ACLU-WA Library Censorware Lawsuit Article


Seth Finkelstein writes "Here's a article covering the ongoing Washington State libary censorware lawsuit: "At the heart of the federal case is the right to unfettered access to legal materials on the Internet in rural areas, where broadband connections are generally fewer and farther between than in urban and suburban America.""


While public libraries exercise discretion in the acquisition of materials, once the materials are determined to be suitable for the library's collection, the library, as a government agency subject to the First Amendment, cannot remove those materials because of its managers' disapproval of the content, viewpoint, or opinion expressed by the authors or creators of those materials, unless those materials are adjudged to fall into a category of "illegal speech" - obscenity, child pornography, and in the case of minors, "harmful to minors" (HTM) materials (but note that the library, as a government agency, cannot Constitutionally prevent adults from reading or viewing allegedly HTM materials selected for the library, as HTM materials are Constitutionally protected for adults.)

Thus, once the library offers access to the Internet, as a government agency subject to the First Amendment, it cannot "remove" materials from the Internet based upon its disapproval of the content, viewpoint, or opinion expressed by the author/creator of a web site or web page, unless the content falls under one of the categories of illegal speech (and in regards to the ability of the library to determine what is "illegal speech," other than child pornography, the law leaves the determination of what is obscene to a judge and jury.)

Libraries that block access to Constititutionally-protected materials without offering an easy, quick means for adults to obtain unfiltered access to those materials arguably violate the First Amendment - and the ACLU hopes to establish this as law.

You still haven't defined in what context you are using "free". And a person who invalidates information by the milieu in which it is published is hardly in any position to make grand proclamations about what something might or might not be.

Move along Fang. We'll chalk this up to another iteration of your sophistical prattle. I think I've clearly established, contrary to your misguided perception, that the Internet is neither a "library", nor is it "free". It is a conduit offering different services for different people, of which you seem ok with if based on money. Perhaps a nominal "filter removal fee" is something you could live with?


Look at my previous message about your inability to understand restrictions that are reasonable as to time, place, and manner, my pointing out that you had engaged in an equivocation, which you've just done again, and my previous criticisms about your conflating censorship and selection.

In this case: are the charges applied discriminately, or do they apply to all persons equally? If you are charging people from a certain segment of the population and not charging others preferentially, you are violating freedom of information principles.

Refutation: The ACLU sues government departments for their constitutionally infirm actions. Public libraries are government departments. The ACLU suits against public libraries that violate First Amendment rights is perfectly in keeping with their mission.

Really??? Let's put that legal mind of yours to work.

Let's assume this same person is sitting at this same workstation doing this same research on chemical dependency. Ok? Except this time our said person notices a medical student next to her reading full-text articles from say, Clinical Pharmacology Database, Alcohol Studies, Medline,....any medically-based subscription database. Still with me? And of course these databases are not free. In fact they are very expensive and cost-prohibitive for many public libraries. But our plaintiff sees this wonderful information available within her local public library and wants to search these same medical databases however she can't because she doesn't have an account to do so. In other words, she's has been filtered from accessing Constitutionally protected material though this same library is offering this information for free to another patron. (Yes, free in this context because the medical student's account has been paid for by the university, not this public library.)

Now working from your theories;

1) that "free" bears no consequence in this case.......It appears very much that you are using the word "free" -- which word does not appear anywhere in my above message

(2)The internet is to be thought of as one big library, available to all....
It's (internet) a library in its own right; one with a collection development policy of "whatever"

(3)the ACLU can trump local control if protected speech is at issue

and (4) the fact that medical databases provide material protected under the First Amendment.

Explain to me and whatever readers still lurking about why the ACLU should not legally enjoin all public libraries to subscribe to any or all medical databases when so desired by the public? Or do you believe they should?

The ACLU has no business mucking with library CD policies/services.

Ah! Finally! You've stated your nonsensical bullshit in terms that make sense.

Refutation: The ACLU sues government departments for their constitutionally infirm actions. Public libraries are government departments. The ACLU suits against public libraries that violate First Amendment rights is perfectly in keeping with their mission.

