How CIPA Affects the Future of Libraries and Teens

275690-teen-computer At the end of July the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) and the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) teamed up to host a conversation on Revisiting the Children’s Internet Protection Act: 10 Years Later. This symposium, funded by Google, brought together thirty five experts from within and outside of the library community to discuss the long-term impact of implementing CIPA. The associated Twitter conversation that can be viewed with the hashtag: #CIPA_ALA2013.

Both Part I and Part II are archived on YouTube, and they’re definitely relevant for both public and school librarians in working with youth today.

For example:

• The efficacy/success rates for most filters (shown repeatedly in study after study) is 80% and less than 50% for image/video filters.

• Both filters in public libraries and school libraries block far beyond what CIPA requires (i.e. certain topics such as GLBTQ is one example of a frequent “overblock”)

• Getting around filters can be extraordinarily easy for patrons (misspelling words for example).

• CIPA doesn’t require filtering of social media, yet sites such as YouTube, FaceBook, and Google docs are often blocked.

So, how CIPA is contributing towards a digitally literate society? First, look at what exactly CIPA is…
According to Deborah Caldwell-Stone, Deputy Director of the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF), CIPA is legislation by Congress designed to protect children from content on the Internet. Schools and public libraries receiving e-rate funds or LSTA grants for the Internet are required to comply with this act. For more information on CIPA, read Caldwell-Stone’s article in American Libraries, Filtering and the First Amendment.

CIPA can interfere with libraries having a viable place in the lives of teens in the following ways:

• Denying youth the opportunity for developing skills so that they can become the best filters of what they should and shouldn’t be looking at, rather than relying on the judegment of a third-party vendor

• Many libraries embrace creating, not just consuming,  as an important skill for higher education and the working world. If many sites for content creation and sharing are blocked, then how does that affect the attainment of those skills?

• The law has remained the same even though the technology has changed. Tablets, smartphones, and other mobile devices weren’t used as regularly in public and school libraries when CIPA was first created. What implications does owning and using your own network-independent technology have with library network filtering? Does this unfairly affect those using library hardware when making decisions on appropriate content?

In the fall, ALA plans to release a white paper summarizing the symposium, the dialogue sparked surrounding these issues, and next steps to move the national conversation surrounding CIPA forward. During this  discussion, calls came up for more research in the area  as well as more dialogue with the community, including parents and other stakeholders, to help students make good choices.

Here’s three things you can do to continue the CIPA dialogue and help keep how library filtering affects teens at the forefront of the conversation:

• Listen to the symposium and post your thoughts on your blog or library’s Intranet.

• Have a discussion with your library or those in your library who make decisions about purchasing or setting up blocking software, or those who unblock access. Are they aware how filtering can negatively affect patrons? Can anything be adjusted to increase access while remaining in compliance with CIPA?

• Talk to teens and other community members to find out what they know about CIPA. Libraries can provide information on how to get around the filters as well as work with others in helping prepare students and youth to make good choices.

What else? Do you have a story you’d like to share about CIPA that happened at your library? Did you attend the symposium live or have the opportunity to watch the archived versions?

2 thoughts on “How CIPA Affects the Future of Libraries and Teens

  1. Kelly, thanks for mentioning that CIPA doesn’t require blocking of social sites like YouTube, etc. I find that in a lot of schools and libraries the library staff doesn’t realize that and takes that type of filtering as a requirement/given. I know that for a lot of institutions it can seem easier to filter everything, then decisions don’t really have to be made about specific content, goals, processes, etc. BUT, as you note, if we don’t make those decisions very thoughtfully, etc. we won’t be helping teens to gain the skills that they need.

  2. My library blocks “web communication” sites, meaning Facebook, Youtube, etc. This is very frustrating for our patrons, and as a new employee and at one point in charge of the computer lab, I questioned this policy. The standard reply from IT has simply been “it’s always been like that”. There’s no written policy reflecting it. Fortunately, with a new director, we’re working to get these sites unblocked. I’ll definitely remember this article if I need to justify information with the board. Sometimes even frustrated patrons isn’t enough.

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