Libraries, Children & the Internet Questions & Answers

Why is the Internet important for children?

The Internet is changing how we live, learn, work and interact with one other. If today's children are to succeed as adults, they must learn information literacy skills for every resource-new and old.

What is the role of libraries?

Libraries provide access to the information people need or want, regardless of the format in which that information appears. The Internet is another medium through which libraries meet this mission. The latest figures show that almost all public libraries, including branches, now provide Internet access to the public.

What are the roles of librarians?

Librarians are partners with parents. They are there to help their community-adults and children-become information literate by teaching them how to access, evaluate, and use information. They are there to answer questions and guide children to quality Web sites in the same way they recommend books and other resources.

What is the role of the American Library Association?

ALA provides guidance for libraries in developing and implementing policies to ensure the highest quality library and information services. It also takes an active role in educating parents and the public about the Internet through its Web site and through participation in joint initiatives such as  GetNetWise.

ALA resources for parents and children include Especially for Children and Their Parents,  Great Web Sites for Kids, and The Librarian's Guide to Great Web Sites for Kids (formerly titled The Librarian's Guide to Cyberspace for Parents & Kids; telephone: 800-545-2433. ext. 5041 or e-mail for more information. ALA also encourages local libraries to offer instruction for children and adults in how to use the Internet safely and effectively.

What is an Internet filter? How does it work?

Filtering or blocking technology restricts access to Internet content through a variety of means. Two basic types of filters currently dominate the market: filters that block content containing disapproved words (keyword blocking) and filters that block access according to a list of disapproved sites (site blocking). In either case, the filter manufacturer, in its own way and according to its own standards, determines which words or sites will be blocked. Regardless of their methods, filters underblock and overblock, and all block constitutionally protected speech.

What is the American Library Association's position on filtering?

The American Library Association (ALA) does not endorse using Internet filters in libraries, because they block access to information that is legal and useful. Filters are known to block a wide range of sites, including the FBI, eBay, Planned Parenthood, The Bible and others with information many people find helpful for school, work, health and other needs.

The ALA also is concerned that the use of filters may give parents a false sense their children are protected when this is not the case. Filters are not effective in blocking all "objectionable" material, and they do not protect against pedophiles and other interactive aspects of the Internet.

The ALA strongly believes that educating children to use the Internet wisely is their best protection, now and in the future.

For greater detail, see  Filters and Filtering at and  Children's Internet Protection Act Web Site.

What about the Children's Internet Protection Act, doesn't it require libraries to filter?

No. In 2000, Congress passed the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) and the Neighborhood Children's Internet Protection Act (NCIPA) as part of a major spending bill (H.R. 4577). These Acts require libraries receiving specific federal funds (e-rate and LSTA) for Internet access to adopt Internet safety policies and technology that blocks or filters certain material from being accessed through the Internet. For up-to-date information, check the  CIPA Web site.

What type of guidance does ALA provide to libraries on this issue?

The ALA strongly encourages local libraries to continue to adopt and implement Internet use policies in the same way they develop other policies based on the needs of their communities. Almost all have or are developing such policies.

Some policies require a guardian's signature to use the Internet. Some require parents to be present when children use the Internet. Some set time limits. Some revoke Internet privileges for viewing materials that are offensive to others. Some link computers in children's rooms only to pre-selected search engines or sites recommended for children. Some use filters. ALA strongly encourages local libraries to offer instruction for children and adults in how to use the Internet safely and effectively.

In addition, the American Library Association

  • Defends the First Amendment rights of all library users.
  • Defends the First Amendment rights of children to use libraries and supports the rights of parents to decide with their children how to use libraries.
  • Acknowledges that the role of the parent in our society is to care for, instruct, protect and monitor the behavior of their own children.
  • Supports parents in taking an active role in carrying out their parental responsibilities in libraries, but not at the expense of other people's rights, or the rights of other people's children.
  • Supports equitable access to the Internet for all, and provides the necessary education to make that access enriching and safe.
  • Urges libraries to become partners with their respective communities to do the best job they can to provide resources to serve the needs of all of their patrons.

For up-to-date information, check the  CIPA Web site.

How many libraries have experienced problems with children viewing inappropriate material on the Internet?

Few libraries report difficulties with children viewing inappropriate material online. The vast majority of children and adults continue to use the library responsibly and appropriately.

What if a library decides to install filters? Would the ALA object?

ALA's role is to recommend policies that promote the highest quality library and information services for the American people. ALA respects the right of local libraries to adopt policies that uphold this ideal and meet the needs of their library users. Our association believes filters are not the best way to protect children.

How can parents ensure their children have a positive online experience?

There are several things parents can do. The most important is to learn about the Internet and how it works. For example, every computer has access to child-friendly search engines such as  KidsClick! (developed by the Ramapo Catskill (N.Y.) Library System. Many libraries, schools and community groups offer classes and materials to assist parents with what they need to know to guide their children.

Set rules and instill values. Until children are taught how to use the Internet properly, which includes how to conduct a search, how to know the difference between an Internet pal and an unsavory stranger, how to protect private information, and so forth, it would be best if their Internet use were supervised by a responsible adult or guided by for-children Web pages. There are many common sense tips that can ensure children have a positive online experience, such as not using their real names online and never agreeing to meet with someone they meet online without a parent or guardian present. Third, teach children how to use the resource properly and to make good decisions about what they view at the library or wherever they may be. Fourth, introduce children to the librarian and encourage them to ask for help when seeking information on the Internet. Fifth, teach children to value their privacy and that of those around them. There are many excellent sources of advice for parents. These include The Librarian's Guide to Great Web Sites for Kids (formerly titled The Librarian's Guide to Cyberspace for Parents & Kids; telephone: 800-545-2433. ext. 5041 or e-mail for more information) and " Especially for Children and Their Parents" which provides links to "Online Safety Rules and Suggestions," "Designed-for-children Search Engines," "Additional ALA Web Sites for Parents, Children, and Librarians," "Other Educational Sites," and "Privacy Issues."

Are libraries without Internet filters safe for children?

Filters do not protect children, education does. As the National Research Council pointed out in its 2002 report, Youth, Pornography, and the Internet, "Swimming pools can be dangerous for children. To protect them, one can install locks, put up fences, and deploy pool alarms. All these measures are helpful, but by far the most important thing that one can do for one's children is to teach them to swim." Similarly, the more children and parents know about the Internet and Internet safety, the better equipped they will be to protect themselves and enjoy their time online. Libraries have a long tradition of providing quality service to children and adults in a safe place, and they continue to do so. Parents and children should still exercise common sense in the library, like any public place.

Valuable Links

ALA Privacy Policies and Statements

Intellectual Freedom and Censorship Q & A

Libraries: An American Value

Statement of Commitment to Excellence in Library Service to Children in a Technological Age

Key Contacts

ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom

50 East Huron Street

Chicago, IL 60611

Telephone: 800-545-2433, ext. 4223

Fax: 312-280-4227;

ALA Public Information Office

50 East Huron Street

Chicago, IL 60611

Telephone: 800-545-2433, ext. 5043 or 5044

Fax: 312-944-8520;

ALA Washington Office

1301 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W., Suite 403

Washington, D.C. 20004

Telephone: 800-941-8478

Fax: 202-628-8419;