The panoptic principle : privacy and surveillance in the public library as evidenced in the acceptable use policy

  • Elaine Robinson

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

Abstract

Facilitating access to the Internet is an important part of the public library profession. Part of managing this access relies on the acceptable use policy, an agreement between the library and the user regarding the conditions of access. This study analysed acceptable use policies in UK public libraries to ascertain whether they exhibit Michel Foucault’s panoptic principle, a metaphor for surveillance derived from Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon, an institutional inspection building. The policies were also analysed as to how they encourage and discourage information access through surveillance, filtering, and demonstration of the ethical principles of the profession. The effectiveness of balancing the caring and controlling elements of public access was also analysed, influenced by David Lyon’s theories regarding caring and controlling aspects of surveillance. The study analysed 205 of the 206 acceptable use polices across UK public library authorities. The policies and authorship details were collected via Internet searching and freedom of information request. Readability testing was then used to establish the difficulty of the documents. After this, qualitative content analysis was used to investigate the language of the policies. The acceptable use policies were found to be too difficult to understand easily. They exhibited aspects of the panoptic principle, they encouraged access by reflecting ethical principles and they discouraged access due to the inconsistent application and description of filtering software.The policies were varied in tone and content, demonstrating both caring and controlling aspects of public access. The findings suggest a single acceptable use policy would be recommended. This way access would be consistent through the country. It is also recommended that the policy should have more clarity regarding aspects such as filtering and what the aims of the service are. The findings of the study were then used to create a model acceptable use policy that could be used and disseminated.
Date of Award4 Jun 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University Of Strathclyde
SponsorsESRC (Economic and Social Research Council)
SupervisorDavid McMenemy (Supervisor) & Alan Poulter (Supervisor)

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