remember CIPA?

Remember CIPA? And remember how we were always holding out hope that someone would challenge it in an “as applied” challenge, an adult who wanted to view material that was blocked by the filters? Well there’s been a challenge, in Washington state, and the State Supreme Court ruled that filtering for adults was in fact permissible, lumping it in with collection development. The case concerns the North Central Regional Library System Opinion here and dissenting opinion here. Interestingly, the sites that were contentious in this case were web sites on firearms, not pornography or otherwise racy topics. Can you see at your library?

NCRL’s filtering policy does not prevent any speech and in particular it does not ban or attempt to ban online speech before it occurs. Rather, it is a standard for making determinations about what will be included in the collection available to NCRL’s patrons.

Thus, NCRL’s filtering policy, when applied, is not comparable to removal of items from NCRL’s collection, but rather acquisition of materials to add to its collection. NCRL has made the only kind of realistic choice of materials that is possible without unduly and unnecessarily curtailing the information available to a bare trickle — or a few drops — of the vast river of information available on the Internet.

This may be the set up for a very interesting lawsuit. I hope they appeal.

10 thoughts on “remember CIPA?

  1. sure can. no filters here :) rochester public library (nh) is a filter free zone (except in the children’s room, but with parental permission, children may use the adult internet comps as well)

  2. Strangely, I find myself falling on the side of NCRL (and filtering) in this case.

    I guess I believe that libraries should have the right to filter, but that they should never be forced to filter.

    I do believe that there are better solutions, but when you consider the size and staffing at these libraries (tiny / nil), not to mention budgets and technical expertise, these solutions may be very difficult to implement.

    We need our very own Jessamyn in WA State, and then these things wouldn’t happen.

  3. One of the concerns at my college is that addicted people might use the college computers to go on gambling sites. Also, in times of tightened funding (sigh), there is the P.R. issue….

  4. I am in two minds especially as filtering is a big issue in Australia with a Government proposal to filter “undesirable” sites and we Australians lacking a constitutional protection of free speech.

    I have no problems with a workplace having filters after all computers are supposed to be used for work. We had this problem in a workplace I was employed at with staff looking at porn sites, which was IMHO unacceptable.

    Surely a library is a bit like a work place in this respect, use of the computers must be related to the work of the library. I know a University library where the on-line catalogues are clogged by students using on-line gambling, e-bay and other sites on the computers meant for library work such as search the catalogue or accessing things such as JSTOR. Library Staff cannot police the misuse of computers in this way so maybe filters would be useful in getting students to use the library as a research tool.

    Besides if someone has a burning desire to research the porn industry or on-line gambling they can do it at home or maybe there is a way for filters to be lifted for authorised users (a serious study into porn would at least have to pass an ethics committee review).

    I don’t however support filtering of my own personal use of my computers (yes I have more computers than hands)because it is inefficient and violates free speech. The Australian Government is keen to justify national filtering based on the worst sites on the net but the guns issues discussed in Jessamyn’s post is interesting as it demonstrates the “scope creep” of internet censorship.


  5. I used to be anti filtering until the porn guys have taken over our library. The privacy screens don’t work and it’s really hardcore stuff. Other patrons complain and we can’t do a thing about it. Arrghh!

  6. Some other things to note:

    There are 28 libraries in the NCRL system; 14 of them serve as the de facto school libraries for their school districts. 16 of them only have one computer in the building. Most of them are very small libraries, in very small communities (the largest about 2000 sq ft).

    These libraries are essential to these small communities where people can’t afford broadband and where kids need a quiet place to study.

    This case determined that libraries have the right to filter, not that they have to filter, and I think that any decision that gives more choice and local control to libraries is a good thing.

    Consider: half of these libraries are school libraries; no one in their right mind would ever say that people should be able to surf porn on a school library computer …

  7. Even if the public libraries serve as the de facto school libraries for an area, they are still public libraries. Just because they are also school libraries does not mean that no materials unsuited for a school library should be found there. Adults who live in an area often have different needs than children. Limiting their access to only information suitable for children is not acceptable.

    Most of the time when I am called over to deal with my library’s filter, it is mistakenly filtering out perfectly innocent things like a local car dealership, the local Board of Education page (no kidding), the local marching band’s page of pictures, etc. Once it was filtering a website for survivers of rape and incest. Several times it has been filtering big sites with lots of content like MTV or youtube. Usually we just adjust the filter to allow the site.

    I can’t think of the last time I was asked to disable the filter, since the only thing ours *should* be filtering is porn, and our policy has always been (with or without a filter) that pornography falls outside the collection scope of the library and cannot be viewed on the library computers. Anyone doing so will be asked to stop, and if they continue will be asked to leave. That’s been written into the library’s collection and computer and Internet use policies for longer than I’ve been here.

  8. Although we don’t have filters on our public computers, our users all need to sign agreements stating that they will not go on “inappropriate” sites. If they do they will be banned from using the computers until further notice. The adult computers are in an area where all of our patrons and staff can easily see the content being viewed. Like someone else already mentioned, filters sometimes filter too much, so I like our policy where we have all agreed upon what content is inappropriate. Porn is obviously not. A few weeks ago, a young adult was viewing porn and touching himself. The staff didn’t notice but we were informed by a much-disturbed patron. I told him he could not do that here and he left the library in a hurry. Another regular patron told us that he had been doing this every day for quite a while. This means that the staff had not been noticing it at all and that it had been going on for quite a while in full view of little children. I know that the image was forever burned into my memory so I can imagine how disturbing it must be for any kids that might have happened to walk by. That is the downside to our policy.

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