Proposal for Allocation of Electronic Intellectual Resources

Jeffrey Shallit, Department of Computer Science, University of Waterloo

March 24, 1995

1.  The Problem.

Because of historical reasons and the rapid pace of technological
change, we are faced with a problem. The Library, which has a mandate
to support "lifelong, self-directed learning; equitable access; and
intellectual freedom..." [1], is *not* the organization currently
charged with the responsibility for many types of electronic media on

Instead, that responsibility currently lies with a myriad of different
computing organizations on campus:  the Department of Computing
Services (DCS); the Mathematics Faculty Computing Facility (MFCF); the
Arts Faculty Computing Office, etc.  While they are very capable
technically, none of these organizations have formal training in the
principles of selection and intellectual freedom which are a
fundamental part of the librarian's craft [2].

One unfortunate consequence is that a few decisions have been taken to
eliminate certain topics from our electronic media without the same
regard for intellectual freedom that is afforded more traditional media
at this university.  This amounts to what most people would certainly
recognize as censorship if similar rules were applied to books, for
example [3].  Perhaps it is because some still do not recognize the new
electronic media as providing a valuable intellectual resource that
attempts to demonstrate that this censorship is unacceptable in a
university community have fallen on deaf ears [4].

Electronic intellectual resources (such as Usenet) continue to be
treated, in a sense, like orphans.  Despite their increasing usefulness
to the community, there remains no formal, specific commitment from
University administrators or departments to provide these resources on
an equitable basis to all students.  It may be partly due to historical
accident that no group has officially "adopted" the responsibility for
our orphan electronic resources, but as long as our top administrators
remain divorced from this technology, there unfortunately seems little
prospect for change [5].

Thus, we are compelled to address this issue, at least within the
Mathematics Faculty.  It would clearly be more desirable if a broader
policy was developed for the whole university and the Faculty's
Computing Committee should express its concern in a letter to the

Nevertheless, the increase in the flow of Usenet News [6], and the
limited ability of the Mathematics Faculty's computing resources to
handle that flow, have necessitated a temporary change in how Usenet
newsgroups are subscribed to.   This may only be a temporary state of
affairs, as it may be that newsgroups will in the future be distributed
in a manner analogous to the "DynaFeed" proposal of Brad Templeton.
Nevertheless, unacceptable delays in posting of messages [7] require
action to be taken in the short term.

2. The Principles

I believe that the Mathematics Faculty must state unequivocally that it
supports both Usenet News and Internet access as an intellectual
resource.  This support is based on the recognition that more and more
material which has been traditionally distributed through the print
medium (including books, newspapers, magazines, and scholarly journals)
is now being distributed electronically.  The electronic media are
valuable both for the teaching and research missions of the Mathematics
Faculty, and the general intellectual and social climate of the
University community.

Support for this view can be found in the Report of the Advisory
Committee on Network News [8].  That report advises, among other things

	1.  " is important that the University of Waterloo consult
	its user community when decisions must be made about the use of
	resources which are committed to E-mail and news."

	2.  "The University's primary news-server continue to receive
	all newsgroups generated internally and all newsgroups which
	arrive over the networks to which the University is connected."

	3.  "The contents of these newsgroups continue to be made
	available to all lower service levels."

	4.  "When decisions are to be made re the consumption of
	computing resources for newsgroups, those responsible for such
	decisions should widely and formally consult with the full user
	community. In the case of the primary server, it should be the
	responsibility of the University Computing Committee to see
	that such consultation takes place. In the case of lower level
	servers, a well-defined consultative process, approved by the
	University Computing Committee, should exist."

Support can also be found in the statements on intellectual freedom
from the Canadian Library Association (CLA) and Canadian Association of
Research Libraries (CARL).  For example,

	"All persons in Canada have the fundamental right, as embodied
	in the nation's Bill of Rights and the Canadian Charter of
	Rights and Freedoms, to have access to all expressions of
	knowledge, creativity and intellectual activity, and to express
	their thoughts publicly.  This right to intellectual freedom,
	under the law, is essential to the health and development of
	Canadian society.

	"Libraries have a basic responsibility for the development and
	maintenance of intellectual freedom.

	"It is the responsibility of libraries to guarantee and
	facilitate access to all expressions of knowledge and
	intellectual activity, including those which some some elements
	of society may consider to be unconventional, unpopular or
	unacceptable.  To this end, libraries shall acquire and make
	available the widest variety of materials.

	"It is the responsibility of libraries to guarantee the right
	of free expression by making available all the library's public
	facilities and services to all individuals and groups which
	need them.

