Libraries and the Internet Toolkit
Debate Over Filters
Public concerns about Internet access at the library should not be ignored. Many local libraries are experiencing increased pressure to limit Internet use by groups that believe filters are necessary to protect both children and adults from "undesirable" material.
In order to prepare for dealing with such concerns, libraries should consider taking the following steps:
- Inform elected officials, board members, Friends and library users of issues and concerns related to library Internet use. [See "Checklist & Ideas for Library Staff Working with Community Leaders" (http://www.ala.org/oif/challengesupport/dealing/checklist)].
- Designate an official library spokesperson who is able to communicate the library's position in a caring and understandable way.
- Keep the lines of communication open. Listen to and acknowledge all concerns.
- Be prepared to demonstrate and document the policies and procedures your library has in place to address concerns. If your library has experienced problems with inappropriate Internet use, explain how you have dealt with it-in accordance with your Internet Use Policy.
- Make copies of ALA's Libraries, the Internet and Filters fact sheet or prepare your own fact sheet explaining what filters can and cannot do; pertinent legislation and court rulings; and other background.
- Be prepared to describe in layperson's terms the concerns librarians have about the limitations of filters, the false sense of protection filters may give and their impact on free access to materials that benefit library users.
If a local decision is made to use filters, it's important to keep in mind the following:
- Consider providing a choice of filtered and unfiltered access to the Internet in keeping with court rulings that adults should not be limited to materials appropriate only for children and in recognition that the intellectual needs and maturity levels vary greatly from a six-year-old to a 16-year-old.
- Provide notice to library users when they are using a computer with filtered access to the Internet.
- Inform library users about which computers offer a filtering option in a way that does not infringe on their privacy or cause embarrassment. It should be clear to users when filters are on or off.Inform library users that their choice of sites or filtering options might not be confidential, depending on the system in place. Ideally, library computer technology should be programmed to maintain user confidentiality.
- Inform library users about the method by which they may request a site be unblocked.
- Set filters at the least restrictive level and block only categories consistent with the limitations detailed by CIPA.
- Provide adults a mechanism for overriding and/or disabling filters that is as obvious and unobtrusive as possible.
- Be vigilant in monitoring developments in technology that best provide privacy, respect for First Amendment rights and freedom of choice for library users.
If your library is subject to a filtering mandate, the following are additional suggestions to consider:
- Inform yourself about the extent and details of the mandate. Know what choices your institution has within the mandate.
- Inform your library users about what restrictions are being placed on their Internet access and about what legal body is responsible for the restrictions.
- Document the impacts the mandate has on your library users and library services that you offer.
- Share the stories of how filtering impacts your library with library users, legislators, the press and ALA.