Have a nice day.

You must be pretty desperate, by the way, if the best you can do to refute your opponent is pick out typographical errors.

Fang I tried to pull that gourd of yours back on-topic with a simple question. However it was your decision, surprise, to respond with a feint of misunderstanding followed by some off-topic idiocy such as in this case...Kindly write in grammatically and syntactically correct english.

And yet I'm to blame for your walking into doors around here.

For anyone still bothering to read this thread, the issue here is of local control. The ACLU has no business mucking with library CD policies/services. This is tantamount to those Evangelical boogymen often read about in these parts. Those identifying themselves as libertarian will agree with my statement. For the others lacking the mettle to stand by their blustering....

Please don't confuse us with the facts, we are busy arguing.

Perhaps that is why the USF (Universal Service Fund) sucks a couple of bucks per month from me on my various phone bills. So if you wish to look at it pragmatically I am paying so other people can use the Internet for free.

Ah, yes, the usual fallacy about "I pay my taxes therefore I own this". And what about everybody else who pays his or her taxes as well? (USF is basically just a tax, after all.) The only people who actually use the internet on your dime are those who don't own any phones; typically the homeless; who don't have squat to begin with. Mind you, there is also the unemployed who can no longer afford their high speed access and might have to do their job hunting at the library. But if their phone haven't been unplugged they are still paying for that service as well.

However, what do you see as the primary mission of the library? Jefferson certainly saw it as something lofty and abstract:

Books constitute capital. A library book lasts as long as a house, for hundreds of years. It is not, then, an article of mere consumption but fairly of capital, and often in the case of professional men, setting out in life, it is their only capital.
--Thomas Jefferson, Sep. 1821, in a letter to former president James Madison.

So did Franklin, I'm sure, although I don't have any quotations by him on the topic. I do know however that he thought the transmission of information important enough to launch a short-lived German language newspaper for that population in Philedelphia, even though he didn't know a word of German himself. So, what do you see as the library's primary mission, and in what way does that exclude internet access?

No occasion to bedazzle LISNews groupies . . .

You're projecting your shadow again. The people you are sneering at are too intelligent to be "bedazzled". Unlike you, they can actually think.

You must be pretty desperate, by the way, if the best you can do to refute your opponent is pick out typographical errors. And, how, exacty, does a misspelling invalidate information? The same way information is invalidated by being published in a milieu that does not pander to your prejudices?

Of course you don't understand my question Fang. It requires only a simple "yes" or "no". No occasion to bedazzle LISNews groupies with that dog-eared Plato primer. If only teaching that German nouns can't be used as verbs or that english (sic) is a proper noun was as easy.

Apologies for the pointed question.

The original question Fang.

I still can't make sense of your babbling. Kindly write in grammatically and syntactically correct english.

From a generalized assessment of your usual position, your lack of comprehension concerning personal freedom, and your inability to gestalt the phrase "restrictions reasonable as to time or place or manner", I'm guessing the answer to whatever it is you failed to say would be: you of all people really, really need the ACLU standing watch over you.

A lot of them think I should do their taxes too, but I never did that.

I like women and guns (although I didn't know it was a magazine until I read about this case last year). However this is simply absurd. I have a wonderful solution. Shut off Internet access. There you go no more filters, problem solved.

Internet access is not a function of a public library and how it ever became one is beyond me. I can understand how databases like US Courts Pacer, or Ebsco, or any of the other vendors but surfing - nope no way.

All your "primary responsibility of the library" definitions seem very old, could it be the primary responsibility of the library has changed? I know how you guys hate change, but missions and responisibilities change based on what people want, and what libraries can do. Library administrators didn't decide that Internet access is a useful tool, it is a useful too.

What if meeting "the particular needs of the community that funds the library" has now become internet access? I'd argue it has become so.

"Internet access is not a mission of the public library no matter how much you, or the ALA or anyone else thinks it is."

You couldn't be more wrong there. I think it's a mission of my public library, so doesn't that make it so? It meets my needs, and the needs of allota people around here. If people think it is, well, then it is.

