What To Do When You Are Confronted With A Challenge

HOME: Table of Contents

PREVIOUS: Libraries, the Internet and the Law

• Listen to the patron’s objections calmly and patiently. Be courteous. Do not argue. Sometimes a frustrated patron merely needs to vent or “blow off steam.” A reasonable listener can often diffuse the situation without committing the library to any specific action.

• If the patron is adamant about pursuing the complaint, explain the responsibility of librarians to serve people with diverse information needs and tastes which require varied viewpoints. Be prepared to supply a copy of the library’s material selection policy and explain the criteria for selection, as well as the library’s position on intellectual freedom. Give the person a copy of the Library Bill of Rights.

• If the patron persists, explain that there is a procedure for handling such complaints and that they will need to talk to the person designated to handle such questions. Bring the patron to the director or the person designated to handle challenges. That person should also hear the patron out and restate the library’s selection policy and position on intellectual rights before anything is put into writing.

• If discussion fails to resolve the challenge, initiate the library’s complaint or reconsideration procedure as outlined in the material selection policy. The objection should be clearly stated and documented in a detailed manner. Complaint procedures will differ from library to library but should always be pursued expeditiously and fairly. The patron must be given realistic expectations about what will follow.

• Notify the appropriate library authorities, which will differ according to the library’s type and governance structure. Depending up on the severity and urgency of the challenge, notify the Utah Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee and the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom.

• The written complaint is examined according to the procedure adopted in the material selection policy. A well reasoned response is made and includes a justification and supporting documents. The results are communicated to the complainant, including any explanation of procedures that are required.

• If the party filing the complaint is not satisfied with the response, an appeal to the library board may follow. The appeal process should be outlined in the material selection policy.

• If pressure to remove the materials threatens to escalate, bring the matter to the public’s attention as soon as possible. Remember, it is the public’s right to know that is threatened. The staff and governing authority should be informed and their support encouraged. Alert the ULA Intellectual Freedom Committee. Activate any support groups or coalitions. Seek support of the local press or media. If warranted, seek legal advice.

• Keep a written record of what happens, including telephone calls received and what was said by whom and when. Favorable responses may be needed when building support. Critical responses may need to be answered.

Libraries play the role of fair brokers for the public’s right to have access to diverse points of view so that people can make up their own minds. Increasingly, pressure groups with ideological agendas are attempting to limit the information and opinions available to the public. Such attempts can come from groups anywhere on the political spectrum, left or right. In recent years, however, most of the groups that have challenged library materials could be described as “far right” and often describe themselves as “pro-family.” They have mostly targeted schools by trying to shape curriculums to fit their values and points of view. Libraries, however, have not been immune.

Think about strategies to preempt these attacks by addressing them in a positive way before they are used against the library. A proactive approach can make a big difference.

A number of excellent resources are available to guide you through a censorship challenge. See Appendices I and J for selected titles and web sites.

NEXT: Government Information: You Have A Right To Know

Libraries, the Internet and the Law

HOME: Table of Contents

PREVIOUS: Building A “Right to Know” Environment in the Library and the Community

It is possible to attach filtering software that can block access to certain categories of information on the Internet. While at first glance this might seem like an easy solution to the problem of pornography on the Internet, there are two problems with filters on the Internet. One is that filters do not block pornography as effectively as they claim, thus giving the library and the computer user a false sense of security. The other problem with filters is that they can mistakenly block information, topics, and ideas people have a right to read and that is protected by the constitution.

Two recent laws, one federal and one state, have an enormous impact on Utah libraries (particularly public libraries) and the question of whether or not to filter their public computers. The first law that was passed is the federal law, CIPA or the Children’s Internet Protection Act. This was passed in to effect by a divided Supreme Court ruling in 2003. In 2004, the Utah Legislature passed their own state version of CIPA, further restricting the funding public libraries can receive if the library chooses not to filter.

CIPA: In June 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed an earlier ruling by U.S. District Court and rejected ALA’s challenge to CIPA. They stipulated that any library receiving E-rate discounts for technology related issues must put filter, or “blocking technology”, on all computers in the library. These filters must block images that meet the legal definition of pornography.

