echoes sentinel

u.s. supreme court's porn decision is too restrictive for libraries

31 july 2003

editor:

according to last week's article, "library mulls anti-porn filter ruling," the library board of trustees met to discuss how a recent united states supreme court decision would affect our public library.

the reported results of that meeting indicate to me that citizens should insist that the trustees revise our public library's internet usage policy to comply with the supreme court decision and not with promulgations of the american library association [ala].  further, our public library's computers should be filtered to protect our children from inappropriate material.

it's time our library's policy be aligned with our community's wishes, not with the ala's pronouncements.

the case of u.s. v. ala, a 6-3 united states supreme court decision dated june 23, 2003, found that a public library's use of the internet filtering software does not violate anyone's first amendment rights.  internet access is provided for the same reasons other library resources are offered, namely the furnishing of materials of requisite and appropriate quality, and not for the creation of a public forum.

the exclusion of pornography from print collections is essentially the same as the exclusion of pornography from an internet terminal.  concerns that filtering software may "overblock" are easily overcome by the ease with which the filtering software can be disabled.  further, the court said there is no clearly superior or better fitting alternative to internet filtering software.

most importantly, even though this was a 6-3 decision, it appears the following was essentially a 9-0 decision: "the interest in protecting young library users from material inappropriate for minors is legitimate,and even compelling, as all members of the court appear to agree."

arline most, our excellent librarian and director for many years, is reported to have said the morris county library system consortia may have "major problems" if all consortia members must install filters.  she said the ala will soon answer the question of how the consortia should operate under the court's ruling.

the ala is then described as an organization providing leadership for the development, promotion, and improvement of libraries and librarians.

most said that only if filtering software is required will filters be installed, but she would still arrange for three unfiltered computers near the circulation desk for adult access only, if that is legal.

i respect the hard work that most has done for our public library.  however, given the supreme court's 9-0 decision that protecting young library users from inappropriate material is a compelling interest, exactly why would the consortia have " major problems" with installing filters to protect these young library users?  and why would unfiltered computers be allowed knowing, as the supreme court case reports, that adults use unfiltered library computers to access pornography that is then exposed to staff, passersby, and children?  worse, with the ala having lost the supreme court case, exactly why would anyone trust the ala to answer questions about how the consortia should comply with the supreme court ruling?  isn't that like the fox running the chicken coop?

after all, the ala believes children may have access to pornography because it would be "age discrimination" to keep them from seeing it.

let me repeat that unbelievable statement, the ala believes "age discrimination" would result if children were not allowed to see pornography in the library.  it is in their so-called "library bill of rights."  "v. a person's right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of age."  see www.ala.org/work/freedom/lbr.html.

the ala claims that children should have access to any material including pornography so they can become "thinking adults" and an "informed electorate."  see www.ala.org/ala/oif/statementspols/statementsif/interpretations/qandaaccesselectronic.htm.

closer to home, our own public library's "internet policy" is diametrically opposed to the supreme court decision.� see www.gti.net/lhtlib/policy.htm.� the policy states, "electronic information, services, and networks provided by libraries should be readily, equally, and equitably accessible to all library users."

that means our local public library agrees with the ala that children should have access to all material including pornography.  but the supreme court has agreed 9-0 that children should be protected from pornography.

further, "information retrieved or utilized electronically should be considered constitutionally protected unless determined otherwise by a court with appropriate jurisdiction."  well, it seems "a court with appropriate jurisdiction" has found internet filters do not violate anyone's first amendment rights.

now we also learn from the supreme court that the exclusion of pornography from print collections is essentially the same as the exclusion of pornography from an internet terminal.  as the court states, "a library's need to exercise judgment in making collection decisions depends on its traditional role in identifying suitable and worthwhile material; it is no less entitled to play that role when it collects material from the internet than when it collects material from any other source."

contrast this to our own public library's policy wherein the library admits unfiltered computers exceed its own collection development policies:  "because the internet is a vast and unregulated information network, it also enables access to ideas, information, images and commentary beyond the confines of the library's collection, mission, selection criteria and collection development policies."

then we read in the internet policy, "libraries and librarians should not deny or limit access to information available via electronic resources because of its controversial content or because of personal beliefs or fear of confrontation."

recall that the supreme court ruled that internet access is to provide materials of requisite and appropriate quality, not to create a public forum where its most-likely controversial content like pornography can be found.

the policy states, "responsibility for, and any restriction of, a child's use of the internet rests solely with his or her parents or legal guardians."

thanks to the supreme court decision, it appears public libraries receiving federal funds are now responsible for the restriction of a child's access to pornography, not just the parents.


many parents who would otherwise protect their children from pornography are not aware of our public library's permissive policy.  i run a business finding and removing pornography from children's computers; there is no shortage of customers.  hopefully, parents will start exercising control on the township level by attending library board of trustee meetings and asking questions.  should the ala decide our public library's internet policy or shall parents and all other residents of the township?  is our library's policy a direct contradiction of the supreme court case?  should our library's policy be redrafted in a way that respects the supreme court's decision, considers guidance from unbiased sources as opposed to policies created by the ala, and protects children from accessing pornography or from seeing pornography accessed by others at unfiltered computers?  are unfiltered computers a magnet for criminals?  recall how our library's unfiltered computers attracted a criminal who committed a sexual crime; he was reported to the police by a library patron, not by library staff.  it is time the library policy be changed and all library computers be filtered.  it is time for citizens to get involved to make sure our library follows the supreme court's decision and our own wishes, and not the ala's positions.

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