Posted by Lori Ayre on March 15, 2004

Filtering and Filter Software - the dynamically titled manuscript I authored for ALA's Library Technology Reports is now out and available. Turns out it was a labor of love more than anything else. Here's why...(from the intro):

I do not take the position that filters should not be used in libraries. Nor do I take the position that filters should be used in libraries. Management of Internet access, including the use of filters or not, is a decision most appropriately made by each library based on the needs of the local community.

I come to this issue recognizing the importance of the U.S. Constitution and the protections provided, particularly by the Bill of Rights. These protections are under attack and all citizens, not just librarians, are obligated to challenge policies that legitimize censorship or lead to loss of privacy.

Fear pervades our culture and drives our policies today?fear of international terrorism, fear of online predators, fear of people and values different from our own. Laws such as the Children?s International Protection Act (CIPA) and the USA PATRIOT Act have emerged in response to these fears. Some people are of the mistaken belief that technology can solve problems that are better addressed with education, training, celebration of diversity, and policies that encourage cooperation and understanding rather than mistrust and isolation.

I also come to this issue as a technologist who is painfully aware of the limits of technology. I see software companies market their filtering products as CIPAcompliant and as filter solutions when they are, at best, imperfect responses to a complex, highly subjective problem.

The values represented by our libraries and the services being provided in our
libraries are critical to our society. Literacy, access to information, tolerance,
love of learning, community?these values are all represented in library programs. Thankfully, as fear pervades other institutions, libraries continue to focus on the positive.

Librarians face many decisions regarding filtering. They can eschew E-rate
discounts or they can comply. They can attempt to follow the letter of the law
or they can use filters to block obscenity, child pornography, and more.
How any given library responds to these choices must be made locally. This
report clarifies the issues associated with filtering in libraries and provides the
information each library needs to decide whether to filter, and if applicable
how to do it in a way that conforms to library values.