What you need to know about CIPA:

• Every public and school library receiving e-rate discounts for Internet access, service, or internal connections must have filters on all their computers by July 2004

• Libraries receiving LSTA grant funds for computers or Internet connection must also have filters installed by July 2004

• Libraries that do not receive e-rate or LSTA funds do not have to put filters on their computers

CIPA does not apply to academic libraries

CIPA requires that the filter only block images that meet the legal definition of obscene, child pornography, or “harmful to minors”

• Libraries cannot use e-rate funds to purchase blocking software

• In the Supreme Court ruling, an adult must be able to ask that the filter be turned off without onerous process. If the library fails to do so, they are open to a potential lawsuit.

• If a library decided to install blocking software that is CIPA compliant, certification of compliance for e-rate must be made to the FCC by July, 2004. To receive certain LSTA grant monies, libraries must submit certification of compliance to The Institute of Museum and Library Services, also by July 2004

Many public libraries throughout the country and in Utah decided that the federal funding compliance with CIPA would make them eligible for was not worth the cost of maintaining filters and the inconvenience to users and staff asking for their rights to be restored.

Unfortunately for Utah public libraries, House Bill 341 was passed in March of 2004. This bill requires any public library receiving e-rate funding or any kind of state funding must have filters on all public access Internet terminals.

What you need to know about HB 341:

• If the library wishes to receive state funds, it must have an Internet policy regarding the use of the Internet by minors and an Internet filter on all computers available to the public. This filter must be set up to block images of child pornography, obscenity, and images deemed “harmful to minors”

• You will also need to prepare procedures for policy enforcement, patron complaints related to the filters, and procedures for handling a patron request for the filter to be disabled

• Make sure your procedures and guidelines clearly state the brand of filter being used and the categories being blocked

• The law states that the library may allow a filter to be disabled only for adults, and only for “research and other lawful purposes”

• The penalty for not complying with this law is loss of state development grants, loss of lender support funds, loss of eligibility for LSTA grants

This law and CIPA have forced many libraries in Utah to accept filtering, against their better judgment, and regardless of monies available to purchase filtering software. This continues to be a challenging and complex issue for libraries. One issue that merits watching is wireless Internet access for library patrons in libraries that are CIPA compliant. As demand for Internet connectivity increases, wireless seems like a good solution, especially for libraries with limited space for more computers. But must the library filter these patron laptops as well as other PCs accessible to patrons? Most seem to agree that it is reasonable to assume that CIPA’s phrase “its computers” refers to library-owned PCs, not patron-owned laptops. But keep in mind that this is only an assumption and has not been tested yet.

Acceptable Use Policies: Although between CIPA and House Bill 341 it may feel like not filtering is no longer an option, it is still an option. Whether you employ a filter or not, it is important to have a clear acceptable use statement posted on or next to your library Internet computers or on your library system home page. This statement needs to remind patrons that they are responsible for the destinations they reach when surfing the net, and that there can be legal consequences if they access illegal sites. (See Appendix J for examples of Acceptable Use Policies from other library systems.)

The Utah State Library has an invaluable resource on their homepage under Library Laws and Legislation. Here you will find a great deal of information on HB 341, CIPA, the USA Patriot Act, and information on filter comparisons. The website address is www.library.utah.gov/laws.html The ALA also has useful information on their website regarding CIPA and libraries.

NEXT: What To Do When You Are Confronted With A Challenge


Intellectual Freedom Checklist

HOME: Table of Contents

PREVIOUS: Intellectual Freedom: The Cornerstone of Democracy and Librarianship

Have Regularly Reviewed and Revised Policies and Procedures in Place

_____ Material Selection Policy that clearly defines responsibilities, criteria, and procedures for selection. The library’s Material Selection Policy addresses the problem of controversial materials, outlines procedures for responding to challenges, and contains a “reconsideration form” for challenged materials. The library’s material selection policy includes the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights and Freedom to Read Statement, plus additional documents supporting intellectual freedom.

_____ Service Policy covering exhibits, availability of meeting rooms, and other special services.

_____ Confidentiality Policy that states the library’s position on protecting the privacy of patrons.

_____ Records Retention Schedule that outlines which records with personally identifiable information are used and kept for efficient business operations and for how long.

