In 2000 Congress passed the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) with the purpose of protecting children and young adults online. Unfortunately, the law’s requirements have been misinterpreted by many school districts resulting in filters overblocking legitimate educational websites and interactive and collaborative web tools valuable to students and teachers.
As an advocate for less restrictive filtering in schools, the ALA Council gave me a very nice birthday gift. On June 30, 2015 the Council approved “Internet Filtering: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights.”
The interpretation lays out why filters have been installed, describes their technical difficulties, explains that overly restrictive filtering often results in blocking constitutionally protected content, depicts the delays and lack of privacy when requesting the unblocking of mislabeled websites, and outlines the impact of filtering on the education of K-12 students and public library users. Finally, the document counsels schools and libraries that filter to lessen the effects by setting up a time and privacy sensitive process for users to request the unblocking of mistakenly filtered content.
According to Pam Klipsch, a member of the filtering interpretation writing group, the new interpretation was created by the ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee and it took a year for the committee to complete the document. She describes the new interpretation as both “principled and practical” (Pam Klipsch, email message to author, July 15, 2015).
The Internet filtering interpretation is the latest in ALA and AASL’s advocacy efforts to offer guidance to members and raise public awareness about the CIPA.
- In 2003 ALA created the “Libraries and the Internet Tool Kit” to help librarians manage Internet use under CIPA and educate patrons to be effective users. The Tool Kit was updated in 2013.
- In June 2009 the ALA Council approved the “Minors and Internet Interactivity: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights.” Revised in 2014, the interpretation highlights the positive nature of interactive Web tools for minors’ academic pursuits and creative expression.
- In 2010 AASL created Banned Websites Awareness Day to spotlight the overly restrictive filtering in schools and its impact on students’ educational experiences. It is observed annually on Wednesday during Banned Books Week.
- In 2012 to obtain data on the extent of filtering in schools, AASL added questions about filtering to its School Libraries Count! national longitudinal survey. The filtering report results are informative and available online.
- In 2014 the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) and the Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) published “Fencing Out Knowledge: Impacts of the Children’s Internet Protection Act 10 Years Later.” The well-researched policy brief reports on the extensive overreach in the implementation of CIPA, and the section “Implementation of CIPA in Schools” may be useful to school librarians arguing for a reduction in the level of filtering.
- In 2015 the “Internet Filtering: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights” was approved by the ALA Council.
The interpretation encourages us to keep fighting for students’ and teachers’ improved access to the Internet. Share the new interpretation with your principal. Use it and ALA and AASL’s other advocacy tools to initiate a conversation about filtering in your school.
Photo Source: Jurvetson, Steve. Internet Splat Map. Creative Commons Attribution License. https://www.flickr.com/photos/jurvetson/916142/in/photolist-5Gky-kiYksW-4prLPn-3P1Ser-4VBsGk-qJrHyV/.
Author: Helen Adams
A former school librarian in Wisconsin, Helen Adams is an online senior lecturer for Antioch University-Seattle in the areas of intellectual freedom, privacy, library ethics, and copyright. A member of the AASL Knowledge Quest Advisory Board, the ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee, and a KQ blogger, she is the author of Protecting Intellectual Freedom and Privacy in Your School Library (Libraries Unlimited, 2013) and contributor to The Many Faces of School Library Leadership (2nd edition, Libraries Unlimited, 2017). Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.