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why the library board must filter all internet computers

7 sep 2004

editor, long hill township committee, and lht library board of trustees:

on september 15, the long hill township, nj library board of trustees will be holding their last meeting in which they will be accepting input from the public on computer internet filtering.  we urge everyone to attend the meeting.  although some of us cannot attend that evening, we are providing our comments below.

as it stands now, the board is leaning heavily toward filtering only those computers intended to be used by children.  the board has received most of its guidance from the american library association known as the ala.  in the past the board members refused to filter at all and felt the public was not sophisticated enough to understand the legal implications of filtering internet computers.  under pressure from the plan2succeed citizen's group, they now seem to be leaning toward filtering some computers, but likely only as a means to blunt our call for a public ballot question as to whether the residents want to filter all computers.  without further pressure from the public, pornography will still be easily available on the "adult" computers, and this pornography might attract criminals into the library like it has all over the usa.

the experiences of other communities have proven that libraries that have filtered children's computers but not the "adult" computers continue to be subject to criminal activity that results in direct harm to children, their families, and the community as a whole.  while children are much less likely to see pornography on their own screens, adults still see plenty then molest the children who are using the library's resources.  on the other hand, libraries that once filtered only the children's computers but then, after public pressure, filtered all computers have found the transition to be easy, with no complaints from the librarians or the public.  articles upon which these statements are based are at http://www.plan2succeed.org/examples.html.  our community should skip the "children's only" step and go to a fully filtered library.

the ala is the organization that largely guides our own board.  the ala's web site is quite extensive on the subject.  more importantly, it has a so-called "library bill of rights" that proclaims that "age" may not be used as a means to discriminate against children who wish to view pornography.  they go further and produce lists of books that contain pornographic selections for children of all grade levels.  our own library expressly approves of the ala's "library bill of rights."  my own child was given a pornographic book on the fourth day of kindergarten in public school;  i was told the public school librarian gave it to her because it was on an ala list of books for kindergartners.  the principal had it removed from the library saying it was twice as inappropriate as what i reported.

the us supreme court case of us v. ala held that "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."  so by a 9-0 decision, the us supreme court found that the ala's view that age may not be used to discriminate against children is unconstitutional.  our library, while arguing it would be unconstitutional to filter all computers, is expressly following an unconstitutional directive from the ala, a union of librarians.  our library should stop following the ala's "library bill of rights" until it comes into compliance with the law.  residents need to decide whether they and our board should be advised by the us supreme court or the unconstitutional proclamations of a union of librarians that our own board takes as gospel.

regarding the ala's web site being used by the board to guide its actions, it is out of date in many places and provides guidance that is the complete opposite of the law and controlling judicial decisions.  we have found numerous examples of this and we reported it to the ala.  the ala actually corrected some of the pages in response but incorrect, outdated information is still posted despite notification.

this may in part be the reason why librarians across the usa are making arguments before the public in their own communities that are completely in opposition to the law.  for example, they argue filters are censorship while the us supreme court ruled they are not.  we have noticed this in phoenix, az, and multnomah county, or, among others.  because the latter is the very library at the heart of us v. ala, its adherents should know better than to make arguments the total opposite of what the us supreme court ruled.  therefore, combining this information with the ala's refusal to continue correcting its web site, especially since the us v. ala case is over a year old, it is our opinion the ala and librarians are intentionally misrepresenting the state of the law in an effort to get the public to think that they don't want internet filters.  our own board is similarly using these very tactics to misinform the residents, gently guiding them to make the choice the board itself would have made.

to set the record straight, here are the holdings of us v. ala, and notice the following applies whether or not a library accepts federal funding:

"[p]ublic libraries' use of internet filtering software does not violate their patrons' first amendment rights...."  "internet access in public libraries is neither a 'traditional' nor a 'designated' public forum."  "[a] library provides [internet] access for the same reasons it offers other library resources: to facilitate research, learning, and recreational pursuits by furnishing materials of requisite and appropriate quality.  the fact that a library reviews and affirmatively chooses to acquire every book in its collection, but does not review every web site that it makes available, is not a constitutionally relevant distinction."  "concerns over filtering software's tendency to erroneously 'overblock' access to constitutionally protected speech that falls outside the categories software users intend to block are dispelled by the ease with which patrons may have the filtering software disabled."  "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."

lastly, let us anticipate the arguments of our board members against filtering all computers.  they will argue that filters are censorship, they violate the first amendment, and/or they discriminate against children because of age.  they will argue their decision is based on independent analysis that outweighs the input of the ala and that reflects our own community.  they will argue that we are "fear mongering" because the likelihood of a crime occurring in our library is almost nil, and the repeated molestations across the usa are just anomalies.  they will argue that we are misleading you, not vice versa, and that we are censorship nuts trying to take away your right to see whatever you want.  they will argue we are "liberal opportunists" merely trying to make names for ourselves.  they will argue that us v. ala does not apply to our library since federal funding is not used (as if libraries that do not accept federal funding are therefore required to allow children access to pornography).  they will argue that parents only are responsible for their own children, society in general owes nothing, and parents must supervise children unceasingly.  can anyone think of any other good excuses to attack the messenger while ignoring the law of the land?

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plan2succeed citizen's group is a grass roots non-profit organization dedicated to placing on the ballot a public question as to whether or not internet filters should be installed on all computers in our public library, to informing the public nationwide about the ala's efforts to mislead the public regarding internet filters and to push pornography on children, and to focusing the efforts of many other grass roots groups nationwide to address the source of our common problems, namely, the ala.  we urge our board to filter all computers, to update the internet use policy, and to stop following the ala's "library bill of rights" until it comes into compliance with the law.  please contact us with questions or to join us at http://www.plan2succeed.org/ where this article will be posted with hyperlinks backing up all statements (http://www.plan2succeed.org/p2s009.html).

plan2succeed citizen's group
http://www.plan2succeed.org/
641 shunpike rd #123
chatham, nj 07928

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