guest commentary
library filters
by arlene sawicki
may 4, 2004, 09:40

after several years of public debate, the controversy over whether to filter taxpayer-funded computers in our public libraries rumbles on.  while some local libraries in our communities have installed filtering safeguards [mostly on children's computers] many library boards refuse to even consider filters, claiming that doing so violates the first amendment free access to all information or that filtering software has not yet reached perfection.


our communities should find this apparent reluctance unacceptable.  they should find the fact that federal funding will be jeopardized by their libraries unwillingness to cooperate with federal guidelines for the children's internet protection act [2000] in filtering obscenity out of both adult and children's terminals. *


it is my understanding that parents in some communities are not even allowed to ask questions about filtering safeguards from their library boards.  this parental restriction would be consistent with another strange "privacy" policy recommended by the american library association that parents are not permitted entry into their children's library records.  the question begs asking, just how "family friendly" are our area public libraries?


we all value our taxpayer funded community libraries and treasure the variety of information, programs and services it offers.  libraries bring the world to our doorstep and our librarians are instrumental in aiding our thirst for knowledge.  but who is really in control of library policies?


whether we are aware of it or not, the american library association [ala], which is a private organization of librarians with no legal or governmental authority, has systematically taken control of how our community libraries are run.  they set the agenda, they dictate the policies.  a visit to their web site will inform you that the ala, which is strongly influenced by the aclu, is very much concerned about first amendment rights, civil liberties, freedom to read and privacy policies - as they interpret them.


the ala has come under heated criticism the last few years as it adamantly opposes the filtering of library computers, citing first amendment and freedom of access rights.  the ala even challenged the children's internet protection act on constitutional grounds and lost its case when the supreme court, in "united states v. the american library association" [june 23, 2003] ruled that filtering computers does not violate their patron's constitutional rights.  resource:  *


the ala presents itself as a champion for "civil rights," however in challenging a federal law that would protect the safety of children using the internet, many judged this radical move as an irresponsible attempt at civil disobedience and a violation of "citizen's rights."


the ala's web site once contained a link to a sexually-explicit educational resource aimed at children entitled "go ask alice," which came under public scrutiny and fire by talk-show host dr. laura schlessinger.  the ala had also offered children advice on how to work around or undo filtering devices that their parents have installed on home computers.  these actions speak volumes regarding this organization's liberal social agenda, which clearly undermines parental authority.


the ala's misguided idea that the first amendment protects all forms of speech is patently false.  state and federal obscenity laws are in place that restrict the distribution of illegal, obscene matter [as ruled by the supreme court in "miller v. california" 1973].  resource:  transmitting obscenity and child pornography, whether via the internet or other means, is illegal under federal law for both adults and juveniles.  see: 18 u.s.c. sections 1462-1465; section 2251.


in october, 2003, president bush increased federal efforts to promote online safety against the exploitation of children using the internet.  he expressed his commitment by stating, "anyone who targets a child for harm will be a primary target of law enforcement.  anyone who takes the life or innocence of a child, will be punished to the full extent of the law."


should the ala and our libraries hold themselves above the law?


let us consider the following points:  there is nothing written in the first amendment that mandates libraries to provide obscene or illegal materials to its patrons - adults or children - at the taxpayer's expense.  the library does not function as an internet service provider.  its internet privileges should not be regarded as an "electronic sanctuary" for illegal activity.  the library does not collect pornography in print;  that selective policy should be extended to pornography by internet.  it should not facilitate and aid the porn industry in distributing and profiting from illegal trafficking - a predicate offense under r.i.c.o. (title 18, section 1961-1968).

the protection of children from exposure to lewd and harmful materials should be a matter of compelling and prioritized community interest. the board of directors has a fiduciary duty to be open to community involvement and input.  an adult library patron has no individual entitlement to access obscene materials on public access internet.  library patrons, and employees have the right to be protected from a sexually hostile work environment, which would not be the case if adults are allowed to arouse themselves by viewing sexually-explicit materials. [see:  "dangerous access"] 


in short, the public dissemination of illegal obscene material or child pornography is inconsistent with the library's prime mission and respect for community standards.


my recommendation to all taxpayer-funded public library boards is to uphold the highest standards of safety and protection to the community by installing the best computer filtering software available today—on both adult and children's computers.  filtering is not "censorship," it is the application of common sense and decency—despite what the american library association would compel their members to do.


if library patrons are seeking pornographic materials, they have the "freedom to read" in the "privacy" of their own homes and on their own dime.



arlene sawicki - is a catholic lay activist on pro-life and pro-family issues in the state of illinois.  she serves as the vice-president of the coalition on abortion/breast cancer -, she is the co-founder of vote life america, and is a member of citizens for community values, illinois federation right to life  and illinois choose life license plate committee

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