I chose to focus my efforts on studying the use of Internet filters, especially in youth areas in public libraries. Are they useful? Or are they restrictive? The first argument I found opposing filters was an amendment to our nation’s Constitution.
Congress Shall Make No Law Respecting an Establishment of Religion, or Prohibiting the Free Exercise Thereof; or Abridging the Freedom of Speech, or of the Press; or the Right of the People Peaceably to Assemble, and To Petition the Government for a Redress of Grievances. (U.S. Const. am. 1)
So are filters a breach of this? Some may think so. According to Nancy Kranich, filters give a false sense of security. Parents may send their children to the library assuming they will be protected, which may or may not the case. (How many of us have witnessed patrons accessing pornographic content on public computers?) Filters can be expensive and hard to set up, especially for libraries that are understaffed or ill-equipped to deal with ever-changing technologies. Kranich also states that “[F]ilters not only underblock, they also overblock significant amounts of perfectly legal, useful information” (Kranich, 2004). What if someone is doing a report on a slightly controversial issue, and they cannot access proper information? And with the way websites change and update content on a daily basis, how can libraries ensure that their filters are adequately blocking the correct content? Is this a good use of our time? Is it even worth it these days as younger, computer-savvy generations know how to override these kinds of things?
Or are filters a positive feature of public Internet access? I know plenty of families that, in their own homes, use programs like Net Nanny to ensure that their children are not able to come across inappropriate content, purposely or by accident. My current workplace has a computer lab that is used primarily for job searching purposes by recently-released men. We have filters that block certain sites to ensure that their main purpose (job search) can be carried out with minimal distractions. It’s interesting because they are residents of halfway houses, which technically means they still are inmates, although they’ve been released into the community. While in prison, their Internet usage was even more limited than it is now. But as a public institution, where can libraries draw the line?
I wanted to investigate a little how libraries around the country have chosen to deal with this, as this is an issue that really could vary from location to location. I found information on the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), which is “a federal law enacted by Congress to address concerns about access to offensive content over the Internet on school and library computers. CIPA imposes certain types of requirements on any school or library that receives funding for Internet access or internal connections from the E-rate program – a program that makes certain communications technology more affordable for eligible schools and libraries” (CIPA). Schools and libraries that receive federal funding are required to meet these requirements. But each library I investigated took a different approach to the issue.
The Ames Public Library in Ames, Iowa, states in their Internet Usage Policy that “librarians cannot act in the place of parents in providing constant care and supervision of children as they explore the Internet. The responsibility for what minors read or view on the Internet rests with parents or guardians” (Ames Public Library Policy). The Denver Public Library “values free and equal access to information, even when that information may be controversial, unorthodox or unacceptable to others” (Internet filtering); however, it does block known websites that contain pornographic imagery for those under the age of 17. Minors wishing to use public computers are given different login information and are only able to access “minor-appropriate” sites. Patrons utilizing wireless Internet on their personal laptops do not fall under the filtering rules.
In Multnomah County, Oregon, computers especially for children are set up in the youth area, and chairs are available for parents to sit next to their kids as they surf the Net. Teens can choose if they want to use filtered or unfiltered computers- unless their parent designates otherwise (Acceptable Use of the Internet and Library Public Computers).
In one of our readings for the course this week, I came across some interesting statistics. In a nationwide study, “Fifty-six libraries (50.9%) did not permit free access for minors to nonprint materials” (Aiken, 2007). I can understand why this has become such an ethical issue in the library realm. On the one hand, we are not to restrict freedom of the press for anyone regardless of age. At the same time, I think I can understand why parents and librarians feel the need to limit certain sites to protect the innocence of our children. But where, really, do you draw the line? If any of you have personal insight or experience on this issue, I’d be interested to see how you view the solution (if there is one). Is there a solution that fits every library? Should there be one, or should libraries be able to choose their standards? What would you do? What have you done?
Acceptable Use of the Internet and Library Public Computers.(2008). Retrieved June 5, 2009, from http://www.multcolib.org/about/pol-internet.html
Aiken, Julian. "Outdated and irrelevant? Rethinking the Library Bill of Rights--does it work in the real world?." American Libraries 38.8(Sept 2007): 54(3). Health Reference Center Academic. Gale. Wayne State University Library System. 7 June 2009
Ames Public Library Policy. (2007). Retrieved June 5, 2009, from http://www.amespubliclibrary.org/Docs_PDFs/Policy/InternetUsePolicyandGuidelines.pdf
CIPA. (2008). Retrieved June 5, 2009, from http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/consumerfacts/cipa.html
Internet filtering. (2008). Retrieved June 5, 2009, from http://denverlibrary.org/about/filtering_faq.html
Kranich, N. (2004). Why filters won’t protect children or adults [Electronic version]. Library Administration & Management, 18(1), 14-18.
U.S. Constitution, Amendment 1.