Posted by Lori Ayre on December 16, 2003

I'm working on my article for Library Technology Reports on library filtering. In researching the article, I'm speaking with library personnel to hear more about their experience with filters. I'm finding a disturbing trend. The belief that just because patrons don't complain about a blocked site, the filter must be working properly.

  • Don't count on the teenager looking for information on birth control to ask you to unblock a page.
  • Don't count on the woman looking for information on getting restraining orders to unblock a page.
  • Don't count on the new immigrant trying to find government forms to ask you to unblock a page.
  • Don't count on the gay teenager looking for peer support groups to ask you to unblock a page.

The truth is that the only way to figure out if a filter is blocking what you think it is blocking is to periodically evaluate the logs that show the pages that were blocked and why they were blocked. This is something that should be done on a regular basis. If you are the library director, I hope you are asking for a report to be delivered to you every two weeks that shows the names of all the new sites that have been blocked...or at leasta summary of sites that your filter administrator thinks should be reviewed. Someone on the library staff needs to review the sites being blocked by your library filter by checking those logs and spot checking the blocked sites from an unfiltered terminal. If you are configuring your filters correctly, there shouldn't be that many blocked sites unless

      a) you have something going on with some of your patrons


    (in which case you might want to address the problem more directly), or b) you have too many categories selected for blocking, or c) the filter you are using is not right filter for your library, or d) all of the above.

In addition to encouraging library users of filters to take more responsibility for checking the vendor's work, I'm also going to work with vendors on this issue. I'd like to see a report that gets kicked out each week that summarizes this information with an easy way for the administrator to verify the blocks.