include ratings as part of their packaging. Librarians should not endorse the inclusion of such rating systems; however, removing or destroying the ratings—if placed there by the publisher, distributor, or copyright holder—could constitute expurgation (see “Expurgation of Library Materials: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights”).

 

Because AACRII, RDA and the MARC format provide an opportunity for libraries to include ratings in their bibliographic records, many libraries have chosen to do so – some by acceptance of standard records containing such ratings and others by a desire to provide the maximum descriptive information available on a resource.  Libraries are not required by cataloging codes to provide this information.  However, if they choose do so, whatever the reason, they should add a disclaimer to their catalog or discovery tool displays indicating that the library does not endorse any external rating system.

 

The inclusion of ratings on bibliographic records in library catalogs or discovery tools may be interpreted as an endorsement by the library.  Therefore, without a disclaimer, inclusion of such ratings is a violation of the Library Bill of Rights.

 

The fact that libraries do not advocate or use rating systems does not preclude them from answering questions about such systems. In fact, providing access to sources containing information on rating systems in order to meet the specific information seeking needs of individual users is perfectly appropriate. 

 

Adopted July 13, 1951, by the ALA Council; amended June 25, 1971; July 1, 1981; June 26, 1990; January 19, 2005; July 15, 2009; and July 1, 2014.

 

 

Daniel Cornwall's picture

I believe this paragraph is a new addition from the last draft that I endorsed:

"The inclusion of ratings on bibliographic records in library catalogs or discovery tools may be interpreted as an endorsement by the library.  Therefore, without a disclaimer, inclusion of such ratings is a violation of the Library Bill of Rights."

I am disappointed to see the return of "inclusion of such ratings is a violation of the Library Bill of Rights." return to the draft, especially since the way to appropriately balance concerns of full information and avoiding endorsement of a rating system is clearly indicated in the paragraph above. I don't see the point of advising people to add a disclaimer AND threaten them with violation of the Library Bill of Rights. 

This change isn't enough to make me oppose this interpretation, but I think this change (if it is a change) is unnecessarily harsh.  Moving on to nitpicking, AACRII is normally rendered as AACR2. While you can find AACRII on the web, AACR2 is much more common and is the preferred designation of the producing organization. See http://www.aacr2.org/us/products.html for an example.

Finally, I have a theoretical for you. What if a library included package thumbnails of a DVD in their catalog, like Amazon does for the Pelican Brief at http://www.amazon.com/Pelican-Brief-Keepcase-Julia-Roberts/dp/B002NZK5UU/ref=pd_bxgy_74_img_y The PG-13 rating on the cover is very visible. 

Do you black out the rating on the enlarged image? Does that count as defacing the box? Or do you insert a disclaimer on the image? Defacing the the box that way as well? 

 

Daniel Cornwall

Alaska Chapter Councilor

Member, Depository Library Council

http://librarianfromalaska.wordpress.com