Blocking sex sites in a library

Removable filters: Carroll County system chooses safe road between censorship, child protection.

January 27, 1999

THE DECISION by the library system in Carroll County to block pornography on its public-access computers may fly in the face of the American Library Association's view that such filtering amounts to censorship. It may be rare among library systems in Maryland, most of which don't filter or do so sparingly. But that doesn't make the action wrong.

The decision in Carroll, one of the best-used and best-funded library systems in the state, is sound recognition that both children and adults use the Internet, and that protection of minors should be a significant concern.

That policy notwithstanding, Carroll patrons can ask a librarian to turn off the filter to further a particular search. Or they can ask for librarian help in finding a desired topic or Internet site. It's no different than asking a librarian for a valuable reference work that is kept behind the desk.

Public libraries don't stock explicit pornography. The community doesn't expect them to. The private sector fills that demand.

Libraries have children's sections; some advise young patrons that certain materials may be "too advanced" for their use. That's not censorship or paternalism, either.

Computers placed in libraries for Internet access are a convenience, a useful facility, but not an absolute right. "Appropriate use" is a justifiable public standard. Internet access is available at home from private providers.

Internet computers are access machines. Without filters, the information they retrieve is unrestricted by policies, codes or rules of the particular library system that provides the machines.

The idea of segregating children's Internet computers from adult terminals is one solution. But it involves a lot of oversight by librarians. And it is a costly, duplicative method for financially strapped public libraries.

Internet filters are not foolproof, but they are a good screening tool. And removable Internet filters balance the library's attention to privacy and freedom of information.

Pub Date: 1/27/99

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