"People truly believe that filters work, but only because they haven’t looked at the research or tried one out themselves. If there were filters that didn’t overblock or underblock, I’d be the first in line to take a look at them. But the software is fallible. And turning over an entire community’s freedom of information access to a known-failed software system is just about the most foolish thing any library could choose to do."

Excerpted from Houghton-Jan, Sarah (May 2010) Why Internet Filters Don't Work and Why Libraries Who Filter are Wrong. Librarian In Black.

The above is from article focused on adults and public libraries; what about children and young adults?

man with no signChildren shouldn't have access to the Internet.

Students should learn to be responsible users of the Internet.

Filtering software makes the Internet safe for children.

These are the kinds of remarks you may hear as you listen to conversations about filtering software in school libraries. You need to be informed about the current status of filtering issues to be able to make informed recommendations to your administration and school board.

What is filtering and what are the issues?

Internet filtering is the act of limiting access to information on the Internet. It involves censoring information based on specific criteria.

In 1997, the United States Supreme Court stated that communications over the Internet are protected under the First Amendment. They stated that libraries can make content available on the Internet by applying the same Constitutional protections that relate to books and other media. They stated that the required use of software filters to block protected speech violates the US Constitution.

Under the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) libraries and school receiving federal assistance for Internet access or grants under the Library Services Technology Act must have in place a policy that includes the user of "a 'technology protection measure' on Internet-connected computers that protects against access by all persons to 'visual depictions' that are 'obscene' or 'child pornography,' and that protects against access by minors to 'visual depictions' that are 'harmful to minors'".

In 2003, the United States Supreme Court ruled that mandatory filtering in public libraries does not violate the First Amendment. Learn more at First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University and the Newseum.

eye means readRead(1) Statement on Library Use of Filtering Software,
(2) Resolution on Opposition to Federally Mandated Internet Filtering, and
(3) the Resolution on the Use of Filtering Software in Libraries all from the American Library Association.

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What is filtering software?

Filtering software is a program used on the web server to :

"The Children's Internet Protection Act requires Information Technology (IT) officers to have some type of filter in place in their schools. Many IT directors set up a filter that locks Internet access down so tight that a certain amount of learning is stifled and limited. The ultimate goal is to allow learners access to age-appropriate information while still protecting them and the network from threats."

Excerpted from Huber, Joe (2005). Internet Filtering Update (Access requires login). Media & Methods; 41(5), 16-17. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.

Filtering software DO/DOES -

Filtering software DOES NOT -

eye means readRead about Filters and Filtering from the American Library Association. This website links to many useful articles and resources on this topic.

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Why is filtering software a problem for school libraries?

A school library is a publicly supported library as well as a publicly supported school department. Anything that restricted access to information based on viewpoint or content discrimination violates the First Amendment. Blocking software not only limits access to "objectionable" content, it also prevents access to works protected by the First Amendment and important for learning such as works of art, music, health information, and multiple perspectives.

A primary role of the teacher librarian is to assist students in making informed decisions about their informational needs and their own learning. Filters take away that role by making the decisions about what is acceptable and not acceptable information.

eye means readRead Callister, Jr. T. A. and Burbules, Nicholas C. (May 2004). Just Give It to Me Straight: A Case Against Filtering the Internet (Login required to access PDF full text). Phi Delta Kappan; 85(9), 649-655.
The authors cite four reasons why parents and schools should reconsider the use of Internet filters. First, and most simply, filters don't work as advertised.

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What questions should be asked before getting filtering software?

Many companies provide filtering services. Schools need to carefully examine and compare systems before buying. Ask the following questions:

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Are there any alternatives to filtering systems?

Today's schools that receive federal funding must meet two requirements of the CIPA legislation:

Federal funded schools are required to have Internet filtering software; however, the filter software can be set open or closed for specific web resources as preferred.

Acceptable Use Policy. Your school and school library should have an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) that states what is acceptable in terms of network and Internet use. Students, teachers, and parents should be aware of the contents of this policy.

Read Checklist for Creating an Internet Use Policy. Although this article focuses on libraries of all kinds, it will be useful in developing your school policy.

Student Supervision. When students are supervised, the teacher can guide students to make responsible decisions about Internet use.

Pathfinders. Many schools are limiting student use of the Internet to specific pathfinders and websites that have been developed by educators to meet particular curricular needs.

Responsible Use. Helping students to become responsible users of information is an important role of teacher librarians.

Read Libraries and the Internet Toolkit from the American Library Association for ideas on helping students responsible users of Internet.

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Check Your Understanding

"To a large degree, CIPA (the Children’s Internet Protection Act) has taken the decision to use or not use Internet filters out of the hands of local decision makers. Districts who receive federal funding, including E-rate telecommunications discounts, must install and use an Internet filtering device to be in compliance. Yet a strong commitment to intellectual freedom on the part of the SLMS is possible even in a filtered environment."

Excerpted from Johnson, Doug (2004). Lessons School Librarians Teach Others. American Libraries.

Explore the resources found at Censorship & First Amendment Issues.

Visit Banned Websites Awareness Day (Sept) at the American Association of School Libraries.

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Make It Real

student at computerThe school board would like you to discuss the pros and cons to filtering systems.

Are online video sites such as YouTube blocked at your school? How about blogsites?

Can you get a specific resource unblocked if needed for teaching and learning?

Is the process completed in a timely manner?

Conversely, are you able to request that a website be blocked?

What are your recommendations?

Read More About It

Children's Internet Protection Act at Wikipedia
Requires schools and public libraries use Internet filters as a condition for the receipt of certain federal funding.

Get Net Wise
A public service of Internet industry corporations and public interest organizations to help ensure that Internet users have safe, constructive, and educational or entertaining online experiences. 

Internet Free Expression Alliance
Working to keep the Internet as forum for open, diverse, and unimpeded expression.

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