Librarians question ruling on Internet filtering

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(Host) Libraries in Vermont are trying to decide what to do in the wake of this week’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Internet access. The court ruled that Congress can require libraries to filter what Internet sites can be viewed by children.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) Librarians say the decision raises free speech issues. Cindy Karasinski is Director of the Goodrich Memorial Library in Newport.

(Cindy) “For us it’s censorship. Filtering is censorship. We really don’t want to filter any web site.”

(Zind) Karasinski says the court ruling means librarians will have to act as babysitters for young people. She says the filtering software is far from perfect – the software doesn’t always screen out pornographic web sites and often blocks harmless sites.

The court ruling means that any library receiving federal funds to help pay for Internet services is required to use filtering software to prevent minors from viewing pornography.

According to State Librarian Sybil McShane just about every Vermont library receives federal help paying for internet access. McShane says the amount of federal help is based on the wealth of the community. She says that means libraries in more affluent communities receiving less federal funds might decide to decline the money instead of screening internet content.

(McShane) “So if you’re a person who needs to get Internet access in a wealthier community, your access may be slightly more open than if you’re a person who needs to use the Internet in a poorer community.”

(Zind) McShane says federal funds cover from ten percent to seventy percent of a library’s telecommunications expenses. The Newport library is at the high end of that range. Cindy Karasinski says the library’s four terminals are in constant use.

(Karasinski) “We might have to accept that funding simply because we’re too poor. Either that or stop offering Internet services, which I don’t think is an option.”

(Zind) Karasinski says she thinks many libraries will forgo federal funds rather than screen Internet content. School libraries are already covered by a separate federal law requiring that computers use filtering software.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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