Hip Hooray for Holland!

By Flagg, Gordon | American Libraries, April 2000 | Go to article overview

Hip Hooray for Holland!


Flagg, Gordon, American Libraries


While the nation's attention in late February was focused on the presidential primaries, the eyes of Libraryland were on the town of Holland, Michigan, whose residents voted in the nation's first ballot measure on whether to require Internet filters in public libraries (see p. 18). The results were a vindication for ALA and a testament to the efficacy of free, unfettered speech.

Despite the best efforts of ideologues to demonize ALA and other filtering opponents, the decisive 55%--45% vote, which followed weeks of town meetings and other educational efforts by both sides, showed that informed citizens will not blindly demand that libraries filter all their Internet terminals.

ALA's view is that while filtering software may be an appropriate tool for families to use at home, its exclusive use in libraries violates the First Amendment since it blocks constitutionally protected speech. The Association also states that decisions on whether to use filters, and on other library Internet policies, should not be mandated by outside forces--be they federal or state governments or national library associations--but should instead be locally decided.

That's exactly what happened in Holland. Despite the infusion of more than $35,000 into the effort by the Mississippi-based American Family Association, residents made up their own minds in the voting booths. The message espoused by the proposal's critics managed to be heard, despite their being outspent by filter proponents by roughly $45,000 to $2,000.

The outcome represents a clear endorsement of ALA's advocacy of local control. Just as no single filter can be counted on to screen out all offensive content while permitting access to legitimate sites, no single policy can be appropriate for all of our nation's diverse communities. ALA has been fervent in voicing its belief that the use of filters is constitutionally suspect and violates the Library Bill of Rights; however, it's unimaginable that the Association would inject itself into a local campaign to overturn a library's existing policies. Instead, it encourages communities to develop their own polices that are appropriate for their distinctive concerns and needs. …

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