Banned Web Sites: Are Your Policies Up-To-Date?

In looking over an assignment to develop a library reconsideration policy that I gave to my graduate students, it occurred to me that an important information element is missing. Every reconsideration policy that I surveyed had the usual slots for challenging books, videos, etc. but almost none had a place for reconsideration of district-blocked Web sites. While it may be true that a district has a procedure in place for calling the IT department to unblock a particular site, what happens when the unblocking is refused or if there is a systematic blocking of sites by the district filtering software?

 

Two examples made me start thinking about this issue. I use Skype in my library science classes and one of my students said she couldn’t use Skype at school. She had found this out when she wanted to Skype her husband who was serving in Afghanistan The district refused to let her use Skype even after school to participate in a graduate class or to contact her husband. It doesn’t take much reading to realize that Skype, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook are being blocked by a number of school districts even though there are many examples in the literature of effective educational use social media.

 

Not too long ago a school district near me systematically blocked any Web sites that dealt with homosexuality. It was only after the ACLU became involved that the school district backed down in a very public display of contrition which included having to pay the ACLU attorney fees, unblocking non-sexual pro-LGBT sites and reporting regularly about blocked Web sites to an outside party.

 

In both of the examples above, could the issues have been resolved had there been a collaboratively developed and board approved selection policy in place with a procedure for the reconsideration of Web sites? Of course we know that even with policies in place, a common problem with censorship challenges is that administrators don’t follow their own policies, but even so, having a policy is an important step.

 

Librarians and teachers are constantly selecting Web sites for student research pathways. Are these links selected as part of the codified collection development policy? Collection development policies outline the objectives that drive the selection of material and without a policy in place is Web site selection purely an individual decision? One site that has definite guidelines for the selection of Web sites is iCONN.org from the Connecticut State Library. Particularly interesting in the introduction about the sites selected (http://libguides.ctstatelibrary.org/dld/other-useful-sites) is the statement, “links may be added to or deleted from iCONN by iCONN staff based on the selection guidelines….” In other words, because there is a selection policy in place a request for deselection would be measured against the policy and not summarily deleted just because someone made a complaint.

 

Doug Johnson has been thinking about this issue for some time. In a blog post from 2010 entitled “Censorship by Omission” (http://www.doug-johnson.com/dougwri/censorship-by-omission.html) Johnson makes a point that goes to the heart of library policies and Web selection. He states, does the selection/reconsideration policy “treat materials in electronic format the same way it treats materials in print format? … Does someone who wants a website blocked need to go through the same reconsideration process required to remove a book or video from a library or classroom?”

 

We understand why schools ban Web sites because it is easier to overfilter rather than to deal with granular selection issues because schools are afraid of not meeting the requirements imposed by Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). But it is the librarian’s mission to provide access information. The reason we have collection development policies with a reconsideration process built in is to be able to build a collection – print, non-print, digital, etc. based on principles of intellectual freedom supported by all members of the educational community.

 

One school district that has addressed the librarian’s selection of Web sites directly is the “Atlantic City School District Library Development Reconsideration and Collection Policy 2012” (http://sov.acboe.org/download.axd?file=ef634f3c-864e-4f69-9937-54004ce91ded&dnldType=Resource) where it is stated “the term ‘electronic resources’ refers to those that the Library Media Coordinator and/or Specialist has selected for use–specifically; online services subscribed to annually, or designated curriculum-based sites on the World Wide Web.” As a result the district’s suggested reconsideration policy form specifically slots in the “Electronic information/network” as an area for reconsideration.

 

It is a standard rule of thumb that the reason for creating a policy is to have something in place when a questions of procedure come up. Decisions can be made with guidelines in place. Have our policies kept up with the integration of the Web into our daily educational activity?

 

 

Author: Floyd Pentlin



Categories: Blog Topics, Intellectual Freedom

Tags: , , , ,

2 replies

  1. Floyd,

    Thank you for highlighting the issue of schools blocking websites and providing examples. Your blog is a good reminder that Banned Websites Awareness Day will be occurring soon (Sept. 30, 2015) during Banned Books Week (Sept. 27-October 3, 2015).

    Helen Adams

  2. Pornography is not the only thing being blocked. I have discovered that many web sites that address 2nd amendment issues are blocked from computers with blocking services. Even historical reenactment groups such as the North-South Skirmish Association get blocked, I can only assume someone believes they are somehow preventing violence when in reality they are preventing students studying law or history from getting information from one side of the debate on this topic.

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