A Librarian’s Dilemma Evan Groth Mark Merriken Tim Morrison Alok Parikh Recap This case study is based on a library system and the problems created from providing Internet access to their patrons in a medium sized city in the United States. It begins by assuming that we are an administrator of a library system in that city. Our main library is located in the populated downtown area which is equipped with sixteen Dell personal computers. However, they are rarely used by the library’s patrons as they do not have any interesting software, or Internet connection. Therefore it was decided to buy some popular software packages and provide Internet connectivity from Netscape’s Navigator browser. As a result of this change, the computers are now used at their fullest extent by the patrons. It has been observed that Web surfing is the most popular activity occurring in the library’s computer room. So we then sanctioned expenses for the same software and Internet access for all the branches of our city. Yet some problems like teenagers and adults viewing pornography arise due to Internet access at the main branch. Consequently the staff members suggest installing filters that would block the web sites containing sexual and obscene content. But according to the American Library Association’s (ALA) code of responsibility, the selection of library resources cannot be filtered for the reason that minors having the similar access to library resources as adult users. There are some staff members who want the filters to be installed and there are some who do not want to violate ALA’s code. Community leaders and even the mayor of the city have requested some sort of action to be taken. Congress has recently passed the Children’s Internet protection Act (CIPA) which necessitates all public libraries that participate in the federal e-rate program to install blocking mechanisms such as filters to block access to pornographic material for minors. A Librarian’s Dilemma Evan Groth Mark Merriken Tim Morrison Alok Parikh The e-rate program is a discounted rate for Internet access which is charged to libraries by telecommunication carriers. Last year $25,000 was discounted by the library system in e-rate through this program. Thus if the library administrators do not buy the blocking mechanisms, the budget will have to be deducted by this amount to make up for the lost e-rate subsidy. Stakeholders There are three main stakeholders in this case. The primary stakeholder is the head librarian, the secondary is patrons and the tertiary is library staff. The head librarian, who is the primary stakeholder, they may lose the discounted rate Internet access that they currently receive through the e-rate program. Being a medium sized institution, it would be unfortunate for the system’s bottom line. Library patrons are the secondary stakeholders as they will lose their freedom to access pornographic material if the filters are installed in computers. The library staff is the tertiary stakeholder because there is some staff that is in favor of installing filters while there is some staff which is against installing filters. The staff that is in favor of filters wants to block underage children from having access to pornographic material on the web. On the other hand, the staff that is against installing filters does not want to infringe the ALA’s code of responsibility. We are analyzing the case from the perspective of all three stakeholders as they all correlate with each other. Analyzing the case from the perspective of head librarian would be senseless as patrons and library staff are equally important in dealing with the issue. A Librarian’s Dilemma Evan Groth Mark Merriken Tim Morrison Alok Parikh Ethical Problems If the library complies with the Government and installs the filters it will benefit in many ways. The library follows the ALA code which states that all patrons should be allowed equal access to the library’s resources. This may seem kind of trivial at first but many people feel that the right to uncensored information is an extremely important one. Should the library just neglect the ALA code along with the strong opinions of some of its patrons in favor of the benefits? Is it ethical to restrict the view of certain kinds of content? Another concern is that children could possibly be exposed to explicit materials when browsing the Internet. One could argue that restricting viewable web content based on a patron’s age is discrimination according to the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). This makes things even more difficult because even though the library would be protecting younger patrons it would still be discriminating against other individuals. When considering the laws governing pornography it is clear that the library has a controversial issue to deal with. Pornography is illegal to view if the person is under the age of 18. Also viewing certain types of pornography such as explicit images of minors is considered a felony. It is not directly the library’s fault that minors are viewing pornography, this is a decision made by an individual. However, one could argue that there may be some kind of duty or obligation that the library has. Perhaps the library should try to prevent minors from accessing these materials since they provide the means to do so. This way the library is helping to prevent crime from taking place and to protect A Librarian’s Dilemma Evan Groth Mark Merriken Tim Morrison Alok Parikh the innocence of younger children. If the library is offering the chance for minors to freely view pornography does the library need to do something about this? Upholding human dignity in the workplace is common practice for most professional organizations and public libraries are no exception. The practice of upholding human dignity involves respecting the opinions and values of those around you and considering the effects of one’s actions on other individuals. Considering this we can see that any person viewing explicit materials on the library computer system has the potential to violate this principle by disturbing other patrons. If this is happening this should the library not take this into consideration? What is right in this situation? How can we determine what is ethical? As a patron in the library utilizing the computer system one would want the ability to access any information desired. As citizens under a government we must abide by certain laws such as those pertaining to pornography. So if filters block