Thursday, December 6, 2012

Filters on library computers

My studies this week for LIBT 117 concern filters that limit access to the Internet. Our class discussion board asked what policy libraries should follow about minors accessing materials and websites.

To begin, the decision by libraries to accept federal funding means that they must install filters under the terms of the Children's Internet Protection Act.

I believe the American Library Association is correct, in its Library Bill of Rights, to oppose restricting access to materials on the basis of age. Library employees have neither the right nor obligation to act in the place of a child’s parents.

If a parent requested that a child’s account be flagged so that the child could only check out materials from the juvenile or young-adult collection, I think automated circulation systems could be programmed to impose this restriction.  But this parent has no right to impose restricted access on anyone’s child but his or her own. He or she does not have the right to  “challenge” or attempt to censor the material’s place in the library collection.

Translate this to web access and, should libraries deem it appropriate, computers could be set up in the juvenile area that had filters installed, while computers in the adult area could be unimpeded.

Parents could specify their children be allowed only to use filter-blocked computers. This limitation as with the materials restriction could be set to “flag” when the child’s ID barcode was scanned.

(I personally do not believe in filters as an effective strategy, given their blocking of legitimate information -- called “overblocking” in our text -- and the failure by manufacturers to disclose which sites their filters will block. A company could impose its political ideology through the application of its filters.)

In libraries in which filters were installed on all the computers, I like a suggested policy that adult users  could have filters disabled, no explanation and no questions asked.

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