	"Libraries should resist all efforts to limit the exercise of
	these responsibilities while recognizing the right of criticism
	by individuals and groups.

	"Both employees and employers in libraries have a duty, in
	addition to their institutional responsibilities, to uphold
	these principles." [Canadian Library Association]

	"All persons in Canada have a fundamental right, as embodied in
	the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Bill of Rights, to
	have access to all expressions of knowledge, creativity, and
	intellectual activity.

	"It is the responsibility of research libraries to facilitate
	access to all expressions of knowledge, opinion, intellectual
	activity, and creativity from all periods of history to the
	current era including those which some may consider
	unconventional, unpopular, unorthodox, or unacceptable.

	"To this end research libraries shall acquire and make
	available, through purchase or resource sharing, the widest
	variety of materials that support the scholarly pursuits of
	their communities."  [Canadian Association of Research

Yet more support for this view can be found in the American
Library Association's draft of a new policy ACCESS TO ELECTRONIC
LIBRARY BILL OF RIGHTS; see the Appendix.

3.  Possible Solutions

One possible solution to the problem of the increasing volume of Usenet
News is to allocate more resources.  Indeed, this is solution is
implicitly recommended by the Report of the Advisory Committee on
Network News [8], which recommends that the "contents of these
newsgroups continue to be made available to all lower service levels",
which, presumably, includes MFCF.

However, in a world of shrinking resources, it may not always be
possible to dedicate yet another machine and yet another hard drive to
exponentially-increasing Usenet News.  Therefore, another possibility
is selection.

Selection is not censorship.  Selection has a long-established history
with librarians, and is based on intellectual freedom principles.

Selection may be used to identify those newsgroups which are of the
most value to the university community, and the Mathematics Faculty in
particular, and choose to subscribe to those.  Selection must *not* be
used to censor, inhibit discussion, or enforce a partisan or
doctrinaire viewpoint.

When selection is done, it is imperative that a narrow understanding of
the Mathematics Faculty's mission be avoided.  In particular, selectors
should strive to copy the Library's mission to support "lifelong,
self-directed learning; equitable access; and intellectual freedom..."
[1].  In view of this, selectors should not select simply those
newsgroups dealing with mathematics, statistics, and computer science,
but also newsgroups improving the general intellectual life of the
community.  Hence newsgroups dealing with politics, the arts, science,
human sexuality, etc., should also be selected.

Since there are currently over 5,000 newsgroups, I do not feel it is
practical to rank each of these newsgroups in terms of value and then
drop (say) the lowest-ranked 500 groups.  Such a ranking would, for one
thing, be very time-consuming.  Second, new newsgroups are created at
the rate of 5-20 a day, and it would consume much time to evaluate each
newsgroup (which necessitates reading the newsgroup over a not
insubstantial period of time) for its value.

Furthermore, considering that one of the great values of Usenet News is
that it is able to handle fast-breaking stories through newsgroup
creation (the recent Kobe, Japan earthquake and the Jake Baker story
being just two examples), I believe it is important the *default*
continue to be that the Mathematics Faculty continue to provide all new
newsgroups as they are created (or at least all such newsgroups whose
traffic exceeds a certain threshold).

Whatever selection process is eventually developed, it must take into
account intellectual freedom principles.

In particular, decisions to stop carrying a particular newsgroup must
be appealable.  A well-defined appeals process must be set up.  Because
the content of some newsgroups is controversial, it must also be
possible to appeal the decision *anonymously*.  For example, gay
students that are not "out of the closet" may find it difficult to
object to unsubscribing to a newsgroup that deals with gay issues.
This point is in sharp contrast to the proposed policy, which states

	Math Faculty users who wish to have particular newsgroups
	restored can request restoration; such requests should be
	accompanied by a recommendation from a faculty member (in the
	case of a student request), a manager (in the case of a staff
	request), or the department chair (in the case of a request
	from a faculty member).

No policy similar to this exists for the library.  Students, faculty
members, and staff members are free to recommend subscriptions to
magazines (for example) without having to obtain recommendations from
supervisors.  The library also accepts anonymous recommendations.

I believe that the issue of expire times must also be addressed.
Expire times specify the length of time that a particular message can
be accessed before it is deleted.  When expire times are shortened to
just a few days, valuable information can be missed by some people
whose schedules do not allow them to read Usenet News on an almost
daily basis.  This obviously limits the usefulness of this resource.
Furthermore, when expire times are shortened to a matter of hours, this
clearly approaches a situation indistinguishable from explicit
censorship.  Carefully chosen expire times can, however, be used to
manage the quantity of news residing on MFCF disks.  The same
principles used to identify those newsgroups as valuable intellectual
resources should be used to set appropriate expire times, and there
should be reasonable efforts made to change expire times as the user
community requests.

