Researched and written by Elisabeth Werby for the National Coalition Against Censorship


Since the inception of the public library movement in the mid 19th century, public libraries have occupied a unique and critical role in American society. To generations of Americans—native born and immigrants, rich and poor—public libraries have provided free access to resources that stimulate the mind, nourish the imagination, and connect individuals to people and events outside the boundaries of their own experiences. Libraries have been conduits for information about jobs, government programs and community services. As public spaces, they have served both as safe havens for private reflection and as meeting places for community functions.

In all these various roles and for all these reasons, public libraries in the United States and around the world have promoted values and experiences that are fundamental to a democratic society, offering equal access to essential tools for informed participation in the political process. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution1 guarantees "public access to discussion, debate and the dissemination of information and ideas"2 and the public library has been recognized as a "quintessential locus" for such access.3 In the European community, too, public libraries are acknowledged as bulwarks of an open, equal society.4

The traditional roles of public libraries and librarians are under new scrutiny, however, as computers and the Internet challenge familiar notions of community and defy common assumptions about what, how, where and with whom we learn and communicate. To remain viable public institutions, libraries—and the communities that support them—must revisit and clarify their mission, identifying and capitalizing on the services they are uniquely positioned to offer and exploiting the technology to best advantage. The task is complicated by the fact that the landscape continues to change as the technology evolves and becomes available in more and more households5 and at alternative access points like free-standing information kiosks and community technology centers.6

Most libraries in the United States are now connected to the Internet, and some have moved beyond connectivity in ways that complement and supplement existing programs and services. The Internet contains a nearly infinite array of material from sources around the globe, some of it reliable, some not. Many librarians are at the front lines of technology training, educating new computer users in search techniques and helping them evaluate the relevance and validity of online information. Some libraries are becoming Internet "publishers," often as part of a network that creates a virtual public space to reinvigorate a real world community. Some are also using the full potential of the technology, including e-mail and chat functions, as a magnet to attract new patrons and introduce them to a wide variety of services and materials, including books. These substantive programs and outreach efforts are especially significant for underserved populations who, at this point—and perhaps for some time to come—might otherwise be denied the benefits of the new technology.

Sadly, these positive developments are often overlooked, at least in the popular media, in favor of campaigns to restrict or limit access to the Internet, based on concerns about material with explicit sexual or violent content.7 Most local libraries have developed policies and procedures to handle these issues without censorship, but calls for mandatory filtering and other forms of restrictions continue to engage the public discourse and to threaten library users' ability to exploit the full potential of the medium. The economics of the new technology also pose serious issues. The cost of hardware, software, upgrades, training and staff necessary to move beyond connectivity to provide meaningful access and user support is a significant barrier for many libraries, forcing them to look for new sources of funds and to rethink priorities.

The challenges are significant: Will the Internet become an effective force for promoting the free flow of information and ideas, or an excuse for restricting it? How can the library secure its role as the facilitator and defender of free thought and inquiry? In planning for both the short-term and the long-term needs of local libraries, decision-makers face a number of important issues:

  • What are the current roles of the library in the community? What segments of the community use the library and how do they use it? What are the special needs of minors? Of new Americans? Of underserved populations?
  • What roles can and should the library play in the future and how can technology be used to support and enhance those roles? Taking into account the availability of Internet access elsewhere in the community—in schools, other public outlets, and in homes—should the library focus or prioritize its electronic resources? If so, how? Research and information gathering? Adult learning? Entertainment? What programs and services are necessary to support these uses?
  • What is the library's obligation to provide training in effective use of the technology? How can the library respond to the difficulties of assessing the reliability of information on the Internet?
  • What are the risks and benefits of Internet use for different populations and what policies and programs should the library adopt to help patrons use the medium wisely? How can these policies be shaped consistent with the First Amendment and the values of privacy and anonymity? What are the appropriate roles for library staff, parents and others in making decisions about minors' access?
  • What hardware, software and other electronic resources (for example, commercial databases) will be needed to implement the library's goals and objectives? What are the associated staff and maintenance costs? What will be the bottom line and where will the funds come from?

This paper is intended as a resource for communities seeking to take advantage of the benefits of technology without sacrificing free speech and inquiry. Part I offers an overview of the ways in which libraries are using the Internet to serve and engage their communities. Part II addresses efforts to censor Internet use in libraries and the implications of First Amendment jurisprudence. It examines some of the concerns raised by censorship advocates and summarizes libraries' responses to these efforts. Finally, Part III explores the overall impact on access to information as libraries develop and fund technology plans.


It is still too early to determine the unique information niche that libraries will fill in the next millennium. In the meantime, these public institutions are exploring ways to maximize technology to meet local needs. This section examines some of these approaches and the ways in which they promote First Amendment values.

A. The Library as a Safety Net

Despite the explosive increases in computer ownership and Internet use, not all Americans are beneficiaries of the technological revolution. Indeed, the Internet is "one of the more polarized aspects of life today in America."8 A July 1998 study by the National Telecommunications Information Administration revealed significant disparities in computer ownership and use based on income level, race and geographic location. Among the "least connected" Americans are rural and central city minorities, the rural poor, single-parent and female headed households and young households. Significantly, the "digital divide" became more pronounced between 1994 and 1997, when the gap between those at the upper and lower income levels and between Blacks and Hispanics and Whites widened significantly.9

There are some contradictory data regarding computer ownership among higher income African-Americans,10 as well as evidence that the disparities between Whites and other groups may be diminishing.11 Nevertheless, to the extent it remains, the "digital divide" portends further inequalities. As the authors of a recent study emphasized, "the Internet may provide for equal opportunity and democratic communication, but only for those with access."12 Familiarity with the varied aspects of new technologies is fast becoming an essential employment skill,13 and workers with computer skills are likely to earn more than those without them.14 The Internet also facilitates access to employment opportunities, as well as important government services.15 Finally, to the extent the Internet promotes participation in the political process though enhanced access to information, e-mail to government officials, and online discussions, those without access remain at a disadvantage and without a voice.16

More than 73 percent of public library outlets in the United States now offer some form of public Internet access, and the number is fast approaching the goal of universal connectivity.17 However, as the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science has recognized, universal service alone is not sufficient to bring underserved populations into the information age. The library can serve as a safety net only if it can provide Internet "have-nots" with the same quality of access and services available to others. This requires "graphic capability as well as sufficient speed, workstation functionality, and staff support to meet local needs."18 But almost half of all connected libraries—43 percent—have only one graphical workstation, and rural libraries are less likely than those in urban and suburban areas to have high speed connections.19 Libraries serving smaller populations also lag behind in providing online catalogues, commercial and local information databases.20 While most libraries do offer computer training, smaller and less well-funded institutions are less likely to do so.21

Moreover, some of those on the losing side of the digital divide such as the urban poor may already have access to the Internet through local public libraries,22 but may not be taking advantage of the technology. Library use is positively correlated with education and income,23 and for some adults, lack of a perceived need, language and educational barriers, and other social and cultural forces may inhibit experimentation with the Internet at a local library even if access is available. There appear to be parallel issues for students. For example, Novak and Hoffman report that African American students without home computers are less likely to take advantage of alternative Internet access locations, including libraries, than similarly situated White students.24 Because these issues are so important, the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science has identified a need for further research to assess libraries' success in serving those who lack other Internet access and to identify how libraries can be more effective in reaching underserved populations.25

B. The Library as a Center for Community, Information and Learning

Still, there is high demand for Internet use at all libraries, by millions of adults and children, including those who have other access points. Indeed, public libraries represent the first choice among a number of other locations as a public point of Internet access outside of home, school and work.26 There is currently no baseline national data on precisely why these individuals are looking to the public library for Internet access, how or to what extent they are using the technology.27 However, the anecdotal evidence gives some clues. With librarians as expert guides, many libraries are integrating technology into existing programs, including children's services and homework centers.28 Libraries are enhancing their reference collections with electronic resources, including commercial databases of magazines, newspapers and sometimes more specialized sources. As of 1997, about ten percent of public libraries—mostly in large cities—had home pages on the World Wide Web.29 Some of these include online catalogues, remote access to databases and guidance on finding and selecting online resources.

Some libraries have embarked on more extensive (and more expensive) efforts to use the Internet to build and strengthen real-world communities, attract new users and enhance the library's role as a source of information and learning. These initiatives, too, draw on librarians' expertise in selecting and evaluating material, as well as the role of the library in integrating immigrant populations and its position as a welcoming public space. Many of these efforts, including some described here, are detailed in a recent report by Libraries for the Future, Public Space in Cyberspace.30

  • Many libraries are integrating technology into programs and services for new Americans and ethnic populations. The San Francisco Public Library, for example, offers Internet training classes in Spanish, Chinese, and Japanese and has linked its own web site to online versions of newspapers and magazines from around the world. The Brooklyn Public Library's web site includes a selected list of links to sites in Chinese, Spanish, Russian, French and German. Adult education and literacy programs in a number of libraries stress computer literacy as a means of promoting print and media literacy and coordinate training with online activities including job searches.
  • A number of libraries provide opportunities for local teens to develop their own technology-based skills while learning about and serving their communities. In Queens, New York, teenagers are paid to serve as computer mentors for adults in the systems' 62 branches. In libraries in Newark, New Jersey; Oakland, California; and Flint, Michigan, teens are learning e-journalism skills, researching issues about their communities and posting them on the web. The Newark and Oakland programs have their own sites, with information and interactive opportunities for other teens. The Flint teens post information about local history and social service agencies on the library's site.
  • Increasingly, libraries are creating web sites that link users with critical civic information—calendars of local government activities, databases of services, employment listings and volunteer opportunities, accessible from the library and, in many cases, by remote users. In response to community interest, some libraries are providing materials about specific topics. For example, the Seattle library's main catalogue now contains hyperlinks to information about Puget Sound, developed by People for Puget Sound.31
  • Libraries are also participants in—and sometimes the anchors or founders of—community networks.32 One successful project is CamNet, based in Camden, New Jersey <> which links over 4,000 computers in approximately 150 schools and public libraries to the Internet. Web-accessible databases are offered through the Camden Country Library to members of the Network at special discounted prices, and each participating institution is entitled to 4 free e-mail accounts.

