Filtering Software and Other Restrictions on Internet Access

NJLA affirms the right of all users, regardless of age, to have unrestricted access to the Internet. The policy of the New Jersey Library Association is that people should be able to read whatever they want in a public library, so long as it is legal. Libraries may provide software filters for individuals who want tools to limit their own personal access to materials on the Internet, but NJLA opposes the deployment of filtering software for the sake of restricting general access to the Internet.

Libraries empower users by offering opportunities both for accessing the broadest range of information created by others and for creating and sharing information. Digital resources enhance the ability of libraries to fulfill this responsibility. Even when budgetary constraints limit their ability to purchase materials, libraries can provide access to everything available on the Internet.

Internet filtering is not analogous to collection development. Libraries are limited by budgetary and other constraints from acquiring published materials, thus collection development becomes an exercise in allocating limited resources. Filtering, by contrast, requires allocating limited resources for the specific purpose of blocking access to certain Internet resources.

NJLA takes the protection of children online very seriously. While voluntary use of Internet filters can assist parents in guiding their child, such technological “quick fixes” cannot teach critical reasoning skills to children, help children develop effective coping skills or foster an ethic of responsible use of the Internet. Only parents, librarians and educators working together can teach children the skills they need to navigate this essential source of information.

Federal courts have recognized a constitutional right to receive information in public libraries.  The First Amendment protects materials that are controversial and even offensive. NJLA affirms that its support of this right and protection does not constitute condoning illegal activity in the library or through the Internet on library computers. Some library users, not wishing to infringe upon the rights of others, wish to shield themselves and their own children from unintentional exposure to texts and images they deem offensive. Libraries may accommodate these users by making filtering software available. This would not constitute restriction of the right to read, so long as the default setting for the filter is “off” and the users must deliberately turn it on.

Despite its opposition to default Internet filtering in libraries, NJLA acknowledges that libraries accepting certain types of federal funding must employ filtering in order to meet the requirements of the Children’s Internet Protection Act and that such filters must by law be turned “on.” NJLA urges libraries in such situations to make it clear to library patrons that filters may be turned “off” upon request.

Libraries making filtering software available should be aware that no software manufacturer can guarantee that its Internet filter will operate adequately to permit only desired materials while blocking undesired sites. They are therefore urged to develop and provide to their users an Internet filtering policy with information about their use of filters, how they are employed (e.g., whether the default setting is “on” or “off,” the procedure for turning off the filter), the limitations of filtering software, and about the possible unforeseen consequences of their use. Alternative strategies available to libraries include the use of privacy screens or arranging terminals away from public view.

Adopted by the NJLA Executive Board Jan. 21, 2014