I'd say Internet access is a mission of the public library because people think it is.

Why shouldn't the library charge for oil changes and minor tire repairs? Because that is not the purpose of the library. Nor is public Internet access, although in an effort to get people in the door to artificially inflate user statistics library administrators have decided that Internet access is a useful tool.

There are many sources of information to which libraries can but do not provide access. Can you watch television at your library - just plop down in front of a TV and watch Jeopardy or 24? Can you listen to the radio in the library- crank up your favourite AOR station? Can you see the newest blockbuster film at the library on the same day it is released in the cinema? These are all certainly information sources, yet the library does not offer them because the benefit is outweighed by some other factor - price, the sacrifice of the atmosphere of the library that lends itself to quiet scholarship, or many other reasons.

Libraries need to stick to their mission and stop providing services that are not critical to that mission. No library can provide all information sources to its patrons; it is foolhardy to think otherwise. It is incumbent upon libraries to provide the most authoritative, useful, and requested material to the patrons while considering the financial and physical constraints placed upon it.

Providing Internet access while a traffic generator is not a primary responsibility of the library. Providing an up to date comprehensive general reference collection and specialised collections to meet the particular needs of the community that funds the library is indeed a primary mission. Providing a circulating collection that meets its patrons' needs is also a primary responsibility of the library. Providing space for quiet study and use of materials is indeed a primary responsibility as well.

Libraries have failed their users and themselves when they try to be all things to all people. Meeting rooms, coffee shops, Internet access kiosks are all delightful things but none are the primary mission of the library.

Go use the Internet at the Library of Congress or Library and Archives Canada. You can't because they understand the mission of a library and know their core mission is not to provide a service readily obtainable elsewhere.

Internet access at the public library sure is nice from many standpoints, but it is not a requirement. If it proves problematic or causes more problems than it solves -as in the matter instant- then it should simply be ended. There is no harm to the community by ending a non-essential library service.

N.B.: As to your question about Internet carriers subsidizing public libraries there is no need for that as everyone in the States who uses a telecommunications service is taxed quite heavily to provide schools and libraries with telecommunications services at a reduced rate. President Clinton in the Telecommunications Act of 1996 expanded the concept of Universal Service to include these measures. The ALA through its office of information technology policy was instrumental in shaping these regulations. Perhaps that is why the USF (Universal Service Fund) sucks a couple of bucks per month from me on my various phone bills. So if you wish to look at it pragmatically I am paying so other people can use the Internet for free.

Internet access is not a mission of the public library no matter how much you, or the ALA or anyone else thinks it is.

The original question Fang.

Local control gives this librarian the authority to unplug, filter or unfetter her workstations as she sees fit via a CD policy without ACLU coercion?

And resist, if possible, any urge to pull your Penguin Dictionary of Philosophy from your Jansport when ruminating a response. A simple "aio" or "nullus" will do.

So why shouldn't public libraries charge patrons for surfing the 'net? Surely it can be done in a fashion that is reasonable as to time, place, or manner? (Key word: REASONABLE!)

I don't see why a PL shouldn't be allowed to charge enough to at least cover the cost. Or perhaps they could be allowed a cut rate. Has anyone tried to get the government to encourage the internet carriers to subsidize such public institutions?

What materials are available is certainly a stickier issue. The whole purpose of a public library system is to make as much as possible available for people to choose from for themselves. Even what some will find offensive that others will not. And that doesn't necessarily mean materials that are "obscene" or pornographic, or even indecent by the U.S. Supreme Court definition of the term. And keep in mind that "proscribably obscene" is a legal term; material that is proscribable is illegal and therefore unprotected speech. A PL is forbidden to archive such material by law.

As to internet access, the system has evolved beyond its original intent to become a repository for information as much as for entertainment and tittiliation. Access to information is one thing libraries are about.

Quite frankly, I don't think you can unplug the internet in a non-discriminatory fashion unless you do it solely because you don't want to pay the monthly bill. There is plenty on the shelves of a public library that can be called entertainment or tittilation. Cutting off one source of such would violate freedom of information principles.

