President, American Library Association, 2000–2001
On ALA vs. United States
Challenge to the Children’s Internet Protection Act
My name is Nancy Kranich, and I am the president of the American Library Association. Today, March 20th, the American Library Association, joined by 10 other plaintiffs, has filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania to overturn the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). This law, passed as a rider on the final FY 2001 appropriations bill in December 2000, mandates the use of blocking software on computers in public libraries and schools. The ALA believes this legislation is unconstitutional because it restricts access to constitutionally protected information available on the Internet at public libraries.
Librarians are dedicated and committed to providing an enriching and safe online experience for children and adults alike. We care deeply about children and all of our library users. We have taken numerous steps to help communities develop policies and programs that ensure that their library users have a positive online experience. Based on our extensive experience working with children and their parents everyday throughout the country, we know what works. More than 95 percent of public libraries have Internet-access policies that were created with community input. These policies set forth the community’s rights and responsibilities for conducting productive, safe Internet use. The vast majority of library patrons use the Internet responsibly, as outlined by their communities’ policies. Many libraries also:
- create lists of recommended sources (“white lists”) for children that guide parents and kids to great sites. (Check out ALA’s 700+ Great Sites for Kids.)
- equip computers with kid-friendly search engines;
- place computers in highly trafficked and public places;
- require users to sign agreements acknowledging compliance with library policies;
- require parents to sign consent forms for their children’s Internet use;
- conduct classes and tutorials for people of all ages, many for parents and children together, on how to use the Internet effectively and safely;
- encourage parents to get involved with their children’s reading and Internet use;
- limit the amount of time people can use computers;
- restrict access to chat rooms and e-mail; and
- provide access to GetNetWise, a site only “one click away” that ALA helped create. (This site offers parents the resources they need to make informed decisions about their family’s use of the Internet.)
Public libraries are very local institutions. The bulk of their funding comes from city and state budgets. Only 1% of their funds come from the federal government. Local trustees govern public libraries; they work closely with librarians to determine goals and meet community needs. Just as every parent is a little different, every local community has its own set of priorities based on its geography, demographics and size - to name just a few of the factors.
This presents a major problem with the Children’s Internet Protection Act. This legislation imposes a one-size-fits-all mechanical solution on libraries that are as diverse as our families and takes away local and parental control, ceding it to unaccountable filtering companies. Blocking technologies come between librarians and their mission - to connect people with a broad range of information to meet their needs.
And the Internet is key to today’s information society. The Internet is changing the way we live, learn, work, govern and interact with one another. If today’s children are to succeed in a global economy, they must learn the skills necessary to find, evaluate and use information effectively ... and they must have access to technological resources. In short, they must be logged on and literate or they will be lost in the 21st Century.
Federal programs like E-rate and LSTA have provided much-needed funds to leverage state and local support. More than 5,000 public libraries have received $190 million in telecommunications service discounts through the E-rate program over the last 3 years; the vast majority of these libraries serve communities with poverty levels in excess of 40%. 18% of the nation’s 9,000 public libraries received LSTA funds last year; more than 25% of libraries in communities with a poverty rate in excess of 40% received LSTA or other federal grants.
Libraries in low-income and geographically isolated areas of the country are struggling to maintain the technology, services, staff and funding necessary to keep up with a rapidly advancing digital world. Forcing libraries to choose between federal funding for technology improvements and censorship means millions of library users will lose. Libraries are the number one access point for people without computers at home, school or work. They need these funds to narrow the ever growing gap between the information “haves” and “have nots.”
The American Library Association, with a membership of 61,000 librarians, library trustees, and library advocates, is the voice of America’s libraries and the millions of people who depend on them. We are here speaking for all of them today.