_____ Internet Use Policy that defines user responsibilities and appropriate use of Internet resources accessed through library computers.

_____ User Responsibilities Policy that defines appropriate patron behavior in library facilities.

_____ Law Enforcement Policy that outlines procedures for handling law enforcement inquiries regarding patrons and patron information.

Provide Regular Training Regarding Intellectual Freedom Issues

_____ Members of the library’s governing body, administration, staff, and other key library supporters are familiar with issues related to libraries and intellectual freedom.

_____ Library staff are familiar with the Material Selection Policy and procedures for responding to challenged materials. They are aware of principles of intellectual freedom and laws that support the “right to know.” They have been trained and are skilled in handling censorship encounters. They know how to practice active listening when handling complaints and they use the library’s Reconsideration Form to gather appropriate details about patron concerns.

_____ Library staff understand the importance of patrons’ right to privacy and open inquiry when using library resources. Patrons’ use of the library and choice of information resources are considered to be confidential.

_____ Library staff understand key laws that impact intellectual freedom, patron privacy, and open access to information.

_____ Library staff are familiar with the Utah Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA). The library has a program for classifying, archiving, retaining, and disposing of public records according to the requirements of the law. Printed and electronic records related to patron activities are not retained any longer than necessary for smooth and efficient library operations.

_____ Library staff, governing body, administrators, and legal counsel are familiar with the USA Patriot Act. All are familiar with procedures to deal with law enforcement inquiries.

_____ Library staff, governing body, administrators, and legal counsel are familiar with both the federal and state Children’s Internet Projection Act and the impacts on funding and Internet filtering.

Develop Strong Outreach and Public Relations Programs to Build Partnerships and Support in the Community

_____ The library has an active campaign for building public awareness of the need for intellectual freedom in our democratic society. Key media contacts, library supporters, and government officials are aware of “right to know” issues. The library has cultivated allies and promoted a coalition in the community for supporting and defending intellectual freedom. The Library Bill of Rights is promoted as well as defended.

_____ Library staff communicate with colleagues regarding intellectual freedom issues and actively participate in professional associations that promote free and open access to information. Challenges to library materials in print or electronic format are reported to the ULA Intellectual Freedom Committee for statewide monitoring.

NEXT: Building A “Right to Know” Environment in the Library and the Community

Building A “Right to Know” Environment in the Library and the Community

HOME: Table of Contents

PREVIOUS: Intellectual Freedom Checklist

1. Craft and maintain a Materials Selection Policy. Good written policies establish credibility, assure consistency, and assign responsibility. The policy should be in written form and crafted with the input of staff and the libraries governing authority. Their involvement will ensure that those who may need to defend library selection understand the principles of intellectual freedom. A materials selection policy should define who is responsible for selecting in what areas and formats, and the criteria used in deciding what to purchase. Criteria for selection usually includes excellence of materials based on reviews (or award winners), diversity of viewpoint, patron demand, appropriateness for a particular age group, and community needs. Be sure your materials selection policy covers all formats including audiovisual materials. It is important to include such documents as The Library Bill of Rights and Freedom to Read Statement, Diversity in Collection Development, and Freedom to View Statement. All of these documents can be found in the appendixes of this manual. Your materials selection policy, like all policies, should be reviewed regularly and revised as needed.

2. Maintain a Materials Complaint Policy and procedures. As with any public service, libraries receive complaints and expressions of concern. One of the librarian’s responsibilities is to handle these complaints in a fair and respectful manner. Often these complaints are not made by a would-be censor but by a concerned patron. Often they just need to be listened to and feel that they can voice their concerns. Handled well, such complaints often serve as an opportunity to discuss with the patron the larger issues involved. It is important that “front line” staff be trained in the art of “active listening”. Should the patron want to file a written complaint against the materials, be sure the staff is clear on the procedure for handling a written complaint. Most libraries have a Request for the Reconsideration of Library Materials for the patron to fill out. Staff need to let the patron know what steps will be followed once the form is submitted and when they can expect to receive a response from the library manager. It is essential that patron complaints be handled in a respectful and timely manner.

