Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

One Law with Two Outcomes: Comparing the Implementation of CIPA in Public Libraries and Schools

Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

One Law with Two Outcomes: Comparing the Implementation of CIPA in Public Libraries and Schools

Article excerpt

Though the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) established requirements for both public libraries and public schools to adopt filters on all of their computers when they receive certain federal funding, it has not attracted a great amount of research into the effects on libraries and schools and the users of these social institutions. This paper explores the implications of CIPA in terms of its effects on public libraries and public schools, individually and in tandem. Drawing from both library and education research, the paper examines the legal background and basis of CIPA, the current state of Internet access and levels of filtering in public libraries and public schools, the perceived value of CIPA, the perceived consequences of CIPA, the differences in levels of implementation of CIPA in public libraries and public schools, and the reasons for those dramatic differences. After an analysis of these issues within the greater policy context, the paper suggests research questions to help provide more data about the challenges and questions revealed in this analysis.

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The Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) established requirements for both public libraries and public schools to---as a condition for receiving certain federal funds--adopt filters on all of their computers to protect children from online content that was deemed potentially harmful. (1) Passed in 2000, CIPA was initially implemented by public schools after its passage, but it was not widely implemented in public libraries until the 2003 Supreme Court decision (United States v. American Library Association) upholding the law's constitutionality. (2) Now that CIPA has been extensively implemented for five years in libraries and eight years in schools, it has had time to have significant effects on access to online information and services. While the goal of filtering requirements is to protect children from potentially inappropriate content, filtering also creates major educational and social implications because filters also limit access to other kinds of information and create different perceptions about schools and libraries as social institutions.

Curiously, CIPA and its requirements have not attracted a great amount of research into the effects on schools, libraries, and the users of these social institutions. Much of the literature about CIPA has focused on practical issues---either recommendations on implementing filters or stories of practical experiences with filtering. While those types of writing are valuable to practitioners who must deal with the consequences of filtering, there are major educational and societal issues raised by filtering that merit much greater exploration. While relatively small bodies of research have been generated about CIPA's effects in public libraries and public schools, (3) thus far these two strands of research have remained separate. But it is the contention of this paper that these two strands of research, when viewed together, have much more value for creating a broader understanding of the educational and societal implications. It would be impossible to see the real consequences of CIPA without the development of an integrative picture of its effects on both public schools and public libraries.

In this paper, the implications of CIPA will be explored in terms of effects on public libraries and public schools, individually and in tandem. Public libraries and public schools are generally considered separate but related public sphere entities because both serve core educational and information-provision functions in society. Furthermore, the fact that public schools also contain school library media centers highlights some very interesting points of intersection between public libraries and school libraries in terms of the consequences of CIPA: While CIPA requires filtering of computers throughout public libraries and public schools, the presence of school library media centers makes the connection between libraries and schools stronger, as do the teaching roles of public libraries (e. …

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