Library filtering to stay

LONDON, ONTARIO – November 22, 2007 – London Public Library’s Board voted 5-4 last evening to continue filtering against sexually-explicit content on the majority of its public access Internet workstations.   One Board member who voted against the recommendation felt that filtering should be 100%, instead of the roughly 80-20 ratio proposed. Unfiltered access will still be available at all of the Library’s 16 locations, with a minimum of 1 unfiltered workstation in all community branches and a minimum of 6 at the Central Library, establishing an appropriate balance to ensure information-seeking needs are met while the Library maintains an environment that is welcoming and comfortable for all Londoners.

The decision marked the end of a 5-month test project which began in June to test a new balance of filtering across the Library system, in an effort to mitigate the risk of unintentional exposure of customers to images that are inappropriate for a public space, specifically sexually-explicit and extremely violent content. The Library has traditionally filtered in children and youth areas and on functional workstations (i.e. employment resources, homework machines.)

At its meeting, the Library Board received a report from Senior Management which included key findings of the project together with recommendations for levels of continued filtering. The report presented an analysis of search patterns as well as staff observation and public feedback gathered through public meetings and other feedback mechanisms.

They include: 
  • There is no significant difference between a customer’s ability to access information sites on filtered or unfiltered machines HOWEVER there was a significantly higher level of activity in accessing or attempting to access URL’s classified as pornography on unfiltered workstations (a 600% increase on unfiltered computers)
  • The Library is used significantly for entertainment and socializing purposes -- 60% of all searches on Library workstations are related to entertainment, gaming, social networking, journals and blogging
  • The risk of overblocking valid sexual health information is minimal. There was little demand from the public for sexual health information (only 1% of URL’s searched fell into this category, further, the filtering software claims an almost 100 % accuracy in this area, and offers the ability to have sites reviewed when access is denied. )
  • The majority of public opinion supports filtering on adult workstations
  • Library staff, including librarians, support current levels and ongoing filtering (based on an independent staff survey

“We are very pleased with the outcome of the project,” said Library CEO Anne Becker. “This decision ensures that the Library can continue its important role as a welcoming, comfortable community hub and maintain its equally important role to provide access to information and ideas of all kinds, while significantly reducing the risk of the broadcast of sexually-explicit images that are not appropriate for our public spaces.”

Key Project Recommendations: —
  • Filter exclusively to mitigate the risk of unintentional exposure of customers to sexually-explicit images that are not appropriate in a public setting. —
  • Maintain a balance of filtered to unfiltered computers in all locations in order to enable unrestricted access to information and resources when needed for research and information-seeking purposes.
  • Provide a minimum of one unfiltered public workstation in each library location. —
  • Provide a minimum of six unfiltered public workstations in the Central branch. —
  • Continue to filter function-specific public workstations such as Employment Resource Centres, Homework Centres and in Children/Youth areas —
  • Discontinue filtering for “extreme violence” due to a negligible % of searches on this topic
   The Library’s Internet Policy will be reviewed by the Board at the 6-month and 1-year mark.