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Nancy Kranich on Why Filters Don’t Work

Former ALA president Nancy Kranich explains that “forcing libraries to choose between funding, equitable access, and censorship means millions of library users will lose, particularly those Americans who reside in the most poverty-stricken areas of the country.”

I wish this article gave more thought to the elephant in ALA’s living room: the problem of our policy of age-neutral access. I disagree with this policy both strategically and philosophically, and I believe it is this issue that truly divides the ALA governing bodies from the ALA membership and the public at large. Kranich gamely tries a diversionary tactic, pointing out that “too often, filters are set to apply for the youngest users at the expense of all others,” but in doing so, leaves an opening for the reader to begin to ask, when is it acceptable to make decisions on behalf of a child? To use her analogy, when do we teach children to swim–and when do we simply prevent them from using the pool?

The net result of our age-neutral approach is implicit in Kranich’s article. She points out that many libraries are offered the chance to select whether or not children will have Internet access. An age-sensitive approach to filtering would result in more children having access to the Internet in libraries, even though filtered, and would stand the best chance of ensuring open access as a choice for every adult.

Still and all, when Kranich isn’t attempting to argue for ALA’s age-neutral policy, she does an excellent job of underscoring something I have said since 1996: filters don’t work. Most adults don’t need them; no one, hearing how filters actually function, really wants to be filtered. (Some people want others to be filtered, but that’s a natural human tendency.) Most adults behave responsibly in libraries, and those that don’t should be dealt with through policy and procedure.

Now how do we get off this petard we hoisted ourselves on?

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