Net censorship not necessary

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

September 14, 2007 Ed Cartoon

In a meeting at the Central Public Library this week, debate was held over the access to information on the internet in London public libraries.

Concerned citizens and members of organizations like the Children’s Aid Society, a battered women’s shelter and members of the London Police Service argued there needs to be a level of internet censorship in libraries, so children aren’t exposed to illicit material.

The children’s sections of library computer banks are already filtered, but some citizens are concerned kids could access or witness lewd material or behaviour in the adult sections.

The first concern raised would be the effectiveness of the filters. Netsweeper (the program used to filter internet material) could block out useful information for the public. Topics such as STIs, gay and lesbian rights or other important health information could be blocked from the public’s access.

When considering the logistical problems, it becomes obvious that we cannot rely on an electronic filtering system to make moral decisions.

Even if the filters work properly, discussing censorship in a library " a public place for accessing information " is a scary prospect.

The library has always been a place everyone can go to when accessing information; the internet has further accelerated the library’s capabilities. When people no longer have certain information available to them, it becomes problematic.

There are members of the public that might not have access to the net via any means other than the public library. Hence, so long as the content is not deemed illegal, public services like the library need to make all information accessible. In an information age, people who don’t have internet access at home need access elsewhere.

Also, in an era where hordes of information are so easily available, how much are we able to shelter our youth and where should we draw the line? Kids are going to find illicit material if they look hard enough, so it’s not right to punish others that might need material deemed controversial or “offensive” information for personal or academic use.

For instance, what if a confused teen was at the library searching for sexual information that was censored. They would probably be too embarrassed to inquire to the librarians, which is just one example of internet censorship at the public library complicating people’s lives.

This issue is a blip on the radar of a much larger problem: how do we police or regulate the internet? It is a daunting task indeed, but until more serious governmental effort is put toward it, libraries should not be responsible for censoring their information.

We aren’t saying protecting children from inappropriate material is not important, but sacrificing the general public’s ability to get crucial information is too great a cost for our community’s libraries.

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