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American Library Association statement on library use of filtering software

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From the Spring 2001 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 57.

From the Spring 2001 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 57.

* Publicly supported libraries are governmental institutions subject to the First Amendment, which forbids them from restricting information based on viewpoint or content discrimination.

* Libraries are places of inclusion rather than exclusion. Current blocking/filtering software not only prevents access to what some may consider “objectionable” material, but also blocks information protected by the First Amendment. The result is that legal and useful material will inevitably be blocked.

* Filters can impose the producer’s viewpoint on the community.

* Producers do not generally reveal what is blocked, or provide methods to reach sites that were inadvertently blocked.

* Criteria used to block content are vaguely defined and subjectively applied.

* Blocking/filtering software often blocks materials it is not designed to block.

* Most blocking/filtering software was designed for the home market and was intended to respond to the preferences of parents making decisions for their children. As these products have moved into the library market, they have created a dissonance with the basic mission of libraries. Libraries are responsible for serving a broad and diverse community with different preferences and views. Blocking Internet sites is antithetical to library missions because it requires the library to limit information access.

* Filtering all Internet access is a one-size-fits-all “solution,” which cannot adapt to the varying ages and maturity levels of individual users.

* A role of librarians is to advise and assist users in selecting information resources. Parents and only parents have the right and responsibility to restrict their own children’s access — and only their own children’s access — to library resources, including the Internet. Librarians do not serve in loco parentis.

* Library use of blocking/filtering software creates an implied contract with parents that their children will not be able to access material on the Internet that they do not wish their children to read or view. Libraries will be unable to fulfill this implied contract, due to the technological limitations of the software.

* Laws prohibiting the production or distribution of child pornography and obscenity apply to the Internet. These laws provide protection for libraries and their users.