For the past ten years, by law, libraries must be CIPA-compliant. The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) stipulates that public and school libraries receiving federal e-rate funding must implement technology that prohibits Internet access to visual images of child pornography, obscenity, and material that is “harmful to minors.” As a recent YALSA blog post pointed out, this does not translate into blocking social media.
Over the past two years, I’ve worked in two different systems with radically different approaches to filtering, so I’ve seen first-hand how those policies affect students.
The first district blocked student access to almost all social sites, including email. The irony was that, in that system, the technology department chose the less-expensive option of blocking only sites whose URL began with “http:”, so students could quickly bypass the filter by adding an “s” to any site requiring a secure login for social access. It was a trick every student knew, along with using the generic logins from our feeder schools to circumvent the individual logins they were supposed to use for network access in high school. Meanwhile, the home pages on all the library computers were set to the MSN portal as a default homepage, which happened to be blocked. So every single time a student launched a broswer, they were confronted with a filter right out of the gate. Not the friendliest way to access library technology… plus there was the wrinkle that students who needed access to email to register for standardized tests, apply for colleges or jobs, or communicate with potential employers or higher education institutions were thwarted unless they were willing to “work around” it.
The filtering was often illogical, and I saw plenty of objectionable content which made it through. And, should a student try to log in to a site that was blocked, that site would be blocked for an hour on that computer, regardless of login. So, if a student tried to access gmail and was blocked, the teacher who sat at the computer minutes later wouldn’t be able to get to gmail, either, under their own login. And the filter blocked all sorts of other sites. A student from making a puzzle to assess his classes’ understanding, a required component of a presentation assignment, picture below. Note that the objectionable category is “Education.”
At the system where I’m working now, I can confidently say that filtering is not an impediment to effective communication or to learning. I’ve encountered only a handful of blocked sites. GoodReads was filtered out last year, but this year it’s not. Facebook is blocked, and even links to fb are blacked out. I’m not sure why. There are Twitter enthusiasts among administration, and the use of that site is downright encouraged.
Apart from Facebook, I can count the time I’ve seen filters trip. Occasionally, the filter will trip when I mistype an address in my browser address bar, saving me from malware. I had a student researching legal issues related to child sexual abuse in the Code of Alabama get blocked, mid-research, probably because of the search terms she was using. Once in a while, an image in my RSS reader, almost always a piece of artwork from Rookie, is filtered.
At any hour, students are viewing YouTube videos on library machines, perusing Pinterest, emailing their teachers and college admissions officers and military recruiters — all activities that would have to be carried our, sub rosa, in my last school. We aren’t plagued with viruses or inexplicable bandwidth issues here. Our students learn how to use Dropbox, email attachments, and convert file formats in organic ways.
The relationship between technology departments and libraries and indeed classrooms seems ideal — to support, not impede, instruction.