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.
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Solutions to Ethical Problems