Libraries, the Internet and the Law

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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 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

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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.

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Intellectual Freedom: The Cornerstone of Democracy and Librarianship

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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

IF Committee News

[6/23/12] Committee Meeting scheduled for Thursday, June 28, 10 am, Logan Library.

[6/21/12] At Wanda’s direction, ULA has decided to hold off issuing a statement about the Davis County School District issue until more information is forthcoming. Wanda is working to meet with the key players and hopes for a satisfactory solution for all involved.

[6/11/12] The ULA Executive Board, Wanda and Joseph from the IF Committee, Shay from the School Library Section, and Donna from the Utah State Library met at the Day-Riverside Library to discuss an official statement regarding the Davis County School District issue. A draft was composed and it is expected to be finalized soon.

[6/8/12] Wanda and Joseph attended the quarterly meeting of the ULA Board of Directors at the new West Jordan Llibrary where the Davis County School District issue was discussed. It was decided that an emergency meeting of the ULA Executive Board plus representatives from the Intellectual Freedom Committee and the School Library Section would meet again on Monday, June 11 to further discuss the situation and work on an official statement from ULA.

[6/5/12] We are monitoring the recent challenge to a children’s book in the Davis County School District (see Salt Lake Tribune 5/30/12 and 6/1/12).




Join Us Virtually!

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Dear McSRT Participant, 

This is an invitation to attend the Wimba online meeting of the “ULA Multicultural Services Round Table.”

Please follow the instructions below to prepare for this virtual meeting.


Key Links for Joining the Online Meeting

· Wimba Setup Wizard:

· Virtual Room:



1. To Set Up Your Computer 

  • If this is your first Wimba online meeting, walk through the Wimba Setup Wizard as soon as possible. The wizard will ensure you have the software and configuration you need to see and hear the online meeting.
  • We will be using Voice-Over-IP (VoIP) so that you can hear the meeting through your computer’s speakers or headphones. If you wish to speak during the meeting, you will also need a microphone. I strongly recommend using a headset with a built-in mic; these are inexpensive and work very well.
  • If you are not able to use sound on your computer, you can hear the meeting’s audio by calling a phone number. Once you have entered ULA Multicultural Services Round Table Meeting Room you will see the phone number and instructions for getting a unique PIN (numeric password) that you will use on the phone. Please note this is not a toll-free number.


2 Connect to the Wimba Online Meeting 

  • Plan to join the room 10 minutes before the start time of the meeting.
  • Go to the following URL to join the meeting room “ULA Multicultural Services Round Table”
  • A new window may open and you will be directed to a Participant Login page.
  • Type your name in the space provided and click the “enter” button.


We look forward to seeing you at the meeting!