C. The Library as a Place to Communicate

The media proclaim that Chat is Where It's At33 and that the U.S. is "E-Mail Nation."34 For some users, these communications functions are the most compelling aspects of the Internet. Indeed, for many reasons, Internet communications may be as vital to an open and equal society as information gathering. And at this point, libraries offer critical access points for Internet communications for those who seek privacy and anonymity, as well as for those who have no other access.

Some librarians complain that chatters and e-mail users disrupt other patrons and that these uses decrease the time available for "serious research." But most have found that their concerns can be addressed successfully through time limits on Internet use, Acceptable Use Policies,35 and enforcement of general rules regarding appropriate conduct in the library.

Many librarians also recognize a direct pay-off from offering Internet communications to the public. E-mail and chat are magnets drawing new and often inexperienced users, including some technology have-nots, to the Internet36—and to the library. One librarian explains:

So many patrons . . .come in to use the Internet computers because they can e-mail or chat. . .And that's when we strike! We show them how they can find health, financial, genealogical . . . information on the Internet and soon they're hooked doing real' research. It gives us a chance to work in a little bibliographic instruction too. The PR benefit is enormous! And they come back . .37

Some libraries have leveraged these benefits by integrating Internet communications into existing programs designed to encourage familiarity with the technology and with other skills. For example, a number of library-based adult education and literacy programs encourage chat and e-mail.38 For new Americans, especially, this may be the most reliable and least expensive way to keep in touch with friends and relatives outside the country.

Indeed, e-mail and chat facilitate a nearly infinite array of relationships and communities. They provide mechanisms for individuals like senior citizens and victims of diseases like AIDS to escape their isolation and share critical health information and needed support. Minors also benefit from e-mail, chat and newsgroups. Whether the topic is Leonardo diCaprio or impeachment, educators praise the Internet as a place where kids can evaluate arguments and express opinions safely, without worrying about who's looking or what other people think, a rehearsal for active participation in the political process.39 For some teens, electronic communications help develop and refine skills and expand horizons. For others, these functions are literally a lifeline. According to an April 1998 survey, forty percent of homosexual youth who think of suicide go online to find someone to talk to. Fifty-one percent reported that online contacts were "crucial" to their well being.40 Yet, as a recent article underscores, many eager teens (and of course many adults) cannot access the Internet at home and must depend on alternative access points.41

The technology is not without its detractors, however. The prevalence of online communities cemented by increasingly narrow common interests has some commentators worried, and the long-term impact of the Internet on the political process remains unclear. The personalization of news and information, the ability to tune out opposing viewpoints and communicate only with like-minded people, could lead to a fragmented society, without a set of shared understandings. Democratic institutions may be undermined by the influence of so many voices motivated by narrow self-interest. At the same time, an overload of information, exacerbated by e-mail, requires speakers to become increasingly hyperbolic to compete for attention.42 Finally, just as anonymity allows speakers to avoid being judged by stereotypes based on age, sex or race,43 it also eliminates the opportunity for listeners to confront their prejudices.

Nevertheless, it is well recognized that Internet communications are a valuable political tool. Overseas, e-mail is a target of repressive regimes precisely because it is an effective means of sustaining political dissent.44 In the United States, some government agencies are soliciting and responding to e-mail from the public on specific issues. For example, in March 1999, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation withdrew a proposal to monitor individuals' bank transactions based on 205,000 e-mail messages opposing the proposal. The agency had described the proposed regulation on its web site, set up an e-mail box for comments, and provided staff to review and summarize those comments.45 Another example of electronic political activism is MoveOn <> a virtual grass roots movement that collected 450,000 signatures to an online petition to "censure President Clinton and move on" and raised $13 million to defeat candidates who had voted for impeachment.

In addition to fostering direct action, Internet communications also facilitate informed participation in the electoral process. Projects like NYC Dnet <>, the New York City affiliate of the national democracy network <>, not only provide detailed local information about candidates and issues, but also encourage users to use e-mail to ask questions, to engage in dialogue and discussion and to respond to online polls. The site identifies more than 200 libraries and community centers offering public Internet access, underscoring the importance of these local institutions in ensuring that all citizens have an opportunity to learn and make their voices heard.


A key policy issue affecting the ability of libraries and their patrons to exploit the full potential of the medium is the debate over restricting access to the Internet. Like other innovations in communications, the Internet revives old fears about the power of images and words and raises important questions about the ownership and control of information. The latter issue, beyond the scope of this paper, is at the heart of discussions over changes in copyright law and proposals for commercial database protections.46 The former is tied to more direct and familiar forms of censorship.

Concerns about violent and sexually explicit material and, in particular the effects on children, have spawned numerous proposals for government regulation of Internet content. These include legislation imposing "upstream" restrictions on the transmission of material as well as mandates for "downstream" controls—filtering and blocking software to limit user access at public institutions. Legislation currently pending at both state and federal levels would require schools and libraries to filter the Internet as a condition for receipt of government funds for technology,47 and the focus on Internet content control has supported a thriving industry devoted to developing and marketing filtering software.

Proposals directed at e-mail and chat in public libraries are based on similar rationales about the need to protect minors. Indeed, some believe that e-mail and chat pose particular risks as venues for online enticement, and because, more often than other Internet uses, these functions elicit "spam," unsolicited bulk e-mail that may include sexually explicit teasers. In its preliminary report, Kids on the Internet: The Problems and Perils of Cyberspace, the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science recommended that libraries limit children's chat to specifically approved moderated chat groups and designated interactive sites.48 Some would ban chat and e-mail from public institutions altogether.

In the few cases decided thus far,the courts have rebuffed efforts to censor the Internet, finding that the government did not meet the high level of justification required by the First Amendment.49 However each of these courts assumed—at least for purposes of litigation—that the government had a "compelling" interest in protecting minors. Yet, as discussed below, the evidence of harm from Internet access at public institutions is at best equivocal, and the blunt-edged approach advocated by pro-censorship advocates ignores the individualized needs of children and their parents. Fortunately, most libraries have found ways of balancing the interests of all parties effectively, without censorship. Some of these "less restrictive alternatives" are summarized in this section.

A. First Amendment Principles in Cyberspace

According to the Supreme Court, cyberspace is a free speech zone, and the Internet is thus entitled to the highest level of First Amendment protection. To meet constitutional standards, restrictions on online speech must be both necessary to serve a "compelling interest" and the least restrictive means of doing so.

1. The Constitutionality of "Upstream" Content Restrictions.
In the first case to articulate these principles, Reno v. ACLU ("Reno I"),50 the Supreme Court struck down provisions of the Communications Decency Act51 that criminalized the knowing transmission and display of "indecent" material to minors under the age of 18. Although acknowledging a government interest in protecting minors from certain types of sexual content, it held the statute unconstitutional because of its broad reach and its ambiguous language. (What, precisely, is "indecent"?) The combined effect of these infirmities, the Court concluded, would suppress not only unprotected material, but also "much speech that adults have a right to receive and to address to each other," and would be like "burning the house to roast the pig."

Following Reno I, Congress passed the Child Online Protection Act (COPA), specifically drafted in an effort to avoid the constitutional pitfalls of the CDA. In a decision that is now on appeal, a federal district court in Philadelphia enjoined enforcement of the statute.52 It held that the legislation failed the strict scrutiny test in part because it was simply ineffective in solving the alleged problem of minors' access to sexual materials. The Internet transcends national boundaries, and, as a practical matter, the statute could not preclude minors from obtaining sexual materials from foreign sites, which are not subject to U.S. jurisdiction. Nor could it curb enterprising and technologically savvy minors from bypassing mechanisms designed to permit adult-only access. In any event, the court noted, less restrictive and equally effective means to protect children are available, including blocking and filtering software capable of "downstream" regulation of content, regardless of its source.53

2. The Constitutionality of "Downstream" Content Restrictions: Blocking and Filtering Internet Access in Public Libraries
Blocking and filtering software suffer from numerous and serious flaws, which have been repeatedly and persuasively documented.54 Such devices are under- and over-inclusive, employ subjective judgments, exclude a great deal of useful and harmless information, and often conceal both the criteria for blocking and information about what material is blocked. While individuals are free to block or filter Internet access at home, the use of such technology in public institutions is constitutionally suspect. In Mainstream Loudoun v. Board of Trustees of the Loudoun County Library, a federal district court in Virginia, applying the strict scrutiny test, held that the installation of blocking software at all Internet terminals at a local library violated the First Amendment.55

Several aspects of the decision are significant for local libraries. First, although the court assumed a compelling interest in minimizing minors' access to sexually explicit content, it found that the policy was not necessary. The library offered no evidence of problems involving minors at its own facility and presented only isolated instances of incidents elsewhere. One of these was successfully resolved by the use of a privacy screen56 which, in addition to acceptable use policies and educational programs, was a less restrictive option that the library could have implemented, but did not.

Finally, the court found that the library had impermissibly delegated blocking decisions to a private company which censored material based on "secret criteria" that it refused to disclose, even to the library itself. Adult patrons could request that library staff "unblock" a particular site, but the court concluded that the request procedure imposed an unconstitutional burden on library patrons and gave staff unbridled discretion to reject any request.

A second library case, decided without opinion by a California Superior Court, Kathleen R. v. City of Livermore,57 presents the flip side of Mainstream Loudoun: whether a library can be held civilly liable for declining to filter the Internet. The plaintiff's 12-year old son had allegedly downloaded pornography, and she claimed that the library was maintaining a public nuisance and violating other state laws. The court dismissed the claims,58 and the case is now on appeal.

