To Filter or Not to Filter:
The Role of Public Librarians in Determining Internet Access
Librarian's Role
Children and Harm
Legal Issues
Library Solutions
Links to free speech, filter, and porn sites

At issue is whether Congress can mandate that public libraries install Internet filtering software in an attempt to prevent minors from accessing sexually explicit content and other materials deemed "harmful."


To filter or not to filter--that is the question facing public librarians who must decide if they can legally restrict patrons' access to constitutionally-protected offensive web sites that some may deem "harmful." The web sites causing the most controversy between librarians and Congress are those containing sexually explicit material.

The American Library Association's (ALA) Bill of Rights emphasizes access to information and opposes the use of filtering software in libraries.

While court cases have established that the government has a compelling interest in protecting minors from harm, the concepts of and belief about childhood and what is considered harmful to children have changed over time.

For two years, Congress has been trying to tie federal funding of public library and public school computer and Internet access into the mandatory installation of Internet filters. However, the use of filtering software in libraries raises both constitutional and practical issues.

Rather than censor Internet speech, a three-pronged approach would balance adults' rights to access constitutionally-protected speech, while at the same time protecting minors from harm, based on the family, rather than the government, determining what their children can access at public libraries.


To Filter or Not to Filter: The Role of Public Librarians in Determining Internet Access
Copyright (C) 1999 by Barbara H. Smith, University of Florida

All rights reserved. No portion of this document may be reproduced without the written consent of the author.

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