None of these recommendations, by the way, should be construed to
somehow prevent MFCF staffers to remove newsgroups on a temporary,
emergency basis to remedy problems, such as those previously mentioned

5.  A Proposed Interim Solution.

Until the University administration decides to commit itself more fully
to the widespread distribution of and equal access to electronic
intellectual resources, I propose the following temporary solution:

a.  A committee be established to determine how best to provide access
to Usenet News, subject to the constraints of our limited resources;

b.  This committee will determine appropriate expire times for
different newsgroups, and select which newsgroups are subscribed to (or
unsubscribed to);

c.  This committee will determine expire times and select newsgroups
using well-established intellectual freedom principles;

d.  This committee will select newsgroups that support both the
teaching and research missions of the Mathematics Faculty, but also
support the general intellectual and social life of the community;

e.  Newsgroups should be selected without regard to partisan or
doctrinaire disapproval of their contents, or because some find the
material "offensive";

f.  The default should be, in accordance with the 1991 Advisory
Committee report, that *all* new newsgroups be automatically subscribed
to (or at least all new newsgroups whose traffic exceeds a certain

g.  The committee members should be chosen to fairly represent the
users of the resources.  For example, the committee could include a
faculty member, an undergraduate, and a graduate student;

h.  The committee should include someone whose professional training
includes selection and intellectual freedom principles--for example, a
University librarian;

i.  All decisions about what groups to remove from the Mathematics
Faculty's server should be widely publicized;

j.  A well-defined appeals process should exist for all decisions made
by the Committee;

k.  The Committee should meet (perhaps electronically) on a regular
basis to revise expire times and to revise the list of currently
subscribed newsgroups;

l. Newsgroups identified as candidates for removal should not be
unsubscribed without public consultation;

m. The committee should accept and consider comments from members of
the community, including those submitted anonymously;

n. Any finalized list of newsgroups to be dropped again should be
publicized well in advance of the actual unsubscription.

These recommendations were formulated solely as a strategy for coping
with the current limitations of the MFCF news server, and not out of a
desire to eliminate certain topics from electronic media that have been
determined to "inappropriate".  Therefore, any research lab, or even
student group (such as the Computer Science Club) with adequate
computing resources should remain free to establish their own news
server and carry any newsgroups they might choose to -- in accordance
with the principles of intellectual freedom and without being subject
to any sort of "approved list" developed for the MFCF news server.
Indeed, it could be part of the process that such alternative resources
be notified well in advance, so that they might decide whether they
wish to pick up the dropped groups.

One specific suggestion is the following:  every three months or so,
the committee could ask for a list of the top 200 newsgroups by
volume.  This list is easy to provide, and these are the newsgroups the
have the largest impact on MFCF resources.  Of these, some number of
newsgroups could be chosen as candidates for removal, according to the
principles given above.  These candidates could be publicized, and
suggestions accepted for retention of particular newsgroups.  After a
sufficient warning period, the newsgroups could be dropped.  They could
be reinstated later, if computing resources are improved.


[1] University of Waterloo Library, Task Group on Non-Traditional
Media, Final Report, July 1994.  Available via WWW using the URL

[2] See, for example, the American Library Association's _Intellectual
Freedom Manual_.  Excerpts from this can be found on the World-Wide Web

[3] See, for example, the three-part series "Censorship:  The
Libraries, the Internet, and the University", _FAUW Forum_, January,
February, and April 1994.  Also available on the WWW at

[4] Repeated requests to the Ethics Committee to clarify the *specific*
criteria used for deciding which newsgroups may be "banned" on-campus
have gone unanswered.

[5] Neither the President nor the Provost had an electronic mail
address as of December 1994, and both had expressed an unwillingness to
acquire one.

[6] Some estimates run as high as an increase in Usenet traffic of 20%
per *month*.

[7] Professor A. Lubiw reports that important messages posted by her to
the class newsgroup uw.cs.cs360 recently did not appear for more than a

[8] Report of the Advisory Committee on Network News, University of
Waterloo, May 30, 1991.

[9] E-mail message from Jay Black, March 22, 1995.

