ACLU Takes On Library That Refuses to Disable Filter
The Nov. 20, 2006 issue of American Libraries Online reports that the ACLU is suing North Central Regional Library's (Washington State) implementation of Secure Computing's Bess software. Bess is installed on all the public computers and evidently the Library has made no provision for unblocking filters upon request - at least that's the contention.
The Director of the consortium was quoted as saying: "The internet is so huge, and we carefully choose the books for our libraries. Shouldn't we try to be as careful with the internet?" While this is true, installing Bess is hardly the same as "carefully choosing books." I generally assume that filters (the decent ones anyway) get it wrong 15% of the time. Sites the library intends to block won't be and sites the library does not intend to block will be -- 15 out of 100 times. It was just a matter of time before the ACLU challenged a library for overblocking...as Mary Minow and I have warned people numerous times.
In this case, three plaintiffs allege they were prevented from viewing websites on drug and alcohol abuse for a university course, accessing a personal blog on MySpace, and conducting research on art galleries and health issues. Another plaintiff contends that NCRL blocks access to its magazine Women and Guns, which covers such topics as self-defense, recreational shooting, and weapons-related legal issues.
It is important for libraries to develop an Internet Use Policy and then ensure that any filter they use supports that policy but does not block any more than necessary. This means library staff must regularly monitor the block list and tune the filter as needed. Most filters allow administrators to add websites to a so-called white list. When a filter is overblocking, add the site to the white list to protect the library from complaints just like this one. Also, be sure you have a policy for disabling the filter and make sure appropriate staff know that policy and can disable the filter for adults who request it.