There are advantages and disadvantages of Internet filtering in libraries. Even though there are some potential drawbacks to filtering the Internet, an increasing number of libraries in the United States are now opting to use a web filtering solution.
What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Internet Filtering in Libraries?
Controlling the types of content that can be accessed via library computers has sparked many debates. The American Library Association (ALA) for instance does not recommend Internet filtering. The problem, according to ALA, is that blocking Internet content in libraries “compromises First Amendment freedoms and the core values of librarianship.”
While it is true that libraries are institutions for learning, restricting access to certain types of website content is particularly important to ensure that children are protected. Unrestricted access to the Internet means minors could all too easily view imagery that could cause harm: Pornography for instance.
The ALA says it is better to tackle the problem of inappropriate Internet access with educational programs rather than restricting access. While the ALA understands that children should be protected from obscene and other potentially harmful website content, teaching children how to use the Internet correctly – and how to search for information – is viewed as a reasonable measure to limit harm.
However, for adults, training is likely to prove less effective. If an adult wishes to access illegal or inappropriate website content, acceptable usage policies and educational programs may not prove effective. Children may also choose to ignore library rules and access inappropriate content.
While many Americans have welcomed the use of Internet filtering in libraries to restrict access to obscene or illegal material, there has been concern raised about how the use of Internet filters could potentially limit access to ideas and valuable information. The main disadvantage of controlling Internet access in libraries is not the restriction of access to certain types of web content that have little to no educational value, but the overblocking of website content.
Some Internet filtering solutions lack granular controls which make it easy for libraries to inadvertently restrict access to valuable material. One example would be blocking of sexual content. Blocking sexual content would prevent pornography from being viewed, but potentially also valuable information on sex education: Sexually transmitted diseases or information on LGBT issues for instance. However, with the right solution, it is possible to carefully control Internet content without accidentally blocking valuable educational material.
Internet Content Filtering Helps Libraries Meet Digital Inclusion Goals
The debate over the advantages and disadvantages of Internet filtering in libraries is likely to go on for some time to come, although for many libraries the decision is now becoming less about First Amendment freedoms and more about money.
Libraries face considerable financial pressures, which can be eased with state and federal grants. The Children’s Internet Protection Act requires libraries to implement an Internet filter to block obscene images, child pornography, and other imagery that could be harmful to minors. Compliance is not mandatory, although it is a prerequisite for obtaining certain grants and discounts under the E-rate program.
Library Services and Technology Act grants are available, although while money can be received, unless an Internet content filter is in place, those funds cannot be used for Internet technology, which can limit the ability of libraries to meet their digital inclusion goals and better serve local communities.
The ALA will not – at the present time at least – recommend the use of Internet filtering in libraries, although the organization does concede that some libraries rely on federal or state funding in order to provide patrons with computers and Internet access.
The message to these institutions is to choose a solution which will “mitigate the negative effects of filtering to the greatest extent possible.”
Libraries can implement an internet content filtering solution to block the minimum level of content in order to comply with state and federal regulations. Policies can be implemented to allow content to be unblocked, if it has been inadvertently blocked by a content filtering solution.
It is then possible to receive funding that will allow them to better serve their communities and meet digital inclusion goals, while ensuring that children – and to a lesser extent adults – are appropriately protected.
Why WebTitan is an Ideal Internet Filtering Solution for Libraries
With WebTitan, libraries can control Internet access to meet CIPA requirements and qualify for discounts and grants, while mitigating the negative effects of Internet control. WebTitan features highly granular controls allowing librarians to precisely control the types of web content that can be accessed by patrons. Since the administration control panel is intuitive and easy to use, requests to unblock specific webpages can be easily processed by library staff, without the need for any technical skill.
To find out more about using WebTitan in libraries contact TitanHQ today. You will also receive full assistance setting up WebTitan for a free 30-day trial and can discover for yourself how easy it is to meet CIPA requirements without overblocking website content.