Monday, December 1, 2008

Intellectual Freedom as Information Policy: Web Content and Filtering

The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) is a much-debated Act that demands web filters to be installed on all school or public library computers, including patron and staff terminals, that receive federal funding. Its purpose is to protect minors from images that are 1) obscene, 2) child pornography, or 3) harmful to minors. Libraries that refuse to comply with this Information Policy will lose federal Internet funding. Due to this, some libraries have elected to forgo funding in order to maintain un-filtered web access. Within the libraries that have restricted web access, a recent stipulation to CIPA allows adult patrons to access restricted web content. However, the patron needs the permission of a librarian to do so, who must un-block the material in a timely fashion. Web software filters can vary in restrictions, with much innocent material being filtered in the process. An overview on different vendors available, along with the exact nature of what is being filtered, can be found at

There has been much resistance to this Act, including from ALA and the National Coalition Against Censorship. The NCAC states, “…every trip to the library may entail a Big Brother-ish experience—being protected from unseeable material that an unknown reviewer has decided to block based on undisclosed criteria” (Bertin, Joan). In addition, the IFLA Glasgow Declaration on Libraries, Information Services and Intellectual Freedom has also issued a statement that can be applied to this debate. The Declaration states that, “libraries and information services shall make materials, facilities and services equally accessible to all users. There shall be no discrimination for any reason including race, national or ethnic origin, gender or sexual preference, age, disability, religion, or political beliefs” (“The Glasgow Declaration”). According to IFLA, age becomes a discriminating factor with the demand of software filters on library computers that receive federal funding.

A New York Times article “Tools to Keep the Web Safe for Children” reveals another side to the filtering debate, stating, “…by relying too much on technology, rather than education and supervision, children will be unprepared to deal with exposure to inappropriate content when it does eventually occur” (Tugend, 2007). The author believes parental supervision in their children’s web activities is beneficial, while web filtering in libraries opens a controversial topic.

Further Information:

CIPA Regulations:

“Children’s Internet Protection Act”

The American Library Association’s Q and A on CIPA

Questions for Discussion:

What are your views on web filtering software?

Is it appropriate that the public and school libraries receiving federal funding must comply with CIPA regulations in order to continue the funds?


Bertin, Joan. “Court Errs on Upholding Library Web Filters.”

Tugend, Alina. “Tools to Keep the Web Safe for Children.”

IFLA. “The Glasgow Declaration on Libraries, Information Services and Intellectual Freedom.”

Information Technology Policy & Universal Access

One of the primary sources of information technology policy for libraries is the ALA Office of Information Technology Policy (OITP); a key element of the OITP’s mission is “to ensure access to electronic information resources as a means of upholding the public’s right to a free and open information society”. As part of OITP’s Public Access to Information and Networks programs, policy statements dealing with universal access to electronic information, services and networks are provided for the purpose of educating ALA members on implications of information policy. The office also monitors federal and state government policies affecting information technology as part of its Washington Advocacy initiative.

Several pieces of federal legislation have been enacted in an attempt to provide uniform access to electronic information technology; these include:

- The Telecommunications Act of 1996, which funds the E-Rate programs for libraries administered by the Universal Services Administrative Company.
- The Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) of 1996, which funds the Grants to States program of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Both the E-Rate and LSTA programs place priority on broadening access to electronic information technology. For instance, the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) states among its objectives: “to support programs that make library resources more accessible to urban and rural localities, low-income residents, and others having difficulty using library services.” (Source: MHAL – Introduction to LSTA).

According to Whinston (2004), the primary strategy of these programs has been to “strengthen community access points in underserved and disadvantaged areas”, rather than to increase residential access. These efforts can be viewed as analogous to telephone universal service programs of the 20th century which subsidized installation of public telephones in low-income areas.

Universal residential access to electronic information and services in the United States remains elusive. A study of internet access in U.S. households reported by Whinston shows that significant disparities in access exist based on income and education levels. As an example, households in the lowest income group (less than $15,000 annually) are six times less likely to have internet access than those in the highest income group (over $75,000 annually). Smaller disparities exist based on urban vs. rural residency.

Discussion questions:
What do you think about current federal policy on technology access? Might there be more effective or direct ways to bridge the “digital divide” than the current strategy?


ALA Policies on Information Technology and Access:
1. ALA Office for Information Technology Policy,
2. ALA - Principles for the Networked World,
3. ALA - Economic Barriers to Information Access,
4. ALA - Access to Electronic Information, Services, and Networks,

Digital Divide in the U.S.:
5. Whinston, A. B. (2004). IT policies and issues: US and the Americas. In M. Kagami, M. Tsuji & E. Giovannetti (Ed). Information Technology Policy and the Digital Divide: Lessons for Developing Countries (pp. 81-87) [electronic resource]. Cheltenham, UK; Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar, c2004.

Federal Programs for Information Access:
6. Schools and Libraries Program of the Universal Service Fund (“E-Rate”),
7. McCallion, G. (2003). Federal Aid to Libraries: The Library Services and Technology Act. Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress, Washington DC, USA.
8. Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) – State Programs,
9. MHAL – Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA),