Friday, November 24, 2006

Filter the Fear

The Internet filtering policy at the North Central Regional Library (WA) is being challenged by the ACLU. Read the story at "American Libraries" online.

In the article, the Director of NCRL, Dean Marney, is quoted as saying: "The internet is so huge, and we carefully choose the books for our libraries. Shouldn't we try to be as careful with the internet?"

Wait a second...! Did I read that right? Employing filtering software does not make your library as careful as it is with regard to its collection development because individual libraries aren't writing their own filtering software. Their making their own decisions regarding which books to buy, but not the website to which they deny access.

Look, I have no problem with filters as long as they work. The problem is that they don't work. The bigger problem is that legislators and parents think that they do. Until filters become as smart as human beings, they'll always be problematic. Sorry, parents; I think your job is only going to get harder.

What really worries me, however, is the danger in associating collection development practices with internet filtering. Apart from the fact that they both fall under the heading of "access," the two have very little in common beyond that.

Perhaps we should also let software do all of our collection development for us. All we'd have to do is write an algorithm and fire all the librarians. (Google can handle all of the reference questions.) While we're at it, we could fire the circulation staff and install a dozen self checkout kiosks.

The solution to all this? There isn't an easy one. All we can do is challenge programmers to write better software. Of course, we could also push for legislation that would abolish the Internet.


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