Internet filtering

At our IFC meeting last night, we talked a bit about Internet filtering. Is anyone talking about this any more? It seems as if most library systems we knew about have fallen into a groove of comfort with whatever decision they made about filtering all those years ago. Whether it’s completely unfiltered, filtering kids’ stations but allowing the kids to use adult stations, or blanket filtering, maybe the status quo is the easiest thing to manage. We were curious about what the status quo is? Maybe a survey of public libraries (in BC? in Canada?) would be interesting.

Of course, someone mentioned the Fraser Valley Regional Library System. Some time ago, Fraser Valley made the decision to filter access to the Internet at all terminals. That’s staff terminals as well as public terminals. And our discussion put me in mind of a couple of incidents. The first was a last-minute invitation to replace someone (I think Brian Campbell) at a forum for BC public library trustees about 7 years ago. The forum took the form of a debate between intellectual freedom types and filtering advocates. It was a lively discussion, and not just because I was fuelled by terrified adrenalin. I left inspired by the commitment and enthusiasm of public library trustees, and dismayed at the representatives from Fraser Valley, who saw no problem with filtering their terminals. Fast forward a few years, when I was invited to give some Internet search workshops to Fraser Valley staff. As part of the session, I had planned some exercises around image search tools, with some droning on from me and some hands-on practice for the workshop participants. Of the four image search tools we looked at, two did not work at all, because they were blocked by the filtering software on the computer lab stations. It wasn’t that we were searching for anything controversial, it was the start page of the image search engines that did not work.

Maybe things have changed, maybe filtering software has become more sophisticated (as the software companies are always promising). Or maybe we need to continually remind ourselves why blunt tools that keep us from seeing web sites that we may find offensive should be treated very carefully.

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