Sorry, Tomeboy, but I can't make any sense of your confused babbling. It appears very much that you are using the word "free" -- which word does not appear anywhere in my above message -- to mean both free of financial charge and free from government interference as a civil liberty. This is a logical fallacy called an equivocation.

And I don't see how I am derogating from any library's right to say "we are going to unplug the internet". Quite the contrary, that is a right I have been telling you to exercise, instead of trying to abrogate or derogate from the right of free people to upload or download whatever they please.

And you are wrong in denying that the internet is not a library. It sure looks likes a place you can go to find archived materials to me. It even comes complete with various competeing catalogues. Personally, I think you can't see it as a library becuase it doesn't fit your very narrow world view. Well, that's your problem, not the rest of the world's.

I can understand why libraries became free public Internet providers, to keep statistics up so that funding will not decrease with declining patron counts.

However there are those of us who see value in libraries beyond free Internet access. To be honest the last time I travelled without a laptop (to WNY interestingly) I used the Elma and West Seneca library's public Internet access. However if it were not available I would have paid a few dollars for access elsewhere.

The library should not be in the business of providing Internet access, if indeed in insists on being in that business the local community should decide about content filters.

People who want to look at porn, or Guns and Women (I have to subscribe) or vulvovaginitis in an online medical text and find it blocked have any number of alternatives. They can get internet access at home, they can go to a public internet location, they can meet their information needs through another medium or the can simply feck off. However there is no right to Internet access at the library and the libraries have no obligation to provide it.

If it turns out to be more problematic than useful I say pull the plug.

The Internet is no more a library than the local dump is an antique store.

Libraries have collection development policies, and exercise discretion when selecting items. The Internet is unrestrained, uncontrolled, and often unpleasant.

It's a library in its own right; one with a collection development policy of "whatever".

You're confused, friend....again. The Internet is nothing of the sort of which you speak. It's no more a "library" as you describe it, as the analog phone line running parallel the T1 fiber in the wiring closet or the UPS guy making a book delivery. It is a conduit. Nothing more. Not a book, cassette, video, fiche, film, cd, dvd.... And just because it's free, as I'm sure you believe, that doesn't move it up the collection development pecking order. If you want that UPS fellow to deliver Juggs and/or WaterSports because you deem it your right to see them, buy it yourself. If you want to use the library phone to call a chemical dependency hotline, do it on your own dime. Fax machine, WIFI, cable television, satellite, SIRIUS ? No obligation. Strictly up to the librarian's discretion via a CD policy.

So let's make this very clear. Again, libraries have no obligation to provide free and unfettered access to telecommunication infrastructure, delivery services, or plumbing for that matter (though most do the latter). But again you contradict your libertarian window dressing by supporting mandates of outsides agencies to control local libraries. Hardly surprising.

mdoneil said one should unplug the internet, a point I've made to you previously. Yet here you are, still engaging in pop culture tittilation.

The internet is not a book of verses to be subject to ILL, either. It's a library in its own right; one with a collection development policy of "whatever". Customize it or not at your sole discretion, but if you will insist on customizing it, stop pissing about the material it contains that does not conform to your prejudices. Nobody is putting a gun to your head and threatening you with death if you do not surf the commie, pinko-faggot, Liberal porn sites.

Really? Seriously? You can't see how internet access could be a function of a public library?

Really. Seriously. I don't understand what you're objecting to here.

For all those who harangue about the encroachment of outsiders upon librarian autonomy, get your fingers ready. Just take note to paste (ctrl+v) ACLU for; evangelical, Christian, Republican, knee-jerk, reactionary, jackboot, Bush crony,...... when copying (ctrl+c) your "as usual" thoughtful replies in such matters.

Clear and simple. This is a local policy issue tantamount to a collection development policy. I'm with mdoneil, their is no mandate that public libraries provide unfettered internet access. None. If so, then I want unfettered phone service too. Surely my library colleagues out there could find a few chemical dependency hotlines for her to call?