3. A Constitutional Right to Chat?
So far, no court has addressed the constitutional dimensions of the right to chat and e-mail in public institutions.59 Libraries that have never used Internet Relay Chat ("IRC") software and have never offered e-mail are probably not constitutionally required to so do, any more than a library with a full complement of books is required to buy audiotapes. But increasingly, the ability to chat, to send and receive e-mail, and to participate in newsgroups does not depend on specialized software or knowledge of distinct Internet protocols: all that is required is access to the World Wide Web.60 And First Amendment principles suggest that having made the decision to offer web access, libraries may not be able to limit access to these communications functions unless the strict scrutiny test is met.

Under the First Amendment, even apparently neutral rules—for example, a blanket ban on all chat—are suspect if the "predominant intent" behind the regulation is to discriminate against controversial or unpopular ideas or viewpoints. "The government's purpose is the controlling consideration."61 Thus, if the clear intent is to restrict access to sexual material, limits on chat and e-mail may fail to pass constitutional muster for many of the same reasons that the courts have invalidated other approaches to controlling Internet use.62

4. Censorship Through Funding Restrictions
Legislation currently pending in Congress would mandate the use of blocking and filtering software by libraries and schools that take advantage of the federal "E-Rate"("education rate"),63 a discounted rate for wiring and telecommunications equipment made available pursuant to the Telecommunications Act of 1996.64 The focus of the legislation is child pornography, obscenity and material deemed "inappropriate" for minors. Several state legislatures are considering similar conditions on funding Internet access in public institutions.65

Using government purse strings to pressure local officials to engage in Internet censorship raises troublesome Constitutional questions if the purpose is to suppress certain viewpoints or categories of speech. In a recent case involving federal funding for the arts, the Supreme Court said that "the power to award subsidies" cannot be used to impose a "penalty on disfavored viewpoints"or to "drive certain ideas or viewpoints from the marketplace.' "66 The Court has also held that financial benefits generally available to student publications at a public university could not be withheld from a Christian student newspaper because of its message, even though the state's action in denying funding was based on concern about its obligations not to promote or "establish" religion.67

Proponents of funding restrictions rely principally on a case in which the Court upheld government funding to provide family planning services, but excluded abortion-related services.68 The Court held that the "program has not discriminated on the basis of viewpoint; it has merely chosen to fund one activitiy to the exclusion of another." The ruling appears to have little application outside the abortion context, and is distinguishable from a situation in which subsidies intended to facilitate Internet connectivity in public institutions are explicitly conditioned on censorship of certain content.

B. Evaluating the Risks to Minors

The public attention directed at proposals to restrict access to the Internet in public libraries has obscured critical discussion of the nature and extent of the purported dangers of cyberspace. Certainly, the Internet is replete with offensive and disturbing material—racial and ethnic slurs, violent images and sexual material of all kinds. Relationships begun in cyberspace may becoming harassing or may be continued in the real world, where they may pose some risk. Still, a closer look at the evidence suggests that the dangers of unfettered Internet use are greatly exaggerated, particularly where access occurs at a public institution. And as the courts have noted, the benefits of censorship are, at best, "unproven."69

1. Children and Pornography
Librarians report anecdotally that younger children tend to use the Internet for playing games and return to the same sites rather than simply "surf."70 Young children also typically require assistance in Internet research, and the guidance of an accompanying adult—a parent or librarian—also minimizes the potential for stumbling across pornographic sites during this activity. Certainly, some children do deliberately seek out sexually explicit material. But after more than two years of aggressive efforts to collect data, the pro-censorship organization Filtering Facts identified only 196 such incidents.71 Considering that an estimated 344 million children visit public libraries each year72 and that nearly three-fourths of these libraries offer some form of public Internet access73 this evidence belies the claim that there is a problem of "epidemic" proportions.

Moreover, the evidence of harm from viewing pornography is, at best, inconclusive. Significantly, none of those advocating restrictions on Internet access in public libraries present any data showing that occasional exposure to online pornographic material—whether accidental or deliberate—has adverse effects on either young children or older minors.74 Based largely on studies of adults, experts on both sides continue to debate the effects of more sustained exposure, but there is no scientific consensus. More than thirty years ago, the Supreme Court questioned whether material deemed to be "harmful to minors" actually impaired "the ethical and moral development of our youth." Although it upheld the right of the state to regulate, the Court concluded that a causal link had not been demonstrated.75 In terms of the available research, the situation has not materially changed.

2. Online Stalking and Enticement
The Internet does not create new crimes or criminals, so much as a new environment for criminal acts. That does not make the Internet a uniquely risky environment. In fact, the odds that any particular online conversation will lead to either online harassment or a dangerous real world encounter are relatively small considering that more than 16 million children in the United States—nearly one in four—are online76 and that millions of communications are occurring at any given moment. And these odds, too, can be decreased significantly if children are educated to follow some basic guidelines about dealing with strangers online, such as not giving out names, phone numbers or other personal information.77

Since 1995, the FBI has arrested 270 individuals who stalked children online.78 For the two-year period ending in December 1998, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported 140 "traveler" cases, in which a child left home or was targeted by an adult to leave home via the Internet. In 74 percent of these cases, the victim was 15 or older,79 and might have been vulnerable to enticement in any form. Filtering Facts cites only one incident of an online relationship facilitated through public library Internet access and resulting in a real world contact. This incident apparently ended with an arrest.80

Significantly, the technology is beginning to address some of these concerns. The Internet is increasingly dangerous for sexual predators as well as those involved in illegal distribution of child pornography and other crimes. For example, the National Center's Cyber Tipline, with extensive staffing for handling leads, along with aggressive enforcement efforts by several federal agencies, are increasingly effective in intercepting criminal activities targeting children online.81 There is also a significant deterrent effect. An anonymous "recovering pedophile" interviewed for Redbook Magazine acknowledged that "on the computer, the search for a victim is an arduous task that's fraught with danger due to the intensity of law enforcement. . ."82

Finally, an increasing wealth of material is available to educate parents and others to common warning signs that particular children may be at risk. According to the National Center, those most vulnerable to sexual predators, whether on or off-line, are children who are lonely, suffer from poor self-esteem, and seek attention. Pedophiles provide that attention through an extensive and characteristic "grooming" process, a relationship that typically occurs over a period of weeks and long before any real world encounter. The communications are usually conducted at night, and there is often extensive telephone or mail contact prior to any real world meeting. There are a number of other behavioral indicators that would likely alert parents to potential problems.83

3. Media Violence
Until recently, concerns about minors' Internet use have focused primarily on exposure to sexual content.84 The April 1999 shootings in Littleton, Colorado, however, brought national attention to violence on the Internet and in the media, and have spurred various proposals to label and restrict access to materials with violent content, including books, games and recordings.85 These measures parallel proposed restrictions on minors' access to sexual content, but stand on even shakier constitutional ground. Unlike obscenity and material deemed "harmful to minors," no exceptions apply to material depicting hatred and violence. Even calls to violence fall within the ambit of the First Amendment unless they are both intended to produce and are likely to produce imminent lawless action.86 And efforts to define violence and to limit government regulation to"bad" (i.e.,"excessive" or "gratuitous") violence have been found ambiguous and vague, incapable of objective determination and therefore constitutionally infirm.87

The constitutional impediment to restricting minors' access to violent material, however, has not resolved the public debate. The discussion is complicated by a number of factors. First, the causal relationship between violent imagery and violent behavior, like the connection between pornography and sexual acts or attitudes, is a complex one and continues to be hotly debated.88 Moreover, even censorship advocates allow that not all violence is harmful; a myriad of contextual factors and cultural values affect the perception and impact of the material.89 Attempts to distinguish "good" from "bad" violence have been unsuccessful, and most definitions would reach materials as diverse as the Bible, the Odyssey, and Schindler's List. Finally, data from group studies aside, no researcher has been able to predict what unique combination of images, words and life experiences will trigger an aggressive response—much less a violent act—in any particular individual. Indeed, at this point, there appears to be no common theme that would explain the recent spate of student shootings.90

But in any event, broad-based discussions of media violence are not particularly relevant to the Internet, especially in the context of public library access. Other than the news, works of art, and possibly "hate speech" (discussed below) there is relatively little violent imagery on the Internet, and it is unlikely that time-limited Internet access in a library will result in significant exposure to violent material. "First person shooter" video games like Doom and Quake, mentioned repeatedly in connection with the Littleton shootings, cannot be played on the Internet, except in trial versions or with special software which is not typically available in public libraries.

"Hate speech" and bomb making instructions on the Internet pose somewhat different issues. The Internet does facilitate the dissemination of all types of information, including racist and extremist propaganda. This type of material has long been available elsewhere, and the concern that the increased availability of violent material will lead to an increase in violent activity is not supported by the evidence. Interestingly, the number of anti-Semitic incidents reported to the Anti-Defamation League declined steadily between 1994 and 1997—years of explosive growth in the number of online extremist groups.91 The survey included any reported overt expression of anti-Semitism such as spray-painted Swastikas and epithets like "dirty Jew," whether or not these could be classified as crimes.92 On the other side of the debate, insufficient attention has been paid to the fact that the Internet exposes extremist groups to public view and enhances the ability of law enforcement, as well as private groups, to monitor their philosophy, activities and the links between various subgroups.93

C. Who Should Decide?

1. The Rights and Responsibilities of Parents
Proposals to restrict public library Internet access are based on a one-size-fits-all approach: all children are equally affected, and potential risks from time-limited library access during the afternoon are treated equally with potential harms from prolonged home-based electronic communications late at night. But as discussed above, there is neither a scientific or social consensus on these issues. An assessment of the risks—and benefits—of different types of Internet use for any particular child is a complex process, one that the government is in no position to undertake. Rather, the determination of whether, where and under what circumstances a child should be permitted to access the Internet is most appropriately made by parents.94

In Reno I the Supreme Court reaffirmed its "consistent recognition of the principle that the parents' claim to authority in their own household to direct the rearing of their children is basic in the structure of our society."95 Other courts have likewise recognized that different families have different attitudes to sexually explicit material. For example, in a case involving access to a "dial-a-porn" service, a federal circuit court of appeals emphasized "in this respect, the decision a parent must make is comparable to whether to keep sexually explicit books on the shelf or subscribe to adult magazines. No constitutional principle is implicated. The responsibility for making such choices is where our society has traditionally placed it—on the shoulders of the parent."96

The Supreme Court has held that the state has an independent interest in the well-being of its youth; that parental guidance cannot always be provided; and that parents are entitled to "the support of laws designed to aid the discharge of [their] responsibilit[ies]."97 But government regulations should not trump parents' independent determinations to permit their children access to the Internet in public institutions. And governmental actions that burden the exercise of those choices—by requiring parents to sign permission forms or mandating their presence when their children access the Internet—do not avoid the constitutional debate.

