Over-filtering in schools and libraries harms education, new ALA report finds

For Immediate Release
Wed, 06/11/2014


Jazzy Wright

Press Officer

Washington Office



WASHINGTON, D.C.—Schools and libraries nationwide are routinely filtering internet content far more than what the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) requires, according to “Fencing Out Knowledge: Impacts of the Children’s Internet Protection Act 10 Years Later (pdf),” a report released today by the American Library Association (ALA). CIPA requires public libraries and K-12 schools to employ internet filtering software to receive certain federal funding.

“Over-filtering blocks access to legitimate educational resources, and consequently reduces access to information and learning opportunities for students,” said Barbara Stripling, ALA president. For example, some school districts block access to websites containing information about foreign countries, such as China and Iran, even as those websites are required online reading for the Advanced Placement curriculum.

“Today’s over-implementation of internet filtering requirements have not evolved in the past decade to account for the proliferation of online collaborative tools and social networks that allow online students to both consume and produce content,” said Courtney Young, ALA president-elect.

“Filtering hurts poor children the most,” said Young. “These children are the most likely to depend on school and library provided internet access. Other children are likely to have unfiltered internet access at home or through their own mobile devices.” There are 60 million Americans without access to either a home broadband connection or a smartphone.

Finally, schools that over-filter restrict students from learning key digital readiness skills that are vital for the rest of their lives. Over-blocking in schools hampers students from developing their online presence and fully understanding the extent and permanence of their digital footprint.

“Filtering beyond CIPA’s requirements results in critical missed opportunities to prepare students to be responsible users, consumers, and producers of online content and resources,” the report states. “Limits on access to the wide range of internet-based resources during students’ formative years are closing doors to future opportunity.”

“Fencing Out Knowledge” finds that librarians, as curators of digital information and trained instructors, are uniquely positioned to develop and implement changes in acceptable internet use policies. The report makes several recommendations, including advocating that school and library leaders raise awareness of the negative consequences of over-filtering on K-12 education. Additionally, the report recommends that the American Library Association work with educational groups and associations to develop a toolkit of resources that refocuses filtering and access policies.

The report was released jointly by the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) and the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF), and written by OITP consultant Kristen Batch. “Fencing Out Knowledge” is based on a year-long study that included a two-day symposium during the summer 2013 and other research. Read the full report

Further perspective based on the report is provided by Christopher Harris, chair of ALA’s OITP Advisory Committee.

About the American Library Association

The American Library Association is the oldest and largest library association in the world, with approximately 57,000 members in academic, public, school, government, and special libraries. The mission of the American Library Association is to provide leadership for the development, promotion and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all.