Monday, January 19, 2009

Non-judgemental libraries

I am not a qualified librarian, nor a lifelong information worker - I have only been in the business for ten years - so I suspect that some debates which still engage me seem like old hat to others.

As a lifelong user of libraries, however, I always assumed that they were information neutral, in other words, had no role in censoring or filtering the material I had access to. I realise that is an image of an ideal library, and that in 'real life' the constraints of budgets, the complaints of users, etc. - no doubt influence the content of the shelves. And I guess we have to distinguish between censorship (no access) and filtering (limited access).

Now that libraries offer access to Internet, the same issues of censorship and filtering apply - magnified by public hysteria, but also by very real threats to children and vulnerable adults. So Councils err on the side of caution, of course, but then get feedback from many users that a heavily filtered service that blocks too many internet options is worse than useless. One solution is to have some PCs made Adult Only, some Children Only, but most of ours are set to Access to All.

Bowing to pressure from users, a large number (not all) of our branch and Central Library PCs now have access to Facebook, MySpace and YouTube - presumably as the 'more respectable' of the social networking sites (i.e. ones that have their own virus checkers or moderators or whatever).

I assume this trend will continue, but as a continuous back-and-forth between outraged citizens of both types - outraged at being cut off from resources, and outraged that others should have access to everything...

LibrarySpot special on filtering in libraries (US)

"The use of software to filter Internet content in public libraries has been declared unconstitutional in the United States, and the new Human Rights Act opens the way for a similar process to happen here."
...above quote from this site, discussing the European situation - article apparently dated 1998!

'Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This Article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.'

CIPPIC discussion of the issue (Canada)

Huffington Post on self-elected internet censors

Committee of Concerned Journalists on circumventing government censorship.

Australian blog discussing filtering, and moral panic - Somebody Think of the Children

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