2. The Independent Rights of Minors
There is a world of difference between a child of six and a sixteen year old, and a rule suitable for one would be indefensible for the other. Children, as they grow and mature, may gain independent constitutional rights to material and Internet communications. Older minors are more likely to use e-mail, to participate in chatrooms and to encounter sexually explicit material through independent Internet research. And, consistent with their own burgeoning sexuality, they are more likely to seek it out. The potential social and educational benefits of their explorations may support a First Amendment right of access, even in the face of parental ignorance or opposition.

The decision in Reno I suggests that the Supreme Court may be willing to scrutinize more closely claims about "harm to minors" from sexually explicit material and to evaluate their independent right to gain access to information and ideas. The decision noted that "the strength of the government's interest in protection of minors is not equally strong throughout the broad coverage of this broad statute" and recognized that the statute's ban on "indecent" speech would preclude many "artistic images of educational value" as well as valuable discussion about birth control practices, homosexuality and safer sex.98 In fact, these discussions are of pressing importance to many teens who rely on information and contacts from the Internet for physical and emotional well being.99

D. A Final Issue: Libraries' Risk of Liability from Hostile Work Environment Claims

Although most discussions of censorship in public institutions focus on potential harm to minors, there is also some concern that the library itself might face liability for declining to filter the Internet—either on the grounds of facilitating minors' access to sexually explicit materials or by creating a sexually hostile work environment. As discussed above, a California Superior Court has held that libraries are not at risk of civil liability for declining to regulate minors' Internet use.100 Civil liability based on a hostile work environment also appears unlikely.101

A hostile environment is a form of employment discrimination prohibited by federal and most state laws if based on sex, race or other protected classifications. It is conduct that, for both the affected employee and a reasonable person, and considering the "totality of the circumstances," is so "severe or pervasive" as to alter the conditions of employment.102 Hostile environment claims are most often based on physical actions and conduct coupled with speech—slurs, threats and taunts. Visual materials may also be elements of a hostile work environment, but images and/or words alone are unlikely to be sufficient to sustain such a claim, particularly if the employee can simply avert her eyes or walk away. This is especially true if the display involves protected speech.103

The Internet doesn't change the rules. As Filtering Facts claims, a handful of librarians may be troubled by what they see on patrons' computer screens, but this alone does not give rise to institutional liability. A library that has adopted and enforces rules prohibiting unlawful and harassing behavior of all types—on and offline—is unlikely to be at risk.

E. Less Restrictive Alternatives: Solutions At the Local Level

Eighty-five percent of libraries offering public Internet access do not use filtering software,104 although, in the wake of media attention to the "dark side" of online life, they are facing increasing pressure to restrict children's access.105 Instead, they are crafting sound and creative solutions, consistent with local needs.

Acceptable Use Policies ("AUPs") have been adopted by an estimated 97 percent of libraries offering public access.106 Most policies warn that Internet information may be incomplete, inaccurate or offensive and state that parents must assume responsibility for supervising their children's use. Most AUPs explicitly prohibit illegal activity on library workstations, as well as use of the computer for harassment.107 Time limits on computer use are typical features of almost all library Internet programs,108 whether or not they are specified in the AUP. Libraries with more than one Internet access outlet are experimenting with reserving terminals for priority uses at certain times of day.109

Most libraries also offer Internet training for patrons,110 and this often includes instruction to help users navigate safely and intelligently through cyberspace. Trained to analyze, evaluate and prioritize different sources of information, librarians are well positioned to serve as guides. "Safe Surfing" or "Internet Drivers Ed" programs, supported by a wealth of valuable material from the American Library Association,111 as well as government agencies,112 are valuable both for children and adults. Some libraries are considering requiring such training as a condition of Internet use. Complementing these educational efforts, many libraries (whether or not they have their own World Wide Web pages) have created introductory screens for their users that offer a menu of choices and hyperlinks to recommended sites, arranged by topic and by age level.113 The screens can be developed relatively inexpensively by library personnel based on the preferences and needs of the community, but do not preclude patrons from exploring other areas of cyberspace.

In professional journals and online newsgroups, librarians around the country are considering additional means of encouraging appropriate uses of the Internet, consistent with the character of the library and traditional values of privacy and anonymity: Are privacy screens more trouble than they're worth? Should librarians monitor what patrons are viewing online? If the material is sexually explicit is a shoulder tap necessary or appropriate? Are sign-in policies helpful and, if so, how much information should be collected? As a practical matter, what efforts would be required to enforce parental permissions? Is it possible for librarians to determine which minors might have an independent constitutional right to some material?114 Can concerns be satisfied if the "default" position is unfiltered access and patrons are free to opt-in for filtering?

In the long-term, the positive experiments in many local libraries, the continuing efforts of librarians to seek better solutions, and the mounting evidence of the inefficiency of filtering115 may dampen some of the enthusiasm for this approach in public libraries, at least in the United States.116 In addition, legislation to control spam,117 to protect privacy and prevent unwanted commercial exploitation of children and adults118 will impact the terms of the censorship debate by addressing these concerns directly.

Still, it is unlikely that the censorship pressures will disappear. New technology is being touted as offering sharper tools for discriminating between so-called "appropriate" and "inappropriate" content and is capable of screening e-mail, chat and other functions.119 Myriad variations on the filtering theme—filters at some terminals in some locations within the library and not at others—are still under consideration locally and among state and federal legislatures.120 Similarly, some libraries are continuing to experiment with permutations of the parental permission requirement, including "Smart Cards" coded to indicate parental controls.121 Each of these approaches requires not only an assessment of the practical impact of the proposal on the library and its staff, but also close analysis under the First Amendment.122 Moreover, given the uncertain contours of the law, communities must consider whether, as a matter of policy, implementing measures that restrict the free flow of information and ideas is a wise course. A critical factor in the inquiry will be the success of less restrictive alternatives to censorship through education, AUPs and other means.


The United States is fast approaching its goal of universal connectivity in public libraries,123 due, in some measure, to the federal E-rate.124 However, as explained in Part I, although the extent and quality of connectivity is improving, not all of these libraries offer "effective" access–full graphic capability at an appropriate number of workstations along with a full array of online services and supporting programs. And the primary reason is cost. At a minimum, the following capital costs and operating expenses must be considered125:

  • Capital costs for telecommunications, including the initial wiring and hardware necessary for the connection to the Internet
  • Capital costs for PCs and software
  • Ongoing costs of telecommunications through a dial-up modem or faster connections such as cable modems and T-1 lines
  • Fees for an Internet service provider
  • Equipment maintenance and upgrades, taking into account the technology's built-in obsolescence
  • Fees for network memberships and for commercial news and information databases
  • Electronic format expenditures, including digitalization of library catalogues and materials
  • Staff training
  • Staff time in providing user assistance and training programs, creating and enforcing use policies, developing and implementing online services (such as library home pages and guides) and off-line programming
  • Ongoing costs of technical support for staff

The federal government contributes to some of these costs through the E-rate, but there is little additional federal funding.126 State governments also support technology in local libraries with funds and substantive assistance.127 And because the Internet transcends geographical boundaries, enabling users to access information and services from libraries outside their local community, there are persuasive arguments for increased state and federal support. In the meantime, however, local funds will constitute the lion's share of a local library's technology budget, just as they have supported local operating budgets.128

For local taxpayers, then, the bottom line can be significant, and even institutions in wealthy towns in the heart of high tech regions are feeling the crunch. The city of Palo Alto recently announced plans to close three branch libraries, due in part to the increased expense of maintaining and improving electronic services.129 Other communities—and constituencies within those communities—will have different priorities. Indeed, a 1996 study by the Benton Foundation found that while taxpayers, on the whole, continue to support using tax dollars for computer access and online services, there are differences among various groups based on age, education, race, income and other factors.130

With limited budgets and incomplete information about how library patrons use the Internet and the costs and benefits of various choices,131 local communities face a number of challenging issues:

  • What is the appropriate balance between books, electronic materials, and buildings and what segments of the community are most and best served by the various options? While most users welcome technology into the library, others are concerned about the ways in which it—and developments such as library cafes and after-school centers—alters the role of the library as a place of quiet reflection132 and heightens security concerns.133 Some librarians, too, have privately expressed concerns that positioning the library as a place of last resort for Internet "have-nots" will alienate middle class support.134
  • What is the appropriate role of corporate contributions and donations? At what point does reliance on the private sector actually create costs and transform the library into a marketing platform? Some of these issues were raised by the much-publicized pledge of funds for local libraries by Gates Learning Foundation (formerly the Gates Library Foundation).135 One commentator calculated the ongoing additional costs of supporting a $33,000 gift from the Gates Foundation to between $46,000 and $62,000—30% to 40% of the library's budget, for system maintenance, user support and training.136 Most libraries have accepted Gates' gift, but a few have not.137

Corporate contributions may also create or exacerbate censorship pressures. For example, Toys'R'Us recently canceled plans to contribute as much as $1 million to the American Library Association's Fund for American Libraries based on a radio commentator's objections to links on the ALA TeenHoopla site, <> as promoting pornography and pedophilia.138 Teen Hoopla links to Go Ask Alice <> a site maintained by Columbia University's Health Education Program that contains frank and explicit answers to teens' questions about sex, sexuality and other topics.

