Answering the Libertarian Librarian, Part 2

March 28, 2015

By Lea Z. Singh |

This is a continuation of my post Answering the Libertarian Librarian, in which I address the arguments against filtering pornography in school libraries, as raised by the staff at Dr Frank J. Hayden Secondary School in Halton, Ontario.

1. Filters show distrust in young people

In my previous post, I answered their argument that filters would undermine the trust relationship that teachers and staff have with students.

2. Filters would block out LGBT content, and other useful content

Halton's teachers next pointed out that filters would create an unacceptable risk of blocking out LGBT content. They wrote:
We value and are committed to the principles of equity in our schools. It has been demonstrated in the past that when filters for sexual content have been placed in schools some of the first sites to be blocked are public health sites that are accessed with information for and about our LGBT population. What happens when there is a disagreement over a particular site being filtered?

Filtering the Internet will result in an inequality of information access and be far more restrictive and dangerous than protective.
While Halton's teachers singled out LGBT content, they later also made the same argument with regard to other useful content, writing:
How will the filter impact the use of the Internet for curriculum-related material? Based on information found on the website, there are many sites that could be filtered that would directly apply to our school’s curriculum including law, health, civics and biology.
This is perhaps the strongest argument on the side of the "anti-filter people", including associations of librarians. While I am not an IT expert, and I am not familiar with the state-of-the-art in terms of Internet filter capabilities, I do acknowledge that filters are imperfect and may accidentally block out legitimate sites.

On the other hand, this argument strikes me as fairly easy to redress, since it is purely technical in nature. All that is required is a manual fix whenever such websites are discovered. Moreover, as technology improves, the incidence of wrongly blocked-out sites will decrease.

In my opinion, it would be completely worth the cost to hire a librarian who would do nothing else all day other than check that legitimate websites are not being accidentally blocked by the filter. If certain websites are found to be blocked, the filter can be manually adjusted to permit these sites. Customers could also be encouraged to report legitimate websites that have been blocked.

While I don't know exactly how library filters work, I believe that only one such librarian would be needed for all the branches of a city library - he or she could inform each branch about his or her findings. Findings could even be shared between cities, further reducing costs and improving functionality.

3. Equality of access for the poor

Next, the staff at Hayden high school wrote:
Internet filters also will increase the digital divide among students. Not all students have access to the Internet at home. They rely on our schools to support their research, exploration and learning. Installing filters will increase the gap between those who have and those who don’t have access to such resources. Students with phones/devices and personal data plans can still access the unfiltered Internet, while students without these luxuries are left behind.
I would be totally on board with this argument, if it weren't for the fact that we are talking about access to pornography and even child pornography, which is illegal. That reality check decimates this argument and makes it look ridiculous.

Come on, Halton - pornography as necessary for "research, exploration and learning?" Gimme a break. There is no way that a credible argument can be mounted to defend access to pornography as necessary for school research and genuine education. Pornography is vile, addictive, disgusting, often violent, and abusive of women and children (and yes, even the men, whose personal dignity is also trampled on).

And those kids without smart phones/devices? Often their parents have INTENTIONALLY withheld those devices, precisely because they don't want to give their kids access to this Internet filth. I know several such parents myself.

But now, thanks to the very taxpayer-funded school that should be a safe environment for our kids, the efforts of these parents are completely thwarted. Their phone-deprived kids can just check out a tablet at their school library and get all the Internet porn they've been missing at home.

Wow, thanks Halton High, for "equalizing access".

4. Are filters useless anyway?

The staff at Hayden high school wrote:
Filtering Wi-Fi access also disrespects the technology skills that our students have. With the knowledge and skills our students have, this filter will be easily bypassed by many. Now, instead of a learning opportunity for our youth if they are accessing inappropriate sites, we will need to move directly to a consequence model for this type of behaviour.
Yeah, and making drugs illegal doesn't stop kids from doing them. Teenagers still drink beer, even though they can't buy it. So why bother legislating?

Even if some kids figure out how to get around the filter, many won't bother trying. So it will be at least partially effective.

Moreover, this is about more than just the filter itself. This is also about what messages we are sending in our libraries and schools. Most people view these spaces as safe havens that reflect our shared cultural values. They are considered civilized and cultured places, perhaps because they deal with education.

For this reason, the lack of Internet filters sends a very strong message that consuming pornography is a legitimate and respectable activity in our society.

Perhaps that is why some people (like the man at the Ruth E. Dickinson branch) now watch Internet pornography at the library without shame, in plain view of others passing by. The library's policy assures these people that they are doing nothing wrong, and in fact encourages them.

The irony is, then, that as Vladimir Sevcik wrote, the anti-filter policy ends up making  the library into a 'safe and welcoming' place primarily for pornography addicts and even pedophiles, while it is no longer a 'safe and welcoming' place for children and families.


Below are all my posts on this topic. The most recent are listed first:

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