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Librarian to Alderman: Calm Down, Skip Filters, Support Library Web Content Policy

Library professional John Pappas responds to Rapid City alderman Chad Lewis's freak-out over some sleazy citizen accessing porn on a library computer with a simple message:

Don't sweat the small stuff

Actually, Pappas says much more than that, all quite sensible. Seeing a politician in need of an emotionally laden public stance, Pappas says filters don't effectively block bad content and block too much good content. Worse, says Pappas, filter software runs on proprietary formulas. We can't find out what's being blocked, so we can't really check whether the material blocked really violates community standards or if it is going further and censoring content for unacceptable political, ideological, or commercial reasons.

Instead of creating headlines and an "illusion of safety," Pappas recommends the most ethical and effective solution is for librarians to keep doing what they are doing:

The bottom-line is that filtering content online through ineffective measures is not ethically in line with a library's mission. I can't imagine a Mr. Lewis' "blanket-block" of the library's funding would do much either.

Library staff and management look to preserve the first amendment rights of all library users (as well as their freedom to view and read as defined by the ALA) with a healthy concern for public safety.

As a library-person that has had to deal with these issues, the best action to take is to create an internet policy (which the Rapid City Public Library has), enforce that policy (which they do) and encourage patrons to speak out when they suspect someone of viewing pornographic material. My current library has filters on all the computers and I have had to unblock more legitimate sites than I care to remember and still see questionable content come through. We deal with these issues as they <ahem> arise [John Pappas, "Porn in the Library," Great Plains Buddha, 2012.12.11].

Pappas is on target here. Instead of punishing the public library system by threatening to cut funding and creating useless extra work for librarians, we must support our public libraries and help them enforce their existing Internet use policies.

Update 17:21 MDT: Nonetheless, the library has decided to avoid a wrestling match and is installing filters on all computers.


  1. Laura 2012.12.13

    As an ex-librarian, I agree with Pappas 100%. It's no fun talking to patrons about why they should not be looking at porn at the library (and seriously, why would you want to?) but it beats the alternative.

  2. Jerry 2012.12.13

    I think that Chad just wants to shut down the library as that is all part of the drowning of government in a bathtub.

  3. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.12.13

    Jerry, is Chad that kind of conservative?

  4. Jerry 2012.12.13

    I have never been drinking with Mr. Lewis so I do not know what kind of new republican he is. I did read that he would not allow one cent to fund the library if they did not do as he wished. Sounds like hostage taking to me. So at this point, I would certainly say that yes, he is that kind of new republican as they are pretty much one size fits all. There is no such thing as a conservative anymore, they have been excommunicated to the dust bins of history. All that remains of the GOP is a name, nothing else. They have completely been taken over by the mega rich and made obsolete.

  5. Bree S. 2012.12.13

    Boy Jerry, you're so full of hopelessness. It's the end of the world right? LOL

  6. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.12.14

    Well, Bree, for folks interested in classical conservatism, there is cause for hopelessness. Jerry makes a reasonable point that "conservatism" today seems to be more about corporate control of the economy and government control of everything else.

  7. Bruce C. Boatwright 2012.12.14

    Try researching "Breast Cancer" on a filtered computer and see what you get.

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