  • Will the high costs of technology push libraries to charge for some services? Some libraries have begun or are considering doing so for services such as personalized database research. The New York Public Library's Document Express Service, used primarily by businesses, <>, is one example. A 1996 study by the Public Library Association showed that nearly half of the responding libraries offered information retrieval and search services for businesses and a third of those charged a fee.139 Another study reported that in 1993, 73 percent of responding public libraries had income from fees including online searching.140 Fees may be justified by a number of factors including the high cost of electronic access and the fact that they are typically for "non-standard" services and may be imposed on those outside the jurisdiction that bears the brunt of subsidizing the local institution. Also fees are supported by a significant percentage of both non-library users and users.141 On the other hand, the practice raises serious questions about equity of access. The American Library Association has taken a formal position opposing fee-based services,142 and they may violate library enabling statutes in some states.


Computers and the Internet are changing our society in ways we can only begin to imagine. Creating new outlets for expression, expanding the audience for information, and lowering barriers to participation, the technology has the potential to foster free speech, the exchange of ideas, intellectual inquiry, and democracy in new and unique ways. The public library, a place of first and last resort, can play a critical role in that process by offering to all who seek it access to a virtually unlimited world of information, ideas, connections, and conversations.

These changes threaten established communities, structures, and hierarchies. They force us to reexamine our commitment to First Amendment values and to explore constitutional and democratic principles in a new context—one in which the barriers to free speech and inquiry are created, rather than imposed by the limits of technology. Libraries will be the laboratories in which some of the possibilities created by the Internet—for expanded freedom, enhanced education and knowledge, and more inclusive democracy—can be tested and explored.

The participants in these experiments would do well to heed the observation of a federal judge in ruling against censorship of the Internet:

Indeed, perhaps we do the minors of this country harm if First Amendment protections, which they will with age inherit fully, are chipped away in the name of their protection.143



The publication was made possible by a grant from the Open Society Institute and is a joint publication of the Open Society Institute and the National Coalition Against Censorship

1 The First Amendment provides, in relevant part, that "Congress shall make no law …abridging the freedom of speech…." While legal analysis in this paper is based on law in the United States, much of the policy discussion is relevant beyond its borders.

First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, 435 U.S. 765, 783 (1978), as quoted inBoard of Education v. Pico, 457 U.S. 858, 866 (1982).

Kreimer v. Bureau of Police for the Town of Morristown, 958 F.2d 1242, 1254 (3rdCir. 1992).

4 EU Parliament, Committee on Culture, Youth, Education and the Media, The Report on the Green Paper on the Role of Libraries in the Modern World (1998)(Rapporteur: Mrs. Mirja Ryynaen) <>. The report emphasizes that "without . . services of public libraries society cannot be democratic, open and transparent because it cannot be assumed that all citizens will have acquired a wide range of material. Investing in libraries means investing in democracy and equality."

5 It is predicted that 33% of all households in the United States will be online by the end of 1999. International Data Corporation, Executive Insight, IDC Predictions ’99: The "Real" Internet Emerges <> (visited January 1999). The Internet audience is gradually becoming more inclusive and more diverse. See,e.g., Pew Center for People and the Press, The Internet News Audience Goes Ordinary (January 1999)<>; John Simons, Is the Web Political Poll Reliable?, Wall Street Journal, April 13, 1999 (reporting Harris Black International Ltd. Survey). However, there remain troubling disparities in both ownership and use, as discussed at page 4.

6 The role of community networks and information kiosks as participants in the information infrastructure is described in Redmond Kathleen Molz and Phyllis Dain, Civic Space/Cyberspace (MIT Press 1999)(hereafter Civic Space/ Cyberspace).These alternative access points compete with the library for Internet users. Competitive pressures also come from the private sector. Super bookstores like Barnes and Noble offer alternative "public" spaces as well as a variety of programs like children’s story hours that are also offered by public libraries. However, the book buying audience also tends to be supportive of libraries. Benton Foundation, Buildings, Books and Bytes: Libraries and Communities in the Digital Age (1996) at 14, 21-22.

7 A recent report revealed that sex crimes regarding children and the Web were featured in one of every four articles surveyed and that "disturbing issues" relating to the Web and the family showed up in two of every three such articles. At the same time, the press failed to depict librarians (among others) as resources for support for concerned parents. Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, The Internet and the Family: The View from the Parents, The View from the Press (1999) <>.

8 Internettrak Research, The Web Explored: the Ziff-Davis/Roper Starch Quarterly Update (Second Quarter 1998) <http://www.zd.comm/marketresearch/InternetTrak98Q2/IT2Q_ExecSummary.htm>.

9 National Telecommunications and Information Administration, Falling Through the Net II: New Data on the Digital Divide (July 1998) <> (hereafter The Digital Divide). The study found that while ownership of PCs has grown significantly for minority groups since 1994, White households are still more than twice as likely to own a computer (40.8%) than Black households (19.3%) and Hispanic households (19.4%) and about three times as likely to be online (21.2% of White households compared to 7.7% of Black and 8.7% of Hispanic households). The divide appeared across all income levels. The difference in computer ownership levels between White and Black households increased from 16.8% in 1994 to 21.5% in 1997. The difference between White and Hispanic households increased from 14.8% to 21.4% during the same period. The increasing gap appeared across all income levels. NTIA’s most recent data confirm these trends.See Falling Through the Net: Defining the Digital Divide (July 1999) <> and David E. Sanger, Big Racial Disparity Persists in Internet Use, NY Times (July 9, 1999).

10 Thomas P. Novak, Donna L. Hoffman, Project 2000, Vanderbilt University, Bridging the Digital Divide: The Impact of Race on Computer Access and Internet Use (1998). < science.html> (hereafter Bridging the Divide). This study found that African-Americans with annual household incomes above $40,000 are more likely than Whites of similar incomes to own home computers (65% vs. 61%).

11 According to one market research firm, based on research conducted in December 1998 and January 1999, Latino households in the U.S. are now connected to the Internet at a higher rate than Whites–36 % to 34 %, and by the end of the year, the percentage of African-American, Latino and White households will all have reached the 40% to 44% range. Adam Clayton Powell III, Latino American Households Now More Net Connected (April 6, 1999) <http://> (citing Forrester Research). A study of Internet usage in the winter of 1998 by the Harris Survey Unit of Baruch College found an almost equal percentage of White, African-Americans and Hispanics logged on. Adam Clayton Powell III, Net Demoraphics Starting to Even out, Study Finds (April 29, 1998) <> (reporting results of survey).

12 Bridging the Divide, note 10.

13 By the year 2000, an estimated 60% of all new jobs will require technological skills and computer know-how. Benton Foundation, Losing Ground Bit by Bit: Low-Income Communities in the Information Age (1998) at 4 (citing Larry Irving, Asst. Sect’y of Commerce for Communications and Information).

14 People who use computers on the job earn 43% more than other workers. The Benton Foundation, What’s At Stake 2: Defining the Public Interest in the Digital Age (June 1997) (Access Section) as cited in The Children’s Partnership, Kids and Families Online (September 1998) <>.

15 Families without telephone service face significant barriers to communicating with prospective employers and scheduling job interviews and to communicating with government agencies about programs for which they are qualified. Benton Foundation, Losing Ground Bit by Bit: Low-Income Communities in the Information Age (1998) at 10-11. Those without Internet access are likely to experience similar problems. An increasing number of all government transactions will be conducted electronically. Id. (citing the United States Office of Management and Budget).

16 See pages 9-10 for a discussion of the role of the Internet in the political process.

17 John Carlo Bertot & Charles R McClure, The 1998 National Survey of U.S. Public Library Outlet Connectivity: Final Report (NCLIS 1998) < > (hereafter 1998 National Survey). The study, based on research conducted between April and June 1998 found that 73.3 percent of public library outlets had some form of public Internet access. The authors predicted that the number would increase to 92 or 93 percent, serving 98 to 99 percent of the population, by June 1999. The term "public library outlet" includes both main and branch libraries and is used herein synonymously with "libraries".

18 U.S. Commission on Libraries and Information Science, Moving Toward More Effective Public Internet Access: The 1998 National Survey of Public Library Outlet Connectivity, (U.S. GPO 1999) (hereafter Moving Toward More Effective Access).

19 1998 National Survey, note 17.

20 Public Library Association, Public Library Data Survey, Statistical Report ‘97 (Section VI) (1997).

21 Id.

22 In terms of Internet access, the urban poor are relatively "well connected." Bertot and McClure’s data show both high levels of public Internet access (84% of all library outlets) in libraries in urban areas with more than 40% of the population living below the census’ poverty threshold and high quality access (speeds greater than 56kbps) in a significant proportion of these libraries (52.4% of all outlets with public access). An important caveat, however, is that only 2 % of all public libraries serve these communities; there may be many communities in poverty that are not served by any library, with or without Internet access.

23 A poll conducted by the Gallup Organization for the American Library Association in 1998 showed that two-thirds of adults are library users. However, two-thirds of these have at least some college education and nearly half—46 percent — have incomes in excess of $40,000. Only 14% have incomes of $20,000 or less. American Library Association Press Release, New Poll Shows 2 of 3 Adults Are Library Users (June 28, 1998).

