Introduction by Editor Linda Braun

children and the internet: policies that work

Does a library need to have a policy that outlines and describes how and why children have access to the Internet? How does a library go about developing children’s Internet access policies? These are two of the questions this online publication helps answer. While in many cases there isn’t one right answer, the materials included here should help determine the process and product that will work for a particular library and community.

When developing Internet access policies each library needs to consider the community that it serves. That means making sure that library staff and administration understand the community’s perspective on children’s Internet access. It also means that the library needs to educate the community about the library’s perspective on Internet access and why that perspective is important to the community. James Jatkevicius's  Satisficing, Public Libraries, and Internet Filtering: A Case Study of Public Policy Development is a good place to start when considering community needs, interests, and how to develop policy for a specific community.

Integral to the policy development is the creation of a transparent process that gives all those involved – children, community members, library staff, and so on – an eye into the process.  Molding Effective Internet Policies by Cynthia Richey includes concrete ideas for involving the community in this type of policy development. Richey not only discusses how to get community feedback but also talks about how to educate the community about the positive aspects of Internet access for children.

John Alita also gives readers an insider’s view of how to include community members in the development of Internet access policies in his article,  Creating an Internet Policy by Civic Engagement. Not only does Alita provide helpful hints and tips about Internet policy development, but he also challenges the reader to consider how these policies do and do not support other library policies and the overall mission of the institution. He makes a strong case for including community members and the library’s legal counsel in order to achieve successful policy development and implementation.

It’s important for librarians to be cognizant of the law as it relates to children’s Internet access. Of course the rules set out by the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) and E-Rate funding need to be considered by libraries. Because there are so many ins and outs to federal regulations of this type, it’s important to have a lawyer’s perspective on Internet access policy development. In her article  Internet Safety Policy Guidelines, Cathy Harris Helms provides that perspective.

There are also those who believe that libraries don’t need to develop separate Internet access policies. The idea being that instead libraries should integrate the Internet into pre-existing policies. For example, collection development policies might include details about how libraries select Internet links. Appropriate behavior policies might include information on Internet behaviors that are expected when using the Internet in the library. To read more about this policy development philosophy take a look at Michael Sauers’ article titled  Don’t Doesn’t Work.

It is important to remember that many people have developed documents already. Not only are articles available for learning how the policy development process worked in libraries, but there are sample policies available online to read and consider.  Links to library policies are included on this publication Web site as a way to provide food for thought. Look at these policies to get ideas. However, when reading through the policies think carefully about how they fit within your particular community. Don’t assume because a policy works in one library and community that it will automatically work in another library and community. Select carefully the ideas to replicate.

There are a lot of decisions and choices to be made when working on Internet access policies for a library. When going through the process, use this site as a research tool, a brainstorming tool, and a way to educate co-workers and community members about Internet access policies and the library. The materials needed to get started, or for revising a policy, are all here. Take advantage!

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