Magazine article American Libraries

The CIPA Ruling as Reality Therapy: The Supreme Court Has Done Librarianship a Big Favor

Magazine article American Libraries

The CIPA Ruling as Reality Therapy: The Supreme Court Has Done Librarianship a Big Favor

Article excerpt

Challenging the constitutionality of the Children's Internet Protection Act has been enormously costly to the American Library Association in terms of the time, energy, and money this effort required. It has been costlier still in terms of public goodwill, political support, and perceptions of the professional status of librarians. If we learn the hard lessons that this experience can teach us about the realities we face, ALA can move ahead as a professional body. If we don't, the future of ALA will be troubled indeed.

In my opinion, there are three basic lessons we need to learn from the CIPA challenge and the recent Supreme Court ruling:

1. We should be careful to obtain balanced, rather than ideologically driven, legal advice. Few of us would hire lawyers dedicated to busting unions to help us with labor relations. Why should we expect lawyers with a strong civil-libertarian orientation to offer us a balanced view of issues relating to the First Amendment? This is like asking attorneys who support the National Rifle Association for advice about the Second Amendment. The First Amendment, like the other amendments, is not an absolute; it has been qualified through application in a long history of case law. ALA should find new lawyers who will help us to develop a more complex and balanced view of First Amendment law.

2. Public libraries have never served "primarily as forums for private speech," as ALA's attorneys stated in a CIPA brief to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. America's first major public library in Boston was described in 1852 as "the crowning glory of our system of City schools" (Jesse Shera, Foundations of the Public Library, p. 287). Since then, public-library collections and services have always been developed according to quality standards and community needs. This educational approach is strikingly different from that of a neutral distribution agency seeking only to provide a forum for personal expression.

Under the "strict scrutiny" rules of the public forum, all speech is allowed unless the state has a compelling reason to keep it out and has the narrowly tailored means to do so. Such a collection-development method would outlaw library selection practices based on either quality standards or community needs. …

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