24 Bridging the Divide, note 10.

25 Moving to Toward More Effective Access, note 18. The Commission also noted the need for research on who uses the Internet in libraries, how and why, the relationship of library Internet use to availability of other Internet access points, services and costs.

26 Id. (citing 2nd Annual MCI LibraryLINK study April 1998). Approximately 5.6 million individuals aged 16 and over in the U.S. and Canada accessed the Internet through public libraries in the six months prior to the survey.

27 Dr. George D’Elia, Professor and Director, Center for Applied Research in Library and Information Science, State University of New York, Buffalo, personal communication (April 1998). See also note 25.

28 Civic Space/Cyberspace, note 6 at Chapter Five.

29 American Library Association, Office of Information Technology Policy, The 1997 National Survey of U.S. Public Library Outlet Connectivity: Final Report (1997)( survey conducted by Dr. John Carlo Bertot, Dr. Charles R. McClure, and Dr. Patricia Diamond Fletcher) <http://>.

30 Libraries for the Future, Public Space in Cyberspace (1999) <> (hereafter Public Space in Cyberspace). See also Benton Foundation and Libraries for the Future, Local Places, Global Connections: Libraries in the Digital Age and Civic Space/Cyberspace, note 8 above at Chapter Five. The American Library Association also describes some interesting projects at <>. Exemplary projects in the European Community are described in The European Commission, Concertation Meeting on Public Libraries (March 1999) <>.

31 Libraries that create community "gateways" or information pages should select hyperlinks to other sites on the basis of neutral and objective criteria, for example to accommodate a high volume of requests for information about a topic of local interest, rather than to endorse specific ideas or viewpoints. The ability to use professional judgment to select links is protected if the library’s site is not a "public forum," open to the public for discussion of any topic. The public forum as a constitutional concept is discussed in, e.g., Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia, 515 U.S. 819 (1995); International Society of Krishna Consciousness v. Lee, 505 U.S. 672 (1992); Perry Educational Association v. Perry Local Educators’ Association, 460 U.S. 37 (1983).

32 One of the oldest and most well-known community networks is Charlotte’s Web, which was initiated in part by the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. For additional examples of community networks, see resources cited in Public Space in Cyberspacenote 30.

33 Chat is Where It’s At, PC Magazine, May 5, 1998, at 10.

34 Sara Sklaroff et al., E-Mail Nation, U.S. News and World Report, March 22, 1999, Vol. 126, Issue 11 at 54-62. Americans send 22 billion e-mail messages a day, compared to 293 million pieces of first class mail.

35 See page 23 for a discussion of Acceptable Use Policies. The concern for "serious research" might be persuasive in an academic library, but is less compelling in an institution open for general use. In the context of print resources, community libraries do not distinguish between "serious" uses and those based on pure enjoyment, and it would be inconsistent to do so for Internet use. In any event, e-mail and chat often have educational value. See, e.g., Susan R. Hawk, Youth Services Librarian, DeKalb Public Library, DeKal, Illinois, e-mail to PUBLIB-NET newsgroup (January 15, 1999) <>.

36 Sally Ann Law and Brent Keltner, Civic Networks: Social Benefits of On-Line Communities, in Robert H. Anderson, Tora K. Bikson, et al., Universal Access to E-Mail: Feasibility and Societal Implications at 119-120 (RAND 1995) <>.

37 Mary Buck, Adult Reference Librarian, Central Rappahannock Regional Library System, Stafford, Virginia, e-mail to PUBLIB-NET newsgroup (February 14, 1999) <>.

38 See Part I and accompanying references.

39 Michelle Fine, Professor, Social Psychology, Graduate Center, City University of New York, personal comunication (February 1999).

40 The survey was conducted by Oasis Magazine, OutProud! and the National Coalition for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth. See<>. Planned Parenthood’s Teenwire, <http://www.> and Go Ask Alice<>, maintained by Columbia University’s Health Education Program, are two examples of online spaces where teens can air their concerns and obtain information and advice on sex and other issues privately and anonymously. Go Ask Alice is a flash point for censorship. See page 27.

41 Liza Featherstone, in Hot-Wiring High Schools, The Nation (June 21, 1999) at 15-20, quotes a high school activist who, when asked about e-mail, responded, "Do I have a computer? No. Can my parents afford a computer? No." Not surprisingly, almost a third of the chapters of the International Student Activism Alliance, which organizes students primarily through the Internet, are located in Connecticut, the most affluent state in the nation. 18.

42 For a sampling of critical analysis of the impact of the Internet on the political process, see Andrew Shapiro, The Control Revolution (Public Affairs 1999); David Shenk, Data Smog: Surviving the Information Glut (Harper Edge 1997); Kathleen Collins, Information Overload Could Make Voters Tune Out, Scholar Says (January 22, 1999) <> (reporting comments of Columbia University Professor Eli Noam).

43 Tora K. Bikson & Constantijn W.A. Panis, Computers and Connectivity: Current Trends in Robert K Anderson, Tora K. Bikson, et al., Universal Access to E-Mail: Feasibility and Societal Implications at 17 (RAND 1995) reviewing the literature).

44 See, e.g., China Imprisons Internet Entrepreneur; E-Mail Case Underscores Beijing’s Political Fears Over Use of Technology, The Wall Street Journal (January 21, 1999). For other examples of the use of the Internet by political activists abroad,see Andrew Shapiro, The Control Revolution, note 42 at 49-50.

45 Rebecca Fairly Raney, Flood of E-Mail Credited With Halting U.S. Bank Plan, CyberTimes (March 24, 1999) <>.

46 Because of the importance to libraries, the American Library Association was a key player in discussions about the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, P.L. 105-304, and the Copyright Term Extension Act, P.L. 105-278. See also testimony from the American Library Association and others on the proposed "Collections of Information Antipiracy Act," and <> and <>.

47 For a discussion of this legislation, see pages 14-15. For an analysis of earlier legislative efforts to impose access restrictions on the Internet and other media,see, e.g., National Coalition Against Censorship, Censorship’s Tools du Jour: V-Chips, TV Ratings, PICS and Internet Filters (March 1998) </resources.html>.

48 National Commission on Libraries and Information Science, Kids on the Internet: The Problems and Perils of Cyberspace (preliminary report) (January 1998) <>.

49 In addition to the cases discussed below, see also American Civil Liberties Union v. Johnson, 4 F. Supp.2d 1029 (D.N.M. 1998) (appeal docketed 8/7/98, 10th Cir. No. 98-2199)(upholding First Amendment challenge).But see Urofsky v. Gilmore, 167 F.3d 191 (4th Cir. 1999) (rehearing en banc granted 6/3/9, 4th Cir. No. 98-1481) (upholding Virginia law restricting state employees access to sexually explicit materials on state computers). Two additional cases, American Library Association v. Pataki, 969 F. Supp. 160 (S.D.N.Y. 1997) and ACLU v. Miller, 977 F.Supp. 1228 (N.D.Ga. 1997) were decided on other grounds.

50 Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union, 521 U.S. 844 (1997).

51 The Communications Decency Act (CDA) was passed with little analysis as part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Reno I, 521 U.S. at 859 and note 24.

52 American Civil Liberties Union v. Reno, 31 F.Supp. 2d 473 (E.D.Pa. 1999)(appeal docketed 4/26/99, 3d Cir. No. 99-1324). The statute applies only to commercial activities on the World Wide Web containing material deemed harmful to minors, made with knowledge of the character of the material. Restricting access by requiring a credit card or through other means is a defense.

53 The fact that communications from outside the US are not subject to domestic law is one reason why "upstream" restrictions like the CDA and COPA are inherently ineffective. An expert in the COPA case estimated that about 40% of all Internet content originate outside the U.S. American Civil Liberties Union v. Reno, Finding of Fact A 13.

54 See, e.g., Electronic Information Privacy Center, Faulty Filters: How Content Filters Block Access to Kid Friendly Information on the Internet (1997) <>. A March 1999 report by the Censorware Project on filtering in Utah public schools and libraries <>, showed that users were banned from numerous useful and educational sites, including the Constitution and the Bible.

55 Mainstream Loudoun v. Board of Trustees of the Loundoun County Library, 24 F. Supp.2d 552 (E.D. Va 1998).

56 Privacy screens physically shield computer users, preventing non-users from viewing the screen.

57 No. V-015266, California Superior Court, Alameda County, Eastern Division

58 In an amicus brief, the ACLU of Northern California and others argued that blocking would constitute an unlawful prior restraint on speech and that two sections of the CDA (not at issue in Reno I) immunized the library from civil liability based on its role as a "provider" of content originating with a third party. The latter argument relied on the Fourth Circuit decision in Zeran v. America OnlineInc., 958 F. Supp. 1124 (E.D. Va. 1997). Zeran had sued AOL for defamation based on comments posted to an AOL bulletin board. The court applied the immunity provisions of the CDA even though AOL had known of Zeran’s objections and had failed to act. These sections may also provide libraries with immunity from criminal liability under state "harmful to minors’ statutes. For a discussion of this and related issues under state law, see Memorandum to Freedom to Read Foundation from Jenner and Block, Civil and Criminal Liabilities for Libraries (August 1998) <>.

59 A blanket ban on e-mail and chat was part of the restrictive policy adopted in Loudoun County. Finding that the filtering requirement "permeat[ed]" the entire policy, the court did not consider either the chat ban or the requirement that computers be installed near and in full view of the library staff. Mainstream Loudoun24 F. Supp. at 570.

60 The Internet offers several methods of communication and information retrieval, utilizing several different Internet protocols. The protocols originally developed for e-mail, for real time communications (such as Internet Rely Chat) and newsgroups are distinct from HTTP (hyper-text transfer protocol), the protocol for the World Wide Web. Previously, functions using protocols other than HTTP could be accessed from the web only by more sophisticated users or those with specialized software. However, web-based chat rooms, e-mail and newsgroups utilizing HTTP or with a web interface are now common. See American Civil Liberties Union v. Reno, No. 98-5591 (E.D.Pa. February 1, 1999), Finding of Fact A8; Janelle Brown,A Kinder, Gentler Usenet, Salon Magazine (September 15, 1998) <http://www.>.

