I find almost everything that Mr. Trump says objectionable. I consider him offensive and bigoted. But he has my full support to come to my country and be offensive and bigoted there. His freedom to speak protects my freedom to call him a bigot. J.K. Rowling
ALA Library Code of Ethics Statement II: We uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources.
Technology has opened floodgates of information into schools, primarily by way of the Internet. Along with marvelous resources on topics of curricular and personal interest, the flotsam and sewage of the Internet has become readily available as well. Materials and ideas that had been in the past physically inaccessible to students now can be viewed at the click of mouse button.
The potential of student access to unsavory and possibly unsafe materials on the Internet has made the support of intellectual freedom both more challenging and more important. It is difficult to justify a resource that allows the accidental viewing of graphic sexual acts by second-graders searching for information on “beavers” or communications by an anorexic teen with fellow anorexics who encourage the continuation of the disorder. Defending unfiltered Internet access seems quite different from defending The Catcher in Rye.
Yet the concept of intellectual freedom as expressed in both ALA’s “Library Bill of Rights” and “Freedom to Read” statements is as relevant to information in electronic formats as it is in print:
We trust Americans to recognize propaganda and misinformation, and to make their own decisions about what they read and believe. We do not believe they need the help of censors to assist them in this task.
Although the educational level and program of the school necessarily shapes the resources and services of a school library media program, the principles of the Library Bill of Rights apply equally to all libraries, including school library media programs.
While it must be recognized that preventing access to pornographic or unsafe materials is the reason given by those who advocate restricted access to the Internet in schools, there are political motivations behind such attempts to require blocking and monitoring software as well. The fight for intellectual freedom in schools is more important today than ever.
To a 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 librarian is possible even in a filtered environment.
Internet filtering can have a wide range of restrictiveness. Depending on the product, the product’s settings, and the ability to override the filter to permit access to individual sites, filters can either block a high percentage of the Internet resources (specific websites, email, chat rooms, etc.) or a relatively small number of sites, narrowly defined. In our role as proponents of intellectual freedom, we need to strongly advocate for the least restrictive settings and generous use of override lists in our Internet filters. We need to make sure that at least one machine that is completely unblocked is available to the librarian so that questionably blocked sites can be reviewed and immediately accessed by staff and students if found to be useful.
Librarians also have the ethical responsibility to help ensure patrons use the Internet in acceptable ways by:
- Helping write and enforce the district’s Acceptable Use Policy
- Developing and teaching the values needed to be self-regulating Internet users
- Supervising computers with Internet access and making sure all adults who monitor networked computers are knowledgeable about the Internet
- Educating and informing parents and the public about school Internet uses and issues
- Creating a learning environment that promotes the use of the Internet for accomplishing resource-based activities to meet curricular objectives
I have to admit that after crusading for nearly six years for filter-free Internet access for my school district and then being forced by CIPA to install a filter, the sun still rises. And in some sense, I believe our schools are more ethically responsible for using a limited filtering system that keeps the little ones from accidentally accessing inappropriate websites. When configured and monitored as accurately as possible, our filter becomes a selection, rather than censorship tool.