Policy UL-AD01 Patron Use of Computer Software

Main Policy Content


  • Purpose
  • Background Information
    • Introduction
    • Legal Responsibilities and Access
    • Other Policies
  • Guidelines for Implementation
    • Collection Development
    • Acquisitions
    • Cataloging
    • Marking
    • Training and Systems Support
    • Housing and Security
    • Archival Copies
    • Circulation
  • References
  • Cross References


To state the University Libraries' position on patron access to and use of software.  This access will be governed by existing Libraries' policies.  The Libraries will abide by the terms of license agreements and copyright law as applicable.



In recognition of the Libraries' commitment to developing a collection of software as part of its resources, the Committee on Patron Use of Software approached this policy with the intention of treating software as much like other library material as possible.  The reality is that most software producers do not develop their product with libraries and their commitment to access to information as a prime consideration.  Therefore, the Libraries must bear in mind that the nature of software and the software industry dictates special handling of software.  We desire to have software circulate as freely as copyright laws and industry restrictions allow.  This policy is written to encourage the collection, use, and circulation of software within the boundaries of the Libraries' resources, current University policies, the Libraries' policies, and legal restrictions.

An examination of the issues involved in circulating software clearly shows that increased acquisition of software should affect every unit of the Libraries to some degree.  In tandem with developing an access policy, the committee has also outlined recommendations for implementation which involve areas other than Access Services.  Our recommendations should not conflict with established policy for these areas.

Legal Responsibilities and Access:

Software is treated as a literary work and may be copyrighted under federal law.  Some software acquired by the University Libraries, however, will not be copyrighted and would, therefore, be considered in the "public domain."  No restrictions on use, copying or modification would apply to public domain software.

In most instances, software acquired by the University Libraries will be copyrighted.  This means that unauthorized copying is forbidden and the holder of the copyright may control the use of the software.  This control can be through an agreement entered into at the time of acquisition.  The agreement will describe the Libraries' allowable use of the software; for example, it may limit use to one computer at a single location, permit a back-up copy to be made, or restrict alteration or modification.

The agreement will also specify the nature of interest acquired in the software.  Typically, the Libraries will either own the software outright, or obtain only a right to use the software without owning it (a "license").  In either case, however, the Libraries will be subject to the restrictions on the use of the software contained in the agreement.

Obviously, careful review of the terms and conditions of the agreement is required before processing for the collections, to determine whether the allowable scope of use is compatible with the Libraries' resources and mission.  In many cases, negotiations with the vendor of the software may be useful in obtaining revisions to the agreement which will accommodate the Libraries' needs.  Often, however, software vendors view these agreements as non-negotiable, and changes will be impossible.

When the software is acquired, staff responsible for controlling circulation must familiarize themselves with the specific restrictions applicable to the software, and implement the controls necessary to adhere to those restrictions.  These may vary widely, so no uniform guidelines can be described here.  One aspect of these controls may be an individual agreement with the user, which may be necessary for certain software.  The necessity for and content of such individual agreements should be determined at the time of acquisition.

Other Policies:

  1. EDUCOM Code
    EDUCOM, a consortium of institutions and businesses concerned with educational computing and technology, has issued a statement on the ethical use of software.   Briefly, it supports copyright laws and the intellectual rights of software developers.  The University endorses the EDUCOM code in its own policies.
  2. University Policies
    The University is working toward establishing clear policies on the ethical use of software at Penn State, including the responsibility of users and the consequences of inappropriate or unauthorized use of software.  The Penn State "Student Guide to General University Policies and Rules" includes a section on the University's policy on computer and software misuse.  The Libraries complies with all existing University policies and will adhere to all future policies issued on software.
  3. Acquisitions Guidelines
    The Libraries already have issued the "Acquisitions Guidelines on Computer Software" (February 1986), which primarily addresses the conditions under which software could be purchased by the Libraries.  It also outlines many considerations connected with acquiring and lending software.


Collection Development:

The collection development policies of every University Libraries' unit should include a statement on collecting software.  Software should be evaluated and selected based on the same criteria as other material.  The decision of format when more than one is available is left to the selector.  Selectors should attempt to obtain a copy of a license agreement and review it.  If the Libraries cannot comply with a valid, non-negotiable software license agreement, the software should not be selected.  Software also should be compatible with hardware, such as computers, printers, and compact disc players, found in the location designated for its use.


Software for patron use (including reference, reserve, and general circulating collections) and all necessary supporting material (applications software, documentation) should be purchased out of the materials budget.  Funding may be either monographic or serial as appropriate.

The Libraries may want to investigate the possibility of negotiating with software producers for license agreements which allow the circulation of software for patron use.  Authority for reviewing contracts and agreements for possible conflict with University and Libraries policy and practice should rest with the Libraries' Manager of Business Operations, in cooperation with the appropriate Acquisitions Librarian and the library selector, and in conjunction with the university office authorized to sign such contracts.