61 Ward v. Rock Against Racism, 491 U.S. 781, 791 (1989). (Citation omitted; emphasis supplied).

62 Content neutral "time, place and manner" restrictions on chat might be valid in a library if they serve a "substantial governmental interest that would be achieved less effectively absent the regulation." However, the standard does not permit regulations that "may burden substantially more speech than is necessary to further the government’s legitimate interests." Banning all chat, even all children’s chat, is no more necessary to controlling the behavior of chatters than banning all handbilling is justifiable to eliminating fraud or litter. Ward v. Rock Against Racism, 491 U.S. at 799 and note 7.

63 As of the time of publication, mandatory filtering proposals had been passed by the House and the Senate Commerce Committee. Jeri Clausing, Filtering Amendment Passes House, Cybertimes (June 19, 1999) <http://www.nytimes. com/library/tech/99/06/cyber/articles/19filter.html>; David Hudson, Children’s Internet Protection Act Clears Senate Commerce Committee (June 24, 1999) <>.

64 Discounts range from 20% to 90% below commercially available rates, with institutions in the poorest areas receiving the greatest benefits. The program is financed though assessments on users of long distance carriers. It was originally intended to provide subsidies of up to $2.25 billion, but the amount was reduced to $1.3 billion under pressure from the industry. For a current status report on the E-rate, see American Library Association, Special report on Library Telecommunication Discounts (June 1999)<>.

65 See <> for a summary of state legislation.

66 In National Endowment for the Arts v. Finley, __ U.S. __, 118 S. Ct. 2168 (1998),the Supreme Court upheld the NEA’s mandate to consider "general standards of decency" in awarding grants. However, the opinion emphasized that the outcome might well have been different if the decency clause had been a criterion for receipt of funds, rather than one among many factors to be considered.

67 Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia, 515 U.S. 819 (1995)

68 Rust v. Sullivan, 500 U.S. 173 (1991). The Court held that any incidental impact on employee speech was a "consequence of their decision to accept employment," since they remained free to speak about abortion in all other contexts, and patients were free to seek abortion-related information and services elsewhere. For further analysis of Rust and Rosenberger in the context of current proposals affecting libraries, see the testimony on behalf of People For the American Way in opposition to S. 97 <>.

69 Reno I, 521 U.S. at 885.

70 Michael Connell, Director, Montclair New Jersey Public Library, personal communication (December 1998)

71 Filtering Facts, Dangerous Access: The Epidemic of Pornography in America’s Public Libraries and the Threat to Children (February 1999) <> (hereafter Dangerous Access). According to the organization, the average age of children involved in these incidents was 12. A number involved older teens. In addition to these incidents, there are reports of 45 incidents of adults showing pornography to children, a handful of incidents in which patrons allegedly harassed staff and hundred of instances of adults viewing pornography.

72 The estimate is extrapolated from the number of visitors to public libraries in the United States in fiscal year 1996 (1,013,798,000) and the percentage of children’s materials in relation to the total circulation (34 percent). U.S. Department of Education, National Commission of Educational Statistics, Public Libraries in the United States: FY 1996 (NCES 1999306) (1999).

73 1998 National Survey, note 17.

74 The Filtering Facts report does not address the effects on any of the children identified in the cited incidents. Duncan Lindsey, Professor of Social Welfare at UCLA’s School of Public Policy and Social Welfare, who is affiliated with the Child Welfare web site <> and has created "Prowler," second generation filtering software <> conceded in a personal communication that he was aware of no studies on the effect of exposure to sexually explicit material on the Internet for children of any age. Duncan Lindsey, personal communication (February 1999).

75 Ginsberg v. New York, 390 U.S. 629 (1968).

76 Cyber Dialogue Research (current as of July 1998) as cited in The Children’s Partnership, Kids and Families Online (September 1998). The number is predicted to increase to 20 million children ages 12 and under and 11 million teens by 2002. Kids and Families Online citing Jupiter Communications and NFO Interactive, Deconstructing the Digital Kid (June 1998).

77 See, e.g., materials cited at notes 111 and 112.

78 Sara Sklaroff et. al., E-mail Nation, note 34.

79 National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, On Child Sexual Exploitation on the Internet (December 1998).

80 Dangerous Access, note 71.

81 National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, note 79FBI web site <>

82 Bob Trebilcock, Child Molesters on the Internet: Are They in Your Home?Redbook (April 1997) Vol. 188, Issue 6 at 100.

83 Kathy Free, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, personal communication (January 1999). The FBI’s web site <http://www.> also provides a list of cues and suggestions for parents concerned about children’s vulnerability to online enticement.

84 See note 7. Significantly, the Annenberg study did not explicitly question parents about violence on the Internet; nor did it analyze media coverage of this issue. Parents were questioned about the relationship between Internet use and "anti-social behavior," but this term is too broad to determine the basis of parents’ concern.

85 These include proposals to prohibit the sale of "violent material" to teenagers, to require a "violence labeling system" for video games, movies and CDS and to prohibit sales to anyone outside the age range identified by the label, and to define violence as a form of obscenity. For a summary of the proposals, see People for the American Way Press Release, Amendments to Juvenile Justice Bill Would Make the First Amendment Another Casualty of Littleton (June 16, 1999) <>. Some, but not all of these proposals have been defeated as this paper goes to press.

86 Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 44 (1969). But see Planned Parenthood of the Columbia/Willamette, Inc.; et al. v. American Coalition of Life Activists; et al., Civil No. 95-1671-J (D.Ore. February 25, 1999)(appeal pending) where the court enjoined "The Nuremberg Files," an anti-abortion website targeting abortion providers, after finding that "a reasonable person would interpret [it] as communicating a serious expression of an intent to inflict or cause serious harm . . ; and the speaker intended that the statement be taken as a threat that would serve to place the listener in fear for his or her personal safety."

87 For a general discussion of the constitutional principles regarding violent speech,see Committee on Communications and Media Law, Violence in the Media: A Position Paper, The Record Of The Association Of The Bar Of The City Of New York , V. 21, N. 3 (April 1997) at 273-341 (hereafter "Violence in the Media) and Testimony of Robert Corn-Revere before Senate Commerce Committee (May 18, 1999) (TV Violence Hearing), available at <http://www.>. Cases challenging regulation of violent content include Brandenburg and Planned Parenthood, note 86 above;Interstate Circuit, Inc. v. City of Dallas, 366 F.2d 590, 598-99 (5th Cir. 1966) aff’d390 U.S. 676 (1968) (declaring unconstitutional statute prohibiting children from viewing movies depicting "brutality" and "criminal violence"); Video Software Dealers Ass’n v. Webster, 968 F.2d 684 (8th Cir. 1992) (invalidating Michigan statute prohibiting rental or sale to minors of videos in separate areas of their stores);Davis-Kidd Booksellers, Inc. v.McWherter, 866 S.W.2d 520, 530-32 (Tenn. 1993) (law prohibiting distribution of ‘excessively violent’ materials to minors held unconstitutionally vague).

88 A 1997 review of the literature concluded "there is no consensus, even among the researchers who have found some correlations, that there is any clear, causal link between media violence and violent behavior." Violence in the Media, note 87, at 297. Compare Testimony of Leonard Eron, Professor of Psychology and senior research Scientist, Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan before Senate Commerce Committee (May 18, 1999) (TV Violence Hearing) with testimony of Henry Jenkins, Director, Comparative Media Studies Program, Massachusetts Institute of Technology before Senate Commerce Committee (May 4, 1999) (Marketing Violence to Children Hearing), both available at <>.

89 Joel Federman (Ed.), National Television Violence Study, Vol. 3 (Executive Summary) (Center for Communication and Social Policy, U.C. Santa Barbara 1997), available at <>.

90 Bill Dedman, Secret Service Is Seeking Pattern for School Killers, NY Times (June 21, 1999). Significantly, serious crime by children 12 – 17 is at its lowest rate since 1986. Upbeat Data on Crime and Youth, NY Times (July 9, 1999).

91 The Simon Wiesenthal Center reported a 300% increase in 1997 in the number of web pages put up by neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other extremists. SeeJennifer Oldham, Wiesenthal Center Compiles List of Hate-Based Web Sites(December 18, 1997) <>.

92 Anti-Defamation League, 1998 Audit of anti-Semitic Incidents <> There was a small (slightly more than 2%) increase in incidents in 1998. The Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms reports an increase in 1996 over previous years in the number of bombing incidents attributable to knowledge gained from the Internet. Oral Statement of Special Agent Mark James, ATF Deputy Director of Intelligence Division before Senate Commerce Committee (May 20, 1999) (Protecting Children on the Internet Hearing), available at <http://>. However, in the absence of data on changes, if any, in the total number of incidents during the relevant period and other contextual information, this statistic is difficult to interpret. Many Internet service providers prohibit the posting of bomb-making instructions, and do not link to bomb-making sites. Ruth O’Brien, Citizens Urge Net Companies to Purge Bomb-Making Sites (May 20, 1999) <http://www.>.

93 Private organizations that track extremist activity on and offline include the Southern Poverty Law Center <http://>, The Simon Wiesenthal Center <> and the Anti-Defamation League <>.

94 Some parents are not troubled by sexual material, but are concerned that prolonged computer use will lead to or exacerbate social or psychological problems. The research on the effects of computer use is mixed. A two-year study conducted by researchers at Carnegie-Mellon University concluded that some users experience higher levels of depression and loneliness. Amy Harmon, Sad, Lonely World Discovered in Cyberspace, N. Y. Times (August 8, 1998). However, the Pew Center for People and the Press did not find these effects. Pew Center for People and the Press, The Internet News Audience Goes Ordinary (January 1999)< htm>. If they exist, these problems would more likely arise from home Internet use as opposed to public library access.