pornography but could also block other information how do we solve this problem? We will need to examine these circumstances with the idea of ethicality in mind. Technical Problems There are multiple technical issues that emerge when attempting to censor information in a public library. The main issue in our case would be the e-rate discount that governmental agencies provide the library totaling approximately $25,000 a year that requires filtering software to be installed. If filters are not installed on the library computers the government will cease to provide the discount and the head of the library will be held responsible. Filters may introduce an additional array of technical problems. A Librarian’s Dilemma Evan Groth Mark Merriken Tim Morrison Alok Parikh No one has ever coded a perfect filter. There are third party filters and government written filters for us to choose from when satisfying the requirement of filtering content. How do we know whatever filter we install will filter solely inappropriate content? Will the filter search for words in a page or will it instead simply block a hard coded list of websites? With the implementation of filters issues of maintenance arise. Knowing that new content is constantly being added to the web requires our filter to be constantly updating. If our filter must be constantly updated then who could be deemed responsible enough to make the decisions of what is acceptable and what is not. How can we trust one network administrator to basically function as the gate keeper of information? And why should one person be allotted such great power to simply satisfy a government requirement? Another technical issue when dealing with the implementation of filters is simply that the kids who are being censored are on average computer savvy themselves. They will find ways around the filter, ways to break it; they might even be provoked to act maliciously after seeing that their content is being blocked. As head of the library we must also take into account the ALA code of responsibility. We have both loyalties to this code and the government, providing us with a both technical and moral issue. If we choose to not censor content obeying the ALA code the library will end up in a state of disaster without its funding. Even if we do implement filters they could potentially block content that is actually appropriate angering library patrons as they are stopped from doing something perfectly acceptable. From choosing which filter to use to implementing and maintaining it, many difficult A Librarian’s Dilemma Evan Groth Mark Merriken Tim Morrison Alok Parikh problems arise which could potentially outweigh the initial problem itself of under age patrons viewing adult content. Social Problems In communities all across America the public library is thought of as a place to learn. The concept of a library is fundamentally to provide knowledge and the opportunity to learn to those who seek it. It is a place where young minds and old alike can be enriched. In our society there are a few social norms we expect to see upheld in any library we may visit. A few of the most common are a general silence about the area, quality service, and as little disturbance as possible. Also in our society pornographic and other sadistic types of materials are considered to be generally vulgar and depraved, not enriching. Therefore it is easy to see why parents and other prominent members of the community would be upset with the new computer systems allowing the youth access to these things. With so many people outraged something must be done about this issue. Solutions to Ethical Problems Due to the nature of the ethical problem, some sort of contract or agreement can be hashed out between the library system and the patrons which list what type of content is permissible with regards to the computing resources. We can levy fines and/or penalties to any patron in violation of the code of conduct and furthermore the actual rights of the patrons with regards to the computing resources can be clearly defined. These penalties can go along with already implemented security practices that occur within the library system. A Librarian’s Dilemma Evan Groth Mark Merriken Tim Morrison Alok Parikh By installing the filtering software, all content can be filtered against and all patrons will be subject to these rules. This will placate the local community as well as the library staff and ensure an enjoyable working environment. Given that there are laws which describe the penalties for viewing obscene and illegal content, installing software filters is a legitimate course of action. Solutions to Technical Problems As a way for the library system to keep the e-rate discount, they can comply with the recent federal legislation and install filtering software. As a way to ensure an adequate filtering solution is selected, the library system can submit requests for proposals (RFP) to multiple vendors. This way the library system can then select what it deems to be the optimum filtering solution based upon the presentations and documentation submitted to them by the various, interested vendors. Most vendor contracts usually include for the installation, administration, and maintenance of a new system for a finite amount of time. Thus allowing the filters to be properly configured and groomed for production use within the system and for a smooth transition. Recommendations In addition to installing filtering software for the library system’s PCs, a network administrator can be employed to help maintain the software. This network administrator can be tasked with: keeping the filter operational, making sure that the filtering is effective, fixing any false positives which may arise during operational use, and closing any loopholes which might be created. Additionally, a per-user per-machine construct can be created which allows for the logging of information that that patron has A Librarian’s Dilemma Evan Groth Mark Merriken Tim Morrison Alok Parikh downloaded via the library’s PCs. Along with the contract that is compulsory, this data can be used to punish any violators. We feel as though our solutions and recommendations offer unbiased and just ideas satisfying patrons of the library, the local community, the head of the library, and the local government. Following our proposed solutions, content is not entirely censored and by implementing filters the government funding continues allowing for the greatest amount of people to be satisfied possible.