Gifts should be accepted only if deemed appropriate for the collections and if the Libraries can abide by any restrictions stipulated by the software developer.


All software purchased on University Libraries' budgets for public use should be cataloged, classified, and entered into the LIAS database.  Software and its accompanying material (usually documentation) should be cataloged so that they can be maintained as a unit.


Copyright notices and statements of license restrictions should be placed on the software and its accompanying documentation to warn borrowers against violations.  It may be possible to develop a standard statement on misuse of software, which could be placed on the software.  This may also serve to protect the Libraries against liability for infringements committed by borrowers.  A copy of the license agreement should be included with the documentation.

Training and Systems Support:

In general, responsibility for learning, maintaining, and providing support for these files falls to the public service unit which houses the software.  Given the opportunities and problems associated with providing access to software, the Libraries should encourage the development of expertise among its staff in handling computers and software.

Additional support may be required from Libraries' personnel who have the appropriate expertise.  Support could constitute training and/or trouble-shooting in basic applications software or the appropriate computer operating system.

Housing and Security:

Software and all supporting materials should be housed carefully to avoid excessive heat, sunlight, moisture, dust, and magnetic fields.  Write-protection measures should be taken, whenever possible, to avoid alterations by unauthorized writing, erasing or editing.  All locations which collect software should designate a secure location where the software should be housed.

Since the documentation should include a copy of any contractual agreement, software should circulate with its documentation.  Circulating software as one unit also serves to prevent the separation of pieces of a software package.  The unit housing the material should check the package for completeness after it has circulated.

Software for reference use should be housed in a secure area designated by the unit which will support the software.  Stack locations are not deemed appropriate.

Reserve copies of software should be housed in designated reserve collections.

Software may be housed in stack locations if it is an inseparable part of a monograph and no strict license agreements limit its use.

If a license agreement places restrictions on the use of software, the software should be housed in a location which should insure that unauthorized use does not occur.  Software may be placed in designated Microcomputer Labs, under the terms agreed upon by the Libraries and Academic Computer Services.

Archival Copies:

Unless precluded by a license agreement, one archival copy of software should be kept.  The archival copy should be the master (original) software and the circulating software should be a copy because the producer may ask for the return of the original in exchange for updates or replacement copies.  If the circulating copy is damaged, altered, or lost, a new copy should be made from the original if allowed by the license agreement.  If the license prohibits making a new copy, the producer should supply an additional copy upon request.

Software provided by a faculty member for reserve may be copied by the reserve unit for archival purposes only if the faculty member has not already done so.  Most licensing agreements and copyright law permit only one archival copy.

Either the Libraries or the location in charge of the software should designate a secure area for housing the archival copies.


Circulation of software within the University Libraries should be tied to legal restrictions.  Public domain and copyrighted software without additional restrictions may be treated like other library material; copyrighted software with restrictions must be handled separately.  Circulation of licensed software should comply with the terms of the license agreement.

Any material which describes the Libraries' lending code should include a statement on the Libraries' policies on software.  All microcomputing facilities within the University Libraries should have warning signs regarding the misuse of software.

In general the length of circulation for software should fall under normal circulation policies of the Libraries.  Different circulation periods may be allowed at the discretion of the unit which controls the software.  Public domain software (which has no restrictions on use or copying) and copyrighted material with no other restrictions may circulate freely.  Circulation may also be restricted to one computer, room, building, or institution (Penn State), in compliance with contractual agreements.  Materials should be marked so patrons are informed of the circulation policies in effect for each software package.

Circulating software to patrons who are not associated formally with Penn State may violate contractual agreements if the agreement stipulates that software use is limited to the institution.

Software for reference services should be designated as non-circulating.  Department charges or limited circulation may be possible with the permission of the reference unit.  Responsibility for providing reference service to these files falls to the housing location.

Lending to other institutions through ILL and inter-campus loans may be permitted at the discretion of the controlling unit unless prohibited by the license agreement.

Software should circulate on the same basis as other reserve material, within the restrictions set out in any contractual agreements.  If a library has compatible hardware as a part of its course reserve area and license agreements are not restrictive, software may be placed on reserve.  Those reserve areas which do not have appropriate hardware should not accept software for a course reserve.  Software not designated for course reserve may be housed in the reserve area if necessary for preventing unauthorized use.

To be sure that all restrictions are satisfied, the selector of the software and the potential housing location should work together to determine the appropriate location and circulation period for the software.  To facilitate the circulation process, the software package should include an indication of the appropriate circulation period.


Reed, Mary Hutchings.  The Copyright Primer for Librarians and Educators.  Chicago: American Library Association; Washington: National Education Association, 1987.


Other Policies in this manual should also be referenced, especially the following:

UL-AD04 – Code of Conduct
UL-AD07 – Use of Public Access Workstations

Effective Date: February 1990
Date Approved: March 1989 (Libraries Academic Council; University Legal Counsel)

Revision History (and effective dates):

  • March 1989 – New policy

Last Review Date:  Under Review 2007