95 Reno I, 521 U.S. at 865, citing Ginsberg, 390 U.S. at 639. While the Court refused to address the Government’s claim that "the First Amendment does not forbid a blanket prohibition of all ‘indecent’ and ‘patently offensive’ messages communicated to a 17-year old – no matter how much value the message may contain and regardless of parental approval, " it seemed especially troubled at the prospect of government interference with a parent’s decision, for example, to e-mail birth control information to a teenager.

96 Fabulous Associates v. Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, 896 F.2d 780, 788 (3rd Cir. 1990).

97 Ginsberg v. New York, 390 U.S. at 639.

98 Reno I, 521 U.S. at 878-79.

99 See references cited at note 40.

100 Kathleen R. v. City of Livermore, No. V-015266 California Superior Court, Alameda County, Eastern Division. The case, its reasoning and the issue of potential criminal liability are discussed at page 13 and note 58.

101 For a more complete discussion of this issue, see, Memorandum to American Library Association from Jenner and Block Civil Liability for an Alleged Hostile Work Environment Related to Patron or Employee Internet Use (August 1998) <>.

102 Harris v. Forklift Systems, Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 21 (1993).

103 In Stanley v. The Lawson Co, 1997 WL 835480 (ND Ohio Feb. 26, 1997), cited in the Jenner and Block Memorandum, note 87 above, a convenience store clerk alleged a hostile work environment from the fact that she was required to sell sexually oriented magazines. The court rejected her claims because, among other reasons, removal of the magazines by court order would violate the First Amendment.

104 1998 National Survey, note 17.

105 A 1997 study by the Urban Libraries Council reported that 60% of the libraries in its sample experienced no pressure to limit Internet access and of those that did experience pressure, 59% characterized it as "low" pressure. National Urban Libraries Council, Internet Access and Use (September 1997). However, according to Jo Rodger, President of the Council, these statistics are no longer valid and media attention to Internet dangers has filtered down to the local level. Jo Rodger, personal communication (April 1999). The shooting incident in Littleton, Colorado has increased interest in filtering, as indicated by mandatory filtering proposals. Seepage 14.

106 1998 National Survey, note 17.

107 A collection of AUPs, current as of 1997, is found at <>. The site includes links to the policies of individual libraries, which are more current.

108 The Urban Libraries Council study, cited at note 105, reports that 90% of the sampled libraries limit use. The average time period is 38 minutes, with 16 to 30 minutes the most frequently cited limit.

109 These issues are frequent topics of discussion in the public librarians’ newsgroup, PUBLIB-NET <>.

110 According to the ULC report, 71% offer individual instructions, while 77% provide group instruction.

111 The American Library Association’s publication, A Librarian’s Guide to Cyberspace for Parents and Kids is a key resource, relied on by many libraries. It is distributed in print, with assistance from American Online and is available online <http://>. Numerous libraries, such as the New York Public Library, have also developed special screens for children’s use. See<>.

112 For example, the FBI site <> and the Department of Education site < pubs/parents/internet> offer educational materials.

113 See, e.g., the introductory screen of the New York Public Library <>.

114 See discussion at page 21 regarding minors’ independent First Amendment rights.

115 See references cited at note 54 above.

116 In the European Community, however, there remains considerable enthusiasm for filtering. The industry has been encouraged to self-regulate using decentralizing labeling systems that would allow for flexibility to accommodate national, regional, local and personal sensibilities. European CommissionGreen Paper on the Protection of Minors and Human Dignity in Audiovisual and Information Services < gpen-txt.html>. See also, Council of the European Union, Action Plan for Promoting Safer Use of the Internet (adopted December 21, 1998) <>. The Yale Law School Information Society Project has a developed an international "best practices model" for industry self-regulation which relies on self-rating and filtering, <>.

117 Proposals currently under consideration address issues such as the cost of spam to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and users, mandatory opt-out measures and false labeling. California treats spam as a form of trespass and enhances the ability of ISPs to establish and enforce their own rules. See generally, Jeri Clausing,More States Consider Restricting Junk E-Mail, Cybertimes (February 11, 1999) <>.

118 Online privacy and consumer protection are critical issues that are beginning to receive needed attention. In April, 1999, the Federal Trade Commission proposed rules to implement the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998, Title XIII of the Omnibus Consolidated and Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act, P.L. 105-277, which prohibits certain unfair and deceptive practices related to the collection of information from and about children under 13. The Act and the proposed regulations are available at <>. Legislation has been proposed to protect those not covered byt the Act (see H.R. 369, the Children’s Privacy Protection and Parental Empowerment Act) and the Administration has announced an initiative to reach potential fraud and abuse in online financial services. See<>. Also,under pressure from both government and consumers, the industry is stepping up efforts to self-regulate with technology to enable users to set their own privacy boundaries and let sites post privacy policies. Maria Seminerio, New Cyber Privacy Policy has Powerful Support, PC Week Online (April 6, 1999)<,4153,1014290,00.html>; IBM Takes A Stand for Online Privacy Standards, Cybertimes (April 1, 1999).

119 See, e.g., <>.

120 See Jeri Clausing, State Legislators Across U.S. Plan to Take Up Internet Issues, N. Y. Times (January 24, 1999). See also note 65.

121 Ginny McKibben, Library to Curb Kids’ ‘Net Scope, Denver Post Online (December 30, 1998) <>.

122 Karen G. Schneider, author of A Practical Guide to Internet Filters (Neal-Schuman Publishers 1997) and a columnist for American Libraries has created a grid showing various filtering options and the pros and cons of each, including potential legal issues. Now somewhat out of date, it nevertheless remains a useful guide and is available at <>.



123 1998 National Survey, note 17.


124 According to the American Library Association <> more than 30,000 schools and libraries have taken advantage of the e-rate.

125 Efforts to gather better statistics on costs are underway. In fiscal year 1995, for the first time, the U.S. Department of Education collected six new electronic technology items, including operating expenditures for electronic access and library materials in electronic format, as part of its annual survey of public libraries. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Public Libraries in the U.S.: FY 1995 (NCES 98-301) (1998) (hereafter Public Libraries in the U.S.).

126 Some funding is available through programs such as the 1996 Library Services and Technology Act Title IIB of the Museum and Library Services Act of 1996, P.L.104-208 and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Telecommunications and Information Infrastructure Assistance Program. These offer competitive grants to a wide range of not for profit institutions and local government entities, including libraries, for innovative uses of technology.

127 In every state, the State Library Association (SLA) plans or monitors electronic network development, in some cases with funds from the federal government. Forty-three states operate such networks and forty-six develop network content. SLAs also support Internet access by training staff, subsidizing Internet participation, providing equipment, databases or online catalogues. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, State Library Agencies, Fiscal Year 1996 (NCES 98-258) (1998).

128 In fiscal year 1996, the federal contribution to local operating budgets was one percent and the state contribution only 12%. Approximately 78% of the budget came from local sources, and nine percent from grants, service fees and fines. Public Libraries in the U.S., note 125. For a more extensive discussion of library funding and governance, see Civic Space/Cyberspace, note 6 at Chapter 2.

129 Geoffrey Nunberg, Will Libraries Survive? 41 The American Prospect (November-December 1998) at 21.

130 Benton Foundation, Buildings, Books and Bytes: Libraries and Communities in the Digital Age (1996) (hereafter Buildings, Books and Bytes) at 17-24. One of the most interesting differences in support for libraries generally was related to age. The 18-24 year age group registered only weak support for library digital activities (e.g., computer disks) and buildings.

131 Output measures currently used by public libraries (for example, circulation figures) do not capture the use of technology-based services. A new study initiated by Bertot and McClure and funded by the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services is designed to develop a core set of national statistics and performance measures to describe public library use of the Internet. The study will provide more complete data on costs as well. See <>.



132 Sallie Tisdale, I’ve Got Homework, Ma, Salon Magazine (January 28, 1999) <>.


133 The suburban Montclair, New Jersey public library has hired staff to supervise activity by minors during after- school hours. Michael Connell, Director, Montclair, New Jersey Public Library, personal communication (December 1998).

134 Buildings, Books and Bytes, note 130 at 12.

135 The Foundation’s Libraries Initiative <> pledged $200 million in funds for hardware and training and Microsoft pledged another $200 million in gifts of software for public libraries in under-served communities

136 Geoffrey Nunberg, Will Libraries Survive?, note 129.

137 Katie Hafner, Gates Gifts Arrive, But With Windows Attached, N. Y. Times (February 21, 1999).

138 American Libraries, News for May 10, 1999, Toys ‘R ‘Us Cancels ALA Fund Negotiations, Cites Dr. Laura,<>.

139 Getting Down to Business: Public Library Services to Business, Public Libraries 36 (March-April 1997), as cited in Civic Space/Cyberspace, note 6 at 77 in the context of a full discussion of the issue of fee-based services.

140 Public Library Association, Statistical Report ’93 as cited in Civic Space/Cyberspace, note 6 at 77.

141 Buildings, Books and Bytes, note 130 at 22-23. Forty-six percent of non-users and 34% of users backed fees. Interestingly seventy-two percent of African Americans said they would pay a fee, while only 58% of Whites indicated a willingness to do so. Those with more education and higher incomes were more willing to pay charges than those with lower incomes, as were people with children.

142 American Library Association, Economic Barriers to Information Access: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights (adopted by the ALA Council June 30, 1993); American Library Association, Access to Electronic Information, Services and Networks: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights (adopted by the ALA Council 1/ 24/96).

143 American Civil Liberties Union v. Reno, 31 F.Supp. 2d at 498.

© National Coalition Against Censorship, 1999