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Position Paper on Internet Access
to Pornography by Children in the Library

The Internet is a global network of information accessible with a computer. There are 34 million sites (a number which doubles every three months) filled with educational and recreational information and linked with other related sites to create a spider-like web of topics known as the World Wide Web. The Internet and the World Wide Web are not regulated in any way. Therefore, information on the Internet may be accurate, informative, and useful, and at the same time may also contain inaccurate, incomplete, or misleading information. And certainly, some sites can be considered inappropriate for children by any community standards.

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh believes in open access to information and endorses the American Library Association's Code of Ethics and Library Bill of Rights in which it states, "Freedom of expression is an inalienable human right and the foundation for self-government. Freedom of expression encompasses the freedom of speech and the corollary right to receive information. These rights extend to minors as well as adults." Electronic resources provide unprecedented opportunities to expand the scope of information available to all users. However, providing connections to global information, services and networks is not the same as selecting and purchasing materials for a library's collection. Information available electronically may not meet a library's selection policy and because of the nature of the technology, it is virtually impossible for the Library to "select" material to be accessed. Instead, it is left to each user to determine what is appropriate and useful. Parents or legal guardians who are concerned about their children's use of electronic resources must become thoroughly familiar with the technology and the sources of information available on it. Only then can they provide the necessary guidance to their children.

The issue of freedom of expression on the Internet was argued at the Supreme Court level in the Communications Decency Act contained in the Telecommunications Act of 1996. A June 1997 ruling determined that the First Amendment regarding free speech will apply to Internet communications, and further, that communications on the Internet will not be restricted by government censorship or interference.

While an advocate for the right to free access to information, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh does not intend to be a "provider of pornography" to children. In anticipation of this problem, the Library Board of Trustees, on August 20, 1996, adopted an Internet Access Policy which states in part, "The U.S. Federal Courts and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania have set forth definitions of obscenity' and what is harmful to minors.' The Pennsylvania Legislature has expressly exempted public libraries from prosecution for displaying or permitting the display of obscene materials to minors. While the Library has been exempted from the obscenity statute and prosecution, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh will assume the practices that fully regard the issue of what is harmful to minors' and will seek to limit exposure to children and young adults to materials which fit the legal definition recorded by the courts as being "harmful to minors." In other words, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has chosen to abide by the State's obscenity laws and taken actions which demonstrate its concern about the children accessing pornography on the Internet and the Library's intent to comply with the State's obscenity laws. In addition to instituting the Internet Access Policy, the Library has taken the following actions:

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, within its physical and technological limitations, is making every effort to protect children in accordance with Pennsylvania law, and within its understanding of its responsibility to all patrons, has informed parents of the risks and riches of the Internet.

In this brave, new world of information technology, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh seeks to operate in a way that maintains the tenets of intellectual freedom. At the same time, we, too, believe in a safe and secure environment in which children can grow to be responsible, informed citizens. It is a thin line we balance on these days. We fully understand that our statements, actions and policies do not solve or end the problem of inappropriate Internet use. We cannot guarantee that, but we do pledge to our patrons that we will continue to be active and responsive to the challenges that arise from new information technology.

Supporting documents:

  1. Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Policy PS 029 on the subject of Internet Access
  2. American Library Association (ALA)
  3. Brochure, Pointers for Parents: Children and the Internet
  4. Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh's Kids' Page: http://www.carnegielibrary.org/kids/
  5. US Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, Office of Educational Technology: Parents Guide to the Internet

October 1998

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