My thoughts on updating the filtering policy

A few months ago, we began discussing in the Policy Committee our thoughts on updating the filtering policy (or policies actually). This discussion was kicked off by a desire by some trustees to revisit the topic following the decision in the so-called North Central Library case. In that case, the federal court (and state Supreme Court) held the North Central Library system could filter all computers, no exceptions.

Here is a story in the Daily World detailing our discussion so far.

Here are some documents that are part of our packet this month’s meeting, where filtering will be a topic.

Here are my thoughts in no particular order:

1. I’m fine with the current policies. I think they strike a balance between personal freedom of thought and public safety. Currently we filter somewhere around 60 percent of the public computers, with the remaining 40 percent with privacy techniques and the possibility that the default filter could be turned off. All of our computers in childrens’ areas are also filtered with no option to turn it off.

2. We always filter for child pornography, malware and software that could circumvent the filter in the first place.

3. Where I think we fail in our policies is explaining how we might make one particular branch all-filtered, no exceptions. In two cases (Elma and Salkum), TRL staff have removed the option to unfilter computers because of a risk to public safety. These decisions were made with board knowledge. While our policies are written broadly enough to allow for this practice, we should spell it out.

4. And, while I’m at it, just this final thought: let’s get beyond talking about filtering computers. Filters and censorware are obviously part of the library landscape. For now I think we’ve found a good balance between the rights and needs of our patrons and the sensibilities of our public. But, I don’t to make this filtering discussion the only time we get to talk about the internet on the board level.

If we think the internet is so bad it needs to be filtered, let’s get focused on making the internet a better place. More edit-a-thons, more answering questions on Yahoo Answers (or Metafilter or Reddit). More of embracing the internet and less keeping it at arms length.

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2 Comments

Filed under policies

2 responses to “My thoughts on updating the filtering policy

  1. For those of you who may not want to take the time to hunt around for it, here’s the TRL statement about what they do and do not try to block when they filter adults’ Internet access:

    Filtered Internet – This is the default setting for all patrons and staff. It blocks the following:
     Child pornography – Sites that host child pornography and pedophilia-related content. Includes the list from the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF).
     Pornography – Sites containing sexually explicit text or depictions.
     Adult – Sites directed to adults, but not necessarily pornographic sites (strip clubs, escort services, strippers; adult products; information about sex not in the context of health or disease)
     Tasteless or obscene – Sites that offer tasteless, often gory photographs, such as autopsy photos, photos of crime scenes, or crime or accident victims; sites displaying excessive obscene material.
     Non-sexual nudity – Sites showing nudism/nudity; nudist camps; artistic nudes; material that may be sexually provocative but not depicting sexual activity.
     Filter avoidance – Sites that promote and aid undetectable and anonymous web usage. These sites would let patrons bypass the IronPort proxy server.
     Security threats – Sites that have been identified as being unsafe because they pose a high risk of infecting computers with viruses or other malware, of distributing spam or hosting a phishing site.

    TRL does not block gambling, gun, hate or other sites that may be objectional to some.

    TRL does not block sites that have nudity if they are educational or health related sites.

    I’m not sure how the librarians decided that “artistic nudity” and “material that may be sexually provocative but not depicting sexual activity” are not “educational”. I would think that an awful lot of famous art and literature falls under one or both of those categories…

  2. PS. Apparently, TRL’s position is also that material that’s only about how you might enjoy sex more (rather than about how you might avoid disease and stay healthy) is not “educational”, since they block sites with “information about sex not in the context of health or disease”, but they don’t block sites with nudity if they are “educational.”

    I certainly hope that the system will continue to allow local libraries to make their own decisions about this issue rather than imposing the views of the Board members from Centralia and Elma on every library in the region….

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