3. Prepare the staff. The library staff determines, to a large extent, whether there will be an atmosphere of openness and tolerance needed for intellectual freedom to flourish. It is the Library Director/Manager’s responsibility to keep staff and trustees well informed and well trained in policy, procedure, and any new challenges. Conduct periodic in-service training for staff and the governing authority. Role-play confrontational situations and responses. A confident staff will be less likely to become flustered and defensive. Also, review with your staff issues relating to the USA Patriot Act. Be sure they understand to what authority they must comply and what the procedures are when dealing with a request for patron information. See the USA Patriot Act section of this manual.

4. Build coalitions. Target specific groups in your area who may also be concerned with issues of intellectual freedom and First Amendment rights. Some likely allies may include the press and other media, educational leaders, civil rights groups, arts councils, and Friends of the Library organizations. The Utah Library Advocacy Network formed in 2004 is a group of library supporters representing all kinds of libraries. Groups that use the library’s facilities should be reminded of the value of maintaining an intellectually open atmosphere. Library board and staff participation in local civic organizations such as the area chamber of commerce, and presentations to these organizations should emphasize the library’s selection policy and intellectual freedom principles. It is better to identify and build support with these groups before a serious challenge occurs!

5. Promote patron awareness. Building awareness of the need for and challenges to intellectual openness and diversity is an important library function. It can be as informal as the day-to-day conversations you and your staff have with library patrons. Or it can be more formal as a program or display. The professional library community has worked over the years to create vehicles for raising public awareness. Such occasions as Freedom of Information Day, National Library Week, and Banned Books Week provide perfect opportunities to remind our community of their basic right to information. This can be done through posters, special displays or programs and public service announcements.

6. Keep abreast of any local, municipal, and state legislation effecting intellectual freedom and First Amendment rights. Legislation can slip through quietly and quickly without input from the professional library community.

NEXT: Libraries, the Internet and the Law


Categories Uncategorized

Intellectual Freedom: The Cornerstone of Democracy and Librarianship

PREVIOUS: Table of Contents

The obligation for libraries to defend intellectual freedom is not only a moral imperative; it is a matter of self-interest and a professional tradition. Our intellectual freedoms have a sound legal basis. The United States Constitution is the cornerstone of intellectual freedom. Under the protection of the First Amendment, we have the right to seek the information we need to form our own opinions, to express those opinions, to assemble peacefully to demonstrate or share our ideas, and to criticize the powerful. These rights are not merely privileges; they are the vital tools of our democracy and the tenets of our American way of life. The freedom to know keeps you free. The freedom to know is your right under the law.

American democracy is based on the belief that people are capable of governing themselves and have the basic right to express themselves freely so they can share ideas and make informed decisions. Our nation has remained wise and strong to the extent that we have been able to exchange ideas, information, and our creative works easily and openly. America’s libraries provide the access to ideas and facts that allow our society to flourish. Historically, libraries have been committed to the principle that knowledge and access to information can empower individuals and that it is in the public interest that the means to such empowerment be available to all. By collecting, accessing, organizing, preserving, and disseminating the rich diversity of human expression in all its varied forms, libraries ensure free speech, self government, and individual enrichment.

Although librarians, trustees, administrators, and others who affect library policies have been conditioned to think of intellectual freedom in terms of attacks by censors, the struggle over intellectual freedom is now being waged in broader arenas. When government restricts the information it holds, when media and book monopolies narrow the range of published opinions to those that are not controversial, when commercial interests put a price on information which should be public, when Internet filters over-block important resources, library supporters must recognize that these too threaten intellectual freedom.

Today, as the body of human knowledge expands dramatically and is being formatted and reorganized by revolutionary new developments in telecommunications and computing technology, it is especially important that libraries are rededicated to providing access to all, not just the privileged few who are able to pay. The plans and policies that are created today will determine the content and availability of our nation’s cultural resources tomorrow. Those shaping library plans, priorities, and policies should be aware of the profound weight their decisions carry. They have a responsibility to participate in those political processes that determine what information is available, how it will be organized and distributed, and who will have access.

NEXT: Intellectual Freedom Checklist