                         DRAFT DRAFT DRAFT DRAFT
                             Draft Version 1.1
Freedom of expression is an inalienable human right and the
foundation for self-government.  Freedom of expression encompasses
the freedom of speech and the corollary right to receive
information.  These rights extend to children as well as adults.
Libraries and librarians exist to facilitate these rights by
providing access to, identifying, retrieving, organizing, and
preserving recorded expression regardless of the formats or
technologies in which that expression is recorded.
It is the nature of information that it flows freely across
boundaries and barriers despite attempts by individuals,
governments, and private entities to channel or control its flow.
Electronic technology has increased the speed and universality of
this flow.
Although we live in a global information village, many persons do
not have access to electronic information sources because of
economic circumstances, capabilities of technology, and
infrastructure disparity.  The degree of access to electronic
information divides people into groups of haves and have-
nots.  Librarians, entrusted as a profession with the stewardship
of the public good of free expression, are uniquely positioned to
address the issues raised by technological change.
Librarians address intellectual freedom from a strong ethical base
and an abiding commitment to the preservation of the individual's
The American Library Association has expressed these basic
principles of librarianship in its CODE OF ETHICS and in the
LIBRARY BILL OF RIGHTS and its Interpretations. These serve to
guide professional librarians and library governing bodies in
addressing issues of intellectual freedom and the rights of the
people they serve.
The constant emergence and change of issues arising from the
still-developing technology of  computer-mediated information
generation, distribution, and retrieval need to be approached by
librarians from a context of established policy and constitutional
principles so that fundamental and traditional tenets of
librarianship are not swept away.
In making decisions on how to offer access to electronic
information, each library should consider its mission, goals,
objectives, cooperative agreements, and the needs of all the
people it serves.  The library should address the rights of users,
the equity of access, and information resources and access issues.
                            THE RIGHTS OF USERS
All library system and network policies, procedures or regulations
relating to electronic resources and services should be
scrutinized for potential violation of user rights.
User policies should be developed according to the policies and
guidelines established by the American Library Association,
Users have the right to be free of interference and unreasonable
limitations or conditions set by libraries, librarians, system
administrators, vendors, network service providers, or others.
This specifically includes contracts, agreements, and licenses
entered into by libraries on behalf of their users.
No user should be restricted or denied access for expressing or
receiving constitutionally protected speech.  No user's access
should be changed without due process, including, but not limited
to, notice and a means of appeal.
Users have a right to full descriptions of and access to the
documentation about all electronic  systems and programs they are
using, and the training and assistance necessary to operate the
hardware and software.
Users have the right of confidentiality in all of their activities
with electronic resources and services provided by the library,
and the library shall ensure that this confidentiality is
maintained.  The library should support, by policy, procedure, and
practice, the user's right to privacy.  Users should be advised,
however, that security is technically difficult to achieve and
that electronic communications and files are safest when they are
treated as if they were public.
The rights of users who are minors shall in no way be abridged.
                             EQUITY OF ACCESS
Electronic information, services, and networks provided directly
or indirectly by the library should be readily, equally, and
equitably accessible to all library users.  Once the decision is
made to use library funds to provide access to electronic
information, the user must not be required to pay to obtain the
information or use the service.  When resources are insufficient
to meet demand, rationing service may be necessary to provide
equitable access.  All library policies should be scrutinized in
Electronic resources provide unprecedented opportunities to expand
the scope of information available to users.  Libraries and
librarians should provide material and information presenting all
points of view.  This pertains to electronic resources, no less
than it does to the more traditional sources of information in
Libraries and librarians should not deny or limit access to
information available via electronic resources because of its
allegedly controversial content or because of the librarian's
personal beliefs or fear of confrontation.  Information retrieved
or utilized electronically should be considered constitutionally
protected unless determined otherwise by a court with appropriate
Providing access to electronic information, services, and networks
is not the same thing as selecting and purchasing material for a
library collection.  Libraries may discover that some material
accessed electronically may not meet a library's selection or
collection development policy.  It is, therefore, left to each
user to determine what is appropriate.  Parents who are concerned
about their children's use of electronic resources should provide
guidance to their own children. (See FREE ACCESS TO LIBRARIES FOR
Just as libraries do not endorse the viewpoints or vouch for the
accuracy or authenticity of traditional materials in the
collection, they do not do so for electronic information.
Libraries must support access to all materials on all subjects
that serve the needs or interests of all users regardless of the
user's age or the content of material.  Libraries and librarians
should not limit access to information on the grounds that it is
perceived to be frivolous or lacking value.
Libraries have a particular obligation to provide access to
government publications available only  in electronic format.
Libraries may need to expand their selection or collection
development policies to reflect the need to preserve materials
central to the library's mission as a retrievable copy in an
appropriate format to prevent loss of the information.
By applying traditional tenets of intellectual freedom to new
media, librarians provide vision and leadership in an arena where
it is so clearly needed.  Our services have never been more
James Madison wrote, "A popular government, without popular
information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a
Farce or a Tragedy; or perhaps both.  Knowledge will forever
govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own Governors
must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."