Magazine article American Libraries

On My Mind

Magazine article American Libraries

On My Mind

Article excerpt

Libraries Offer the World--Not Just Smut

I'm not much of an Internet user. I email some friends and do a little research online, but mostly I find it a major distraction from actually living my life. Just a lot of noise. I find watching an evening fire more enjoyable and reading a book more educational. Thus I've often found the Internet to be a nuisance, but never a threat.

However, to a group of parents here in Idaho who call themselves Bonner County Citizens for Sound Library Policies (implying, of course, that no one else is for sound policies), the Internet's prolific, tasty, but generally vacuous temptations have overstepped reasonable behavior and have consequently begun to threaten. They say the issue is a child's exposure to pornography (Why is that always worse than their huge exposure to media violence?) and they list various Web sites, including Go Ask Alice, sponsored by that international smut leader, Columbia University, that must be filtered. The 13 public terminals at the East Bonner County Library District, where children tie up hour upon hour of public time playing games, and where they might search for smut, clearly have their parents up in arms.

Long-standing principles

The debate over the problem of public access is not new: Such concerns as hate groups, invasion of privacy, and credit-card fraud have become commonplace Internet issues. But also longstanding are the strength and clarity of the library's intellectual freedom policy, which addresses this issue. Passed in 1984, reaffirmed in 1989, and amended last November, it clearly sets forth guidelines that govern how the library must respond: as an information provider that believes "censorship is a purely individual matter."

And, of course, this is what the pornography red-herring threat is all about: libraries unethically and immorally providing unrestricted content to any and all.

Some parents clearly do not want libraries to maintain the historic function they have served since Aristotle cracked a book in Alexandria. They do not want knowledge accessible and therefore capable of supporting intellectual growth, but for it to be restricted and thereby serve only their parental worldview. They want what anthropologist Anthony Wallace called "revivalism"--a continuation or a return to the virtues of another--i.e. their--age, where libraries serve their fixed tradition rather than the common search for truth.

If you think this is just more extreme rhetoric, remember that filtering information is the most fundamental form of government intervention, for it absolutely limits the range of human thought. …

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