Internet Content Issues

[last update 8 October 2003]


The most important advance in communications since the printing press, the Internet has changed the way people seek and receive information.  The Internet has not changed the role of libraries - to provide people with the information they need and want - but it has raised a number of challenges for librarians and the communities they serve.

KEY ACTION/PRIORITY AREAS:  Intellectual Freedom, Equity of Access, Legislation/Funding, Library Services/Development/Technology
RELATED ISSUES:  Digital Divide, Freedom to Read & Freedom of Expression, Library Funding


  • Providing/distributing access to information on CIPA.


  • Kids
  • Disabling
  • Transparency
  • Jurisdiction


  • ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom/ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee
  • ALA Office for Governmental Relations (Washington)/ALA Committee on Legislation
  • ALA Office for Information Technology Policy (Washington)/OITP Advisory Committee
  • ALA Divisions


  • Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT)
  • American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)


  • 1939 -- ALA adopted the Library's Bill of Rights.
  • 1940 - The ALA Committee on Intellectual Freedom was established.
  • 1948 - ALA adopted the Library Bill of Rights, amended in 1961, 1967, 1980
  • 1951 - ALA Council approved a statement opposing "labeling" of library materials.
  • 1967 - The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom was established.
  • 1978 - A special task force appointed by ALA President Eric Moon presented "Toward a Conceptual Foundation for a National Information Policy" for discussion: " All information must be available to all people in all formats purveyed through all communication channels and delivered at all levels of comprehension.  If any one of these five qualities is compromised, the whole is enervated, and the national enterprise as a consequence suffers."
  • 1989 - ALA (& others) filed suit to enjoin enforcement of the Child Protection and Obscenity Act of 1988.  The U.S. District Court struck down most provisions of the law.
  • 1989 - ALA Council approved an Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights: Access for Children and Young People to Videotapes and other Nonprint Formats.  The interpretation supported unabridged access to videos as well as books.
  • 1989 - A pre-WHCLIS "position paper" in American Libraries outlined the rationale for ALA's engagement in public policy:  " Today's public libraries and increasingly those of the future must be enabled to function within a nationwide and even global information infrastructure.  In a world increasingly dependent upon knowledge and the ability to acquire it, the problems of those with limited access to information will only be exacerbated...."
  • 1991 - ALA Council adopted "Library Services to the Poor": " is crucial that libraries recognize their role in enabling poor people to participate fully in a democratic society, by utilizing a wide variety of available resources and strategies."
  • 1995 - As part of the implementation of ALA Goal 2000, the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy was established.
  • 1996 - The Library Services and Technology Act (replacing LSCA) was passed, within the Museum and Library Services Act, which increased focus on information access through technology and on information empowerment through special services.
  • 1996 - As part of the implementation of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the Universal Service Program for Schools and Libraries (the "e-rate" program) was established.  Implementation was supported by ALA, working with the Education and Library Networks Coalitions (EdLINC) and others.
  • 1996 - ALA filed suit challenging the constitutionality of The Communications Decency Act, part of  the Telecommunications Reform Act of 1996. The Act was aimed at keeping "indecent" material from anyone under 18; the term "indecent" was not defined in the legislation.  The ACLU also filed suit.  The two suits were subsequently consolidated under the ACLU v. Reno.  A lower court declared CDA unconstitutional.
  • 1997 - In a 9-0 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the Communications Decency Act unconstitutional.  The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that "communications on the Internet deserve the highest level of constitutional protection."
  • 1997 - ALA Council approved the "Resolution on the Use of Filtering Software in Libraries."
  • 2000 - The Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) was signed into law, as part of a major spending bill - H.R. 4577).  CIPA placed restrictions on the use of funding available through the Library Services and Technology Act, Title III of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, ad the Universal Service discount ("e-rate"), in the form of requirements that schools and (public) libraries have acceptable use policies and technology to block certain material from being accessed on the Internet.
  • 2000 - OIF, WO, PIO developed the first Internet Tool Kit, to assist librarians as they adopted Internet Use Policies and faced challenges to Internet Access.
  • 2001 - The the Midwinter Meeting, the ALA Executive Board voted to file suit to prevent implementation of CIPA in public libraries, noting that "no filtering software successfully differentiates constitutionally protected speech from illegal speech on the Internet."  ALA filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
  • 2002 - CIPA, as it applied to public libraries, was permanently enjoined by a three-judge panel; the government appealed the CIPA case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • 2002 - ALA Council adopted Principles for the Networked World, developed by a broad coalition of ALA, ALA Divisions, and other library associations.  The Principles defined six broad areas of policy: intellectual freedom, privacy, intellectual property, infrastructure, equitable access, and content.
  • 2003 - The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Children's Internet